ROUNDABOUT BLOG

 

Brandon Gill. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Ted Sod: Where were you born and educated, and what made you decide to become an actor? Did you have any teachers who profoundly influenced you on your journey?

Brandon Gill: I was born in Winthrop Hospital in Garden City, New York, and I grew up on Long Island and in Queens. I wanted to be a singer because my mom sang. My mother was in a singing group called Triche. I would be doing my homework while her group rehearsed in their studio. I was about five years old when I told my mother I wanted to be “inside the television.” So, my mother put me in these musical theatre classes on Long Island. It was a program called Way Off Broadway. At the end of the program, there was a showcase for agents and managers. And that’s when I signed with my manager, whom I’m still with today. I was 11 years old. I went to LaGuardia High School, and I had an amazing experience there. After LaGuardia, I went to The Juilliard School. I was the first person in over 17 years to go straight from LaGuardia’s drama program to Juilliard. A teacher at LaGuardia who had a profound effect on me was Harry Shifman. He directed me in ​West Side Story, ​and he was the one who encouraged and pushed me to audition for Juilliard. At LaGuardia, I also had the good fortune of being taught by James Moody, who was an acting teacher there as well as a graduate of Group 1 -- the first graduating class of Juilliard’s drama division.

 

TS: Why did you choose to play Bowzie Brandon in Jiréh Breon Holder’s play ​Too Heavy for Your Pocket​?

BG: Jiréh wrote the character for me. I met him in 2014. I was doing a reading of one of his first plays at Yale, and about a year after that reading, he got in touch with me and said, “I wrote this play, and I wrote a character with you in mind. I would love if you did a reading of it.” It’s such a blessing that it’s now being produced by the Roundabout in New York City and I get to be in it.

 

TS: Rehearsals haven’t begun yet, but will you tell us what you think the play is about?

BG: I think the play is about family, it’s about courage and forgiveness and understanding. Every one of the characters is coming into themselves. Thetwo male characters are coming into their manhood. And the women are on a similar journey. I also think it’s about the ever-evolving human spirit through various trials and tribulations. Jiréh writes with a tremendous amount of heart.

 

Eboni Flowers, Hampton Fluker, Brandon Gill, Nneka Okafor in Too Heavy for Your Pocket. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

 

TS: What kind of preparation do you have to do for a role like this? I’m curious how a native New Yorker prepares for a play that takes place in the South at a time when African-Americans were treated as second-class citizens.

BG: This play is set in Nashville, Tennessee in 1961, a time where historical events were happening in the South during the civil rights movement. The play is dealing with the changes about to happen in America. For African-Americans, it was definitely a trying time. They had to find strength in God and their community and fight for their basic rights as an equal in society. My grandmother grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, and also Gadsden -- my great-grandmother did as well. My grandmother marched with Martin Luther King and had dinner at his house. I have been very privileged to have her as a living resource not only for my family’s history but for African-American history. She has told me stories about being chased down dark, dirt roads by the Ku Klux Klan while traveling home from a march. I’m definitely going to lean on my grandmother to hear the wisdom and stories she has to share.

 

TS: How is the character of Bowzie relevant to you? I’m wondering what you find most challenging or exciting about the role?

BG: Bowzie Brandon and Brandon Gill are two young black men who are trying to support their families while achieving their dreams in a world that tells them that they are less than equal. I think I can learn from Bowzie. His courage and determination to face adversity and continue forward are inspiring. We are both trying to achieve a level of success for the benefit of ourselves and for our loved ones as well. He’s so headstrong. Being accepted to Fisk University in 1961 on full scholarship is such a great accomplishment for him. And he risks it all to fight for his rights, for the rights of his family and, most importantly, the rights of his children. I’m excited to explore his emotional depth and the thought process that takes him from the university to a penitentiary. So many African-American leaders have found themselves unjustifiably sitting in jail cells for days and weeks at a time while participating in the civil rights movement. Parchman Penitentiary was famously known for being the worst of them all. That’s something that I also have to research -- what life was like there.

 

TS:How do you understand Bowzie’s relationship to his wife Evelyn? How do you understand their dynamic?

BG: I think Jiréh has given these characters the gift of humanity. Bowzie has been lucky enough to marry his best friend. Evelyn is his rock, his support system. At times she’s stronger than him. I think all the relationships that Bowzie has in this play are beautiful. He’s actually known Sally the longest. Sally’s like his older sister. And then, of course, he has this wonderful relationship with Tony, which I think is very important as well, because it’s important to show audiences the trust and camaraderie that black men, especially in that time period, had with one another. There is an unspoken code of support and respect.

