By Nicole Nguyen
A life-size cardboard cutout of Shakespeare stands watch behind theater professor Thomas F. Bradac’s desk, adorned with autographs and good wishes. It was given to him by the members of Shakespeare Orange County upon his retirement. Next to it hangs a wineskin prop autographed by the cast of a Chapman production of “Twelfth Night.” Devilish masks and posters for various productions of Shakespeare plays hang on the walls.
Bradac’s time has been consumed with the Bard. He is the director of a production of Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” for the opening season of the Musco Center for the Arts.
“It’s an honor,” Bradac said. “It’s exciting, and it’s a great venue.”
But this wasn’t Bradac’s first brush with Shakespeare. In his ninth year at an all-boys Catholic school in the San Fernando Valley, Bradac said, he had his first introduction to the Bard.
“Shylock’s ‘hath not a Jew eyes’ speech was particularly moving for me and turned me onto language and verse — to drama — in a way that has lasted my entire life,” Bradac said. “I was a pretty shy kid, and it was when I got into theater that I was able to let my personality open up.”
Since 1978, Bradac kept Shakespeare alive in Orange County, first as the creator of the Grove Shakespeare Festival for 13 seasons, and then as the producing artistic director of Shakespeare Orange County for 22 seasons.
When he retired as artistic director, Bradac named fellow Shakespeare Orange County member, actor John Walcutt, as his successor.
“Tom built (Shakespeare Orange County) up to its glory years and carried it on his shoulders through tougher times,” Walcutt said. “I tried to get the city to name the Garden Grove Amphitheatre after him, but they said he had to die first.”
Since then, Bradac has dedicated himself to teaching at Chapman full time. He teaches various theater courses, including classes in directing theater and acting Shakespeare.
“I think I’ve always been a teacher,” Bradac said.
Even during the 17 years that he was producing, directing, and acting full time, he would teach classes when he could because he liked interacting with students, Bradac said.
“I probably would be remembered more for my teaching than I would for my artistic work,” Bradac said.
He likened the responsibility to teaching an art form to passing a baton. “They’re starting from your experience and moving on and taking it forward.”
Bradac’s production of “The Merchant of Venice” consists of Chapman students as well as former fellow Shakespeare Orange County member Professor Michael Nehring.
Freshman Caleb Jenkins, a theater performance major, played the character Gratiano.
“You really bring a lot of yourself to Shakespeare’s text, and that’s a pretty scary thing sometimes, but Bradac really helped me overcome that,” Jenkins said. “He’s nothing short of brilliant.”
Bradac described the play as contemporary.
“It deals with mercy, justice, prejudice, and racism, and they’re all topics that we’re still grappling with today,” Bradac said.