Stephen Dobbins fell in love with Shakespeare when his high school English teacher invited him to direct a scene from Romeo and Juliet. Now, as he graduates this month from Rutgers University-Camden, the Howell resident is setting his sights on recreating a Shakespeare tradition: Writing a play for a troupe of actors and producing it for audiences in public places, like restaurants, bars and parks.
“As I studied Shakespeare, I was fascinated by how he wrote for specific actors and how his language was not only exceptional literature, but it also conveyed practical stage direction. I wanted to live that experience,” says Dobbins, who earned an associate’s degree in theater from Brookdale Community College in Freehold and worked through the Rutgers Division of Continuing Studies’ Off Campus Programs toward a bachelor’s degree in liberal studies by taking classes at the college taught by Rutgers professors.
Not With Haste is the first full-length play for Dobbins, who has written and directed a few one-acts and short films. The romantic comedy follows Will – named in honor of Shakespeare – a 20-something looking for love who accepts a double date with his cousin that leads to an evening of amorous twists and turns. The audience gradually learns more about Will as interactions with other characters unfold.
“I wanted this play to be like Love’s Labor Lost,” he says. “The last act is about the labor of love being lost. The theme is the importance of getting to know others in a world where people are in a rush.”
Dobbins conceived of the idea of “roaming recent college graduates in love” from his own social experiences. “I love talking about the Renaissance, poetry and feelings, but most people my age are more interested in what they are doing that weekend or what’s hot,” he says. “I want to hit the pause button and say, 'Wait a minute, these are our meaningful years during which we’re realizing who we will become as people. Let’s not waste it. Let’s discover love.'”
The title Not With Haste comes from a song of the same name by the indie-folk band Mumford & Sons, which Dobbins often listens to when writing. “The line is ‘And I will love with urgency, but not with haste,’ which was exactly my point,” he says. “Our generation is one of haste; we are always on our with phones, always instantly electronically connected, but yet not really connected.”
Dobbins began with a basic concept, developed characters, then started writing for those characters and allowed the narrative to flow organically from their interactions. “One of the reasons I love theater is because it allows me to explore people’s actions and how they reflect who they are,” he says.
He credits his story-telling grandfathers with helping him to appreciate a good tale at an early age. He is also grateful to John Bukovec, his theater professor at Brookdale, and Joe Walsh, assistant director, Off Campus Programs for Rutgers Continuing Studies, who both gave him the confidence to move forward with producing a play.
After commencement, Dobbins and his troupe, The Stormin’ Arts Players, will take their show on the road, performing at Brookdale’s Performing Arts Center on May 22 in Lincroft; outside of Season’s Coal Fired Bistro in Howell on June 14; at the Thespis Theater Festival in New York City June 18–20; and in clubs and parks around New York and along the Jersey Shore.
The upcoming performances, listed on the play’s Facebook page, will feature one-acts written by Dobbins and a showcase of poems and paintings by local writers and artists. “I wrote the play with a minimal set – a table and two chairs – so that it could be portable and work in any setting,” says Dobbins, who will split his time after commencement between Howell and the Bronx.
As he did for the play’s two previous performances earlier this year in Howell and Camden, which raised money for Susan B. Komen for the Cure and collected children’s books for distribution in impoverished areas, he will choose a charitable component for the upcoming shows. “I have the product,” Dobbins says. “Why not use it to help others?”
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