Q&A@22 is an insider’s view of the work and the magic it takes to produce theater. Each show we will ask a member of the cast or crew questions about their approach to their particular theatrical craft.
Our first Q&A@22 is with director, Robert Gargiullo. “You Can’t Take It With You” marks Bob’s 6th directorial project for Playhouse 22 starting with “Jerry’s Girls” nearly 17 years ago. Other productions he helmed at Playhouse 22 were “Noises Off!” (1998 Perry Award for Direction of a Play), “Towards Zero”, “Six Degrees of Separation” & “Arcadia.” He also directed “Dames at Sea” & “Spider’s Web” for Franklin Villagers and “Romantic Comedy” for the MacAllister Playhouse of Jackson, NJ.
Q&A@22: How do you choose what play to submit?
Robert Gargiullo: My method for choosing a play varies quite a bit. It has to be a piece to which I feel some sort of connection. By connection, I mean that it appeals to me from a director’s perspective. There are many instances where I’ve enjoyed something and thought I’d like to do it as an actor or even see it again as an audience member but unless it speaks to me as a director, I usually won’t submit it. I was once asked to direct a play I didn’t think was particularly interesting and had to work like a madman just to get it to where it should be. My heart and head weren’t in it.
Q&A@22: How many do you generally submit?
RG: I will submit 1 or, at most, 2 plays. Since I seem to retire after each job for 4 or 5 years, that averages out to less than half a play per year. Next year may be different in that I’m considering 2 plays and a musical so there goes my average.
Q&A@22: What kind of research do you put into each play at the submission level?
RG: At the time of submission, I will read the play once or twice and submit it if I get spontaneous images of the final production in my head.
Q&A@22: Once a play has been accepted, what is your process for preparing the script?
RG: I’ll again read the play once or twice to get a sense of character and plot arcs. After that, I’ll read it specifically to get a feel for who the characters are and what their relationship to each other is. At the same time, I’ll be forming an idea for staging the “set pieces,” sections of the script that stand alone and working out hopefully seamless transitions between them. As an example, the 2nd act of “You Can’t Take It With You” consists of 2 set pieces: the family on a typical chaotic evening building up to the arrival of the Kirbys, after which the second SP takes over – the game.
Q&A@22: When do you start working on an upcoming production?
RG: I’d like to say that I start right away but I’d be lying. The play is percolating around in my head the whole time but I don’t begin any formal work on it until it’s almost time to start. As Charlie Brown says, “I work best under pressure.” Not!
Q&A@22: How involved do you get in other aspects of the show (ie, set, costumes)?
RG: I’ll usually have discussions on set, props and costumes at the preproduction meeting but they’re fairly general. I like for the designers to come to the first meeting with some ideas from their own script reading. If what they propose works for me, I usually don’t change anything otherwise we discuss various options. I’ve been very fortunate on this show in that Kevin Gunther (set and lighting) and David Clarke (costumes) came to the table with very specific period ideas.
Q&A@22: Do you have a firm grasp of what you are looking for at auditions or do you like to be surprised by what the actors bring to the script?
RG: I start out with an idea for each of the characters based on what the playwrite and other characters say about a character and temper that with what characters say about themselves. That gives me a kind of “attitude” to look for. That, of course, gets changed quite a bit if someone comes in and looks at the character from left field and gives a reading that works in the context of the play but completely surprises me.
Q&A@22: How much time do you like to have from auditions to opening?
RG: I like to work fast. After the production meeting, I will usually have a floor plan for the set so I’ll have the first draft of the blocking prepared before the first rehearsal. “You Can’t Take It With You” auditioned in mid-December and we started rehearsals January 2. We rehearsed 3 times a week for 4 weeks and then went into tech for an opening on February 5th.
Q&A@22: Tell one funny story of a show turning out differently than what you expected, positively or negatively.
RG: I don’t know if the story is funny but when we held auditions for “Six Degrees of Separation” here at Playhouse 22, two people showed up only one of whom was suitable for the show. So being an optimist, I thought to myself “We’re f****d.”
The producer, stage manager and anyone else who volunteered got on the phone and called people to see if they were available but I didn’t hold any hope that the show would be any good putting a cast together that way. The size of the cast was comparable to that of “You Can’t Take It With You” and eventually we had a full cast who turned out to be amazing in the final production. It ended up being one of my favorite productions and the cast, to this day, has reunions.