 

Eboni Flowers and Brandon Gill in rehearsal. Photo by Jenny Anderson

TS: Why do you think Evelyn gets so upset at Bowzie and some of his choices? Is she afraid of this movement that’s happening?

BG: I think it’s a bittersweet situation. Evelyn is being a wife, and I think she’s worried about her family. She’s worried about her husband and the hateful things that will happen to him if he goes on this bus ride. She’s less afraid of the movement because the movement is necessary. She stands behind the movement itself. She does not stand behind the possibility of losing her husband and the father to her unborn child. Her struggle is knowing that she has to let Bowzie be a man, but it comes with a big price -- jeopardy of their family unit.

 

TS: There is an idiosyncratic rhythm to the way Jiréh’s characters speak. I’m curious how you view it?

BG: I think the dialogue in the play speaks to the history of African-Americans and how we tell stories -- how we use words. The characters are exuberant in their language. Sometimes the dexterity of Jiréh’s language reminds me of the characters in August Wilson’s plays. There is a cadence in their individual voices. And I love how they choose to impersonate people in their community. There’s a scene where all four characters are reenacting things that happened at church. They imitate these glorious characters like the pastor and some of the elder sisters who worship there. I think Jiréh does a wonderful job speaking to the authenticity of African-American culture and the unique way we use language as storytellers.

 

TS: What do you look for from a director when you’re working on a play?

BG: I want to work with a director who has a collaborative vision. I think it’s important. I think it’s important that a director knows what he or she wants the audience to come away with. Are we making a comment on the present times? What are the themes that we are discussing and interpreting? I’ve had the great pleasure to work with some awesome directors. They all had amazing imaginations and encouraged a collaborative spirit to make sure we’re all on the same page so we can tell the best story possible.

 

Margot Bordelon, director of Too Heavy for Your Pocket. Photo by Jenny Anderson

 

TS: How do you keep yourself inspired as an artist?

BG: I surround myself with a community of friends who are also artists. I relish celebrating them and the work they do. When you surround yourself with artists who are hardworking and who have strong determination to change the world with their art, that is always inspiring and motivating. I also love teaching. I’m always inspired by my students and the classes that I teach or individuals that I coach – I try to use my art to entertain, educate and inspire.

 

TS: I’m wondering what you would say to a young person who says they want to have a career in acting. What advice would you give?

BG: The first thing I stress is training. I tell everyone I work with, “If you want to be an actor, you have to train. Hone your craft.” Playwrights and Directors want to invest in someone who has invested in themselves. I also tell young people, “You have to believe it’s going to happen. If you don’t believe it’s going to happen, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. It only takes one audition to change your life. One random audition on a Tuesday at 3:15 can change your life forever.” If you believe that that audition is coming or that project is coming and you’re going to meet someone like Jiréh who is going to write a great role like Bowzie for you -- then sooner or later -- it’s going to happen.


Too Heavy for Your Pocket opened at The Black Box Theatre on October 5, 2017. For tickets and information, please visit our website here.


Related Categories:
2017-2018 Season, A Conversation with, Roundabout Underground, Too Heavy for Your Pocket


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Sports Take The Stage

Posted on: October 20th, 2017 by Nick Mecikalski

 

 

The Last Match brings the passion and pace of professional sports to the stage in what may seem like an unlikely marriage between the world of athletics and the world of theatre. But this pairing isn’t quite as uncommon as it might appear. Sports have been a source of inspiration for playwrights for decades -- from Clifford Odets’s 1937 boxing drama Golden Boy to George Abbott, Douglass Wallop, Richard Adler, and Jerry Ross’s 1955 baseball musical Damn Yankees to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Ben Elton’s 2000 football musical The Beautiful Game. Bringing a sporting event to the stage, however, is not quite the same as the more ubiquitous trend of bringing it to the screen -- and “sports plays” often take a much different shape than do “sports films.” The fact that sports and theatre are both live entertainment often makes the combination of the two events a more complicated and nuanced endeavor than it may seem.

Many a theatre practitioner has bemoaned the theatre’s inability to mimic the heightened spontaneity of sports. For all the similarities between theatre events and sporting events , sports do generally have the theatre beat in terms of the sheer unpredictability of outcome. What’s the benefit, then, in putting sports onstage in a “scripted” environment? Much recent commentary on “sports theatre” has criticized shows for attempting to capture the moment-to-moment excitement of actual gameplay and falling short. Indeed, it’s difficult to fake the excitement of a sporting event authentically when the final outcome is predetermined. Plays and musicals about sports, then, tend to have their best moments when they resist the temptation to stage the actual games in full and instead do what theatre does best: focus on the people.

