Jonathan Hadley, Robert Cuccioli, Teresa Avia Lim, Rajesh Bose, and Jeff Applegate in Gilngold’s production of Bernard Shaw’s Caesar & Cleopatra. Photo credit: Carol Rosegg.
Gingold Theatricals Stands Its Ground
Interview by Michael Raver
So…how about this?
While Broadway productions are struggling to keep their heads above water, this confusing new era has actually been comparatively gentle for some companies in the world of Off-Broadway. That said, even as media outlets talk about potential vaccines in the offing, it’s still difficult to gauge where things will be in six months.
In the meantime though, companies like Gingold Theatrical Group, is enjoying a relatively uninterrupted 2020. Celebrating its 15th year, the organization celebrates the work of playwright George Bernard Shaw through a series of staged readings and annual full productions. Sure, the readings, typically held at Symphony Space, have been shifted online. Their play-development program is still running. Artistic Director David Staller maintains an impressively optimistic outlook, given the circumstances. Their next fully mounted play is already in the works for Autumn 2021.
How has the pandemic affected your company?
David Staller: It’s all uncharted territory. We’re map-making on a daily basis. But I have hope. The resiliency of the human spirit has never been more potently on display. This previously unimaginable health crisis has only magnified the madness that we, in this country, have been dealing with since our last presidential election. I am consumed with admiration for everyone here in New York City, in particular.
What have you been up to?
DS: We’ve been presenting online readings, partnering with the Stars In The House series as fund-raisers for The Actors Fund and the NAACP. We’re also keeping our Speakers’ Corner New Play Development Lab up and running with Zoom. We’re planning to begin presenting our monthly Project Shaw series online, as well, along with ancillary discussion groups and special events featuring many of the brilliant actors, directors, and writers we’ve collaborated with over the years. We’ve scheduled our on-site events at Symphony Space beginning in January of 2021, and our full off-Broadway production at Theatre Row for October and November of 2021. This is all while we await figuring out the endlessly complex details of re-opening.
It’s a minefield for artists everywhere.
DS: We were lucky at GTG that the timing of the shutdown didn’t actually impact any of our planned programming. We were on the cusp of our annual Golden Shamrock Gala, which has been postponed. But as we weren’t in production, we were spared the pain of shutting down, as so many of our colleagues were forced to do. At the moment, we’re in the process of interviewing applicants as our new Associate Director. We’re all excited about filling the position so that we’ll have all the elements of moving forward in place as soon as the curtain goes up again. We can’t wait!
What are you doing to keep your sanity?
DS: Sublimating my emotional life in my work has been a particularly useful use of time. I’ve also been volunteering at two shelters, helping a few shut-in pals stay connected, and biking daily. CitiBike is brilliant. Since this is the most time I’ve actually spent in my home for the last 15 years, I’ve enjoyed checking off all the To-Do’s on the list I’ve endlessly been avoiding. My two cats have also been somewhat startled to find me under-foot on a regular basis and have been rather stern in renegotiating their territory with me. We seem to have reached a tenable agreement. For the moment.
Pictured in a scene from Gingold Theatrical Group’s production of Shaw’s timely comedy, HEARTBREAK HOUSE at Theatre Row: Derek Smith, Alison Fraser, Kimberly Immanuel, Raphael Nash Thompson, Jeff Hiller, Karen Ziemba, and Tom Hewitt. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
What is your advice for staying creative during this era?
DS: This shut down has most tragically hit the freelancers in our community. It’s one of the few times I believe that social media has been particularly helpful and effective for people to stay connected and to share information about getting help, getting funding, and appreciating the universality of what we’re all going through. Some of the world’s greatest art has been created out of crisis. And I believe, as the light dawns, that we will be blessed with some astonishingly brilliant work born out of pain that otherwise might never have found life. Now that the museums are reopening, go reconnect to art. Even if you have never done it before, write that play, illustrate that children’s book, learn a new language, paint your bathroom, read all those books you’d always told people you had read but never really did. Give yourself our creative task every day, even just one, and acknowledge the success when you finish it. Now that the city has been reopening, explore. Visit neighborhoods you’d never seen. Make it a mission to experience every park in town. Take the Staten Island Ferry. With smart phones, everyone’s a photographer, so make photo-journals. Share them.
What is your advice to actors during this time?
DS: Actors are miraculous magicians. They have magic and power in them. This is a time to fully reassess where you’ve been, who you are now, and what you wish to accomplish. Actors have the ability to transform: not just who they are into a role, but to everyone who has ever experienced their artistry. They have provided insight and clarity into the human condition, even if only subliminally, to everyone who has ever been their audience. Stay in physical shape. Do your exercises. Breathe. Read every play you’ve have ever heard of. Read them out loud with your friends. Switch roles. Read the roles you never thought you would ever be cast in. Form discussion groups. Pick a play and read it several times, with everyone changing their roles every time. Write positive nurturing letters to everyone you have ever worked with, or hope to. Most importantly, be kind to yourself. Remember that we are not what we do for a living. We are the work-in-progress creation of a lifetime.
Tell me about the online content that you’ve been producing. How do you feel about zoom readings/performances?
DS: Though, like most of us, I was completely unaware of Zoom programming earlier in the year, I’m now a fan. They can never take the place of the primal thrill of sharing a space with others and living the immediacy and spontaneity of a live performance, but they have created a new sort of art form that may not previously have been considered. We’re living what is probably the embryonic stage of these events so it’ll be exciting to see how that world evolves. The readings we have presented so far have inspired people from around the world to write to me. They greatly appreciate the plays, the actors, the format, and they also write with questions, comments, and suggestions. We have heard from people all over this continent and also from Australia, Shanghai, England, Ireland, France, Brazil, and even from Iceland. Since all of Shaw’s plays were written to inspire peaceful discussion and activism, all of the comments we’ve received have reflected an appreciation and understanding of this. The plays are also incredibly entertaining, of course, and our casts have been brilliant. So I am personally jazzed about the medium, and we plan to continue with the online programming in someway even when the venues have reopened.
How do you think the current socio-political climate will reflect on the theatrical community when things do eventually reopen?
DS: Anybody who claims to know is lying.
Do you plan on marking the country’s cultural shift in some way?
DS: Every day in every way we can. Our original mission reflected the passionate desire and intent to embrace inclusion and diversity. The state of the world now has only reinforced our need to build upon this, to re-examine what we have done for the last 15 years and to figure out how to reimagine the future in ever more powerful ways. All of us in this country are being pressed to challenge ourselves and to create an entirely new vocabulary to understand who we are; to risk being uncomfortable with what had made us uncomfortable yesterday, and to remember that the future of the world depends on the collaboration of each and every one of us. Together.
What about our industry would you like to see changed when we’re all able to get back to work?
DS: The theatre has never been an ‘ever fixed mark’. It has always been a constantly evolving art form in every respect. Every voice deserves to be heard and every individual needs to be seen. Understanding where we’ve been, respecting the art and the artists that have come before us, and forging new paths moving into the future is the only way I believe we will accomplish merging art and politics and our social justice needs in a way that will make our world feasible enough to sustain the changes we’re hoping to embrace. Getting back to Shaw, he wrote about all of this over 100 years ago. It’s why he became a playwright. The miracle of each individual’s create voice is valid and we must never allow anyone to silence us for any reason. Ever.
Karen Ziemba, Derek Smith, Raphael Nash Thompson, Tom Hewitt, Kimberly Immanuel, and Lenny Wolpe in Gingold’s production of Bernard Shaw’s Heartbreak House. Photo by Carol Rosegg.