People & Place
  • Montana Theater - Joel Jahnke - Shakespeare Parks

To be or… there won’t be any Shakespeare in Ekalaka.

The key to directing a Shakespeare play isto find yourself in the characters.

In the 40 years of Shakespeare in the Parks we’ve neversettled for less than the best we could do at the time.  I’m very proud of that.

But then, we always….had wonderfully talented people who believed in their souls that what we were doing was special and worth the effort.

Before I go onstage, no one knows that Isay “see you in the funny papers.”

A Shakespeare play can still make me laugh, cry, ponder, wonder and get lost in the moment.

The play’s theone place I feel completely in control.

When young actors first tour with the company, I tell themthis is perhaps the most difficult and at the same time the most rewarding tour in America.  No actor has ever gone through the process and returned unchanged.

Touring Montana in the summer ischallenging, beautiful, hard work, richly textured and the best acting job in the country.

If someone had told me in 1972that I would be the artistic director of such a highly respected and successful Shakespeare company for over 30 years, I would not have believed them.

My personal motto isif doing plays ever becomes work to me, I don’t want to do it anymore.

The best thing someone ever said about the tour isthat her son, a truck driver who never had done well in school, still developed a love for Shakespeare because of us.  It’s hard to not be touched by that. 

I’d like to be remembered as a decent person who loved the theatre more in myself than myself in the theatre.

The one thing I’ve never done istour one summer onstage.

My secret, unfulfilled wish is to par the Road Hole at St. Andrews.

A horse? How about my kingdom for aten million dollar endowment.

If I could be one character from Shakespeare it would beRomeo.  Love of that richness, complexity and depth is rare and precious.  I know because I experience it everyday.

The one thing we make sure we take on the road isthe actors. And a close second is my cell phone number.

One piece of advice I would give Shakespeare isdon’t spend any more time on The Two Noble Kinsman.  If the horse is dead, dismount.

The most important thing I’ve learned isto be enthusiastic about your work.  It is wildly infectious and soon everyone wants to play with you.


Thank you, Joel! ~ DM




Joel Jahnke has been with Montana Shakespeare in the Parks since 1977 and served as designer before becoming artistic director in 1980.  He has designed, directed, and acted in over 400 college and professional theatre productions. In 2004, he was named one of the first recipients of the MSU Excellence in Outreach Award for his work with Montana Shakespeare in the Parks.