Tom Hewitt will be performing at The Shakespeare Theatre for the first time when he plays Antony in Antony and Cleopatra , but he's certainly no stranger to Washington, D.C. His first professional acting job out of college was at Washington's Arena Stage in 1981 where he played Demetrius in A Midsummer Night's Dream . He went on to become a company member at Arena and performed throughout the 1980s in many productions including The Importance of Being Earnest , The Crucible , As You Like It , Cloud 9 , Crime and Punishment , and The Man Who Came to Dinner .
"My relationship with Arena Stage was really great," Hewitt stated in a recent telephone interview. "I've always been so grateful to them. They were sort of an artistic home base, yet they gave me the opportunity to go off and do other things."
Some of those "other things" included performing with John Houseman's The Acting Company and with the Suzuki Company of Toga, Japan, an avant-garde Japanese theatre company that does new adaptations of the classics. His relationship with Tadashi Suzuki, founder of the company and a world-renowned figure in contemporary theatre, began during his last year of school at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Professional Actor Training Program. Suzuki and his leading actress came to the school to teach classes.
"Mr. Suzuki founded his theatre in the 1960s as a reaction to what was happening in Japan at the time," explained Hewitt. "He wanted to get back in touch with the core of what was making traditional Japanese theatre alive. He felt it was dying. He developed his own actor training method and his own physical vocabulary. There was a lot of discipline in his aesthetics."
Hewitt did not immediately take to the training. "I was very confused by it all. We seemed to be learning some kinds of Japanese character walks set to elevator music. I didn't see how this could possibly apply to anything I was doing or wanted to do. And I wasn't very good at it. But I was being groomed to be a leading man at school, and I was kind of forced on Mr. Suzuki."
The next summer Hewitt and another student and some actors from the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre went to a small mountain village in Japan and studied with the company for the summer. "That was the most outrageous thing," Hewitt recalled. "We lived in 200-year-old farm houses and had to help with the cooking and laundry and cleaning up the grounds. Once I was training with his company and surrounded by people who were doing it really well, I caught on."
That summer they worked on a bilingual production of The Bacchae , which was fully mounted in Milwaukee the following year. Over the next 12 years Hewitt did four other productions with the company, which included playing Lear in The Tale of Lear (which Arena Stage audiences saw in 1988) and Orestes in Clytemnestra .
"What an adventure. We performed all over the world at international theatre festivals—Delphi, the Acropolis in Greece, Venice, Frankfurt, all over the United States and Japan. To be a young actor and be exposed to that was just a gift."
Hewitt left Arena Stage in early 1990 and continued to perform regionally and in New York in Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. A one-year stint in the Broadway production The Sisters Rosensweig playing Geoffrey with Hal Linden, Linda Lavine, and Michael Learned led to another adventure.
"The past two years I spent most of my time in Los Angeles trying to become a famous television and movie star," Hewitt chuckled. "I had saved some money because of Sisters Rosensweig . I had some time free, and I thought 'why not go out and see what happens?' Well, obviously I'm back and I don't have a series or a major motion picture, but it was actually a whole lot more fun than I ever thought it would be. I fell in love with the Southern California part of the Los Angeles experience and that was sort of unexpected. The qualifications for employment out there are so different than they are in the theatre. I just didn't have the strength to turn down work in the East to pursue this carrot that is constantly dangled about ten feet away."
Luckily for The Shakespeare Theatre, Hewitt plans to keep his home base in New York for awhile and concentrate on theatre. He is currently spending his time preparing for Antony and Cleopatra .
"There are many more logistics involved for me in preparing for a Shakespeare play. I spend a lot of time with the Oxford English Dictionary looking up words and seeing how the meaning has changed over the years and basically figuring out what it is that I'm saying."
He is also looking forward to coming back to D.C. "I'm really excited about it, especially during an election year. And I'm thrilled to be working with Helen Carey. We were in Ring 'Round the Moon together years ago at Arena Stage. I'm a huge Helen Carey fan."
And as for the future, Hewitt is flexible. "I'm often asked what my long-term career goals are and what it is that I want to do, but it's been my experience that some of the most satisfying, rewarding, and fun things that have happened to me in my life and in my career are things that I could never, ever have imagined or planned for. I just like to stay open to possibilities."