The mechanics of what makes a good “sports play” aside, sports are certainly getting their share of time in the spotlight in today’s theatrical landscape. The Last Match is only one of several major recent productions that have brought the drama of sports onstage and explored the nature of competition and the often invisible and controversial intricacies of the athletics industry. Below are a few notable examples of recent plays that join The Last Match in the genre of “sports theatre.”

Zoë Winters, Wilson Bethel, Alex Mickiewicz and Natalia Payne in The Last Match. Photo by Joan Marcus.

 

The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe

A Finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize, Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves dramatizes the dynamics of a teenage girls’ soccer team as their competing desires for success, social status, and validation boil to the surface over the course of a pre-game warmup. Fueled by all the energy and competition of an actual soccer game, the team’s frenetic conversation escalates from casual schoolyard gossip to a place of very real danger.

 

Colossal by Andrew Hinderaker

Andrew Hinderaker’s Colossal brings all the adrenaline of a football game to the stage. Featuring full football uniforms, a live drumline, a working scoreboard, and precise choreography that transforms the chaos of a play on the field into an elaborate dance, Colossal follows a gay college football player who suffers irreparable damage to his spinal cord during a game. Through the eyes of a gay man in a culture of hypermasculinity, Colossal explores the more drastic prices we pay in the name of career.

 

X’s and O’s (A Football Love Story) by KJ Sanchez and Jenny Mercein

KJ Sanchez and Jenny Mercein’s X’s and O’s (A Football Love Story) investigates stories of degenerative brain diseases in former professional football players. Through the real-life stories of former players and their friends and families, many of whom formed the cast of the production at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, X’s and O’s ruminates on the often invisible costs of America’s most popular form of entertainment.


The Last Match opens at the Laura Pels Theater on October 24, 2017. For tickets and information, please visit our website here.


Related Categories:
2017-2018 Season, The Last Match


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Interview with Actress Elizabeth McGovern

Posted on: October 20th, 2017 by Ted Sod

 

Elizabeth McGovern

Elizabeth McGovern

Ted Sod: Will you tell us where you were born and if you had any teachers who had a profound influence on you?

Elizabeth McGovern: I was born outside Chicago in Evanston, but I was raised in Los Angeles. My mother is a teacher -- she was never my teacher -- but I would say that she had a profound influence on me. I had a writing teacher in my junior or senior year of high school, whose name is Christine Adams, who had a very big impact on me. She taught a method of thinking clearly about things, and I’ve always remembered it. I really responded to it.

TS: Was becoming an actress something that you always knew you wanted to do?

EM: Well, I probably did deep down, but I didn’t like to admit it. I thought that coming from an academic family, it was a silly profession to pursue, but in a subconscious way, I really wanted to act. I always did plays in high school; that was definitely the most vivid memory of my high school experience. It brought life into Kodachrome for me. I attended a school in North Hollywood, and it wasn’t until I was aimlessly applying for colleges that an agent came to see one of the plays we did and asked me if I wanted to go on some auditions for summer work and I did. That led to a job, which got me started in my career before I even got the chance to think about it too deeply. I let the decision be made for me in a way. It was a very odd way to get into this profession. I do believe in it as a profession now. I think that there is some good that you can give to the world, and that keeps me going.

TS: Is this the first time you’ll be performing at the Roundabout?  

EM: No, it’s not. The last thing I did in New York was Hamlet at the Roundabout. I played Ophelia, and I think that production was twenty-five years ago.

TS: Why did you choose to do the role of Mrs. Conway? What do you think the play is about?

Elizabeth McGovern. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

EM: For me, the play is about -- and this may sound pretentious -- the shades of light and dark that make up a family.  It is encapsulated by the title, because what you see is this microcosm of family life at two different times in its existence. One time is very happy, and the other is quite the opposite. You experience the dynamics that have gone into creating both those realities. Both of those realities are very true for the family; one is very dark and depressing, in which none of their dreams have come to fruition and they’re all bitter and angry, and the other is a reality in which they are at the cusp of their lives and they’re full of love, gaiety, and joy. J.B. Priestley, the playwright, has woven a tapestry which for me adds up to a complete life experience -- it includes both light and dark, and you can look at it from two different angles. You see the way that this family and their actions affect and bounce off one another and create both unhappiness and happiness.

TS: Would you give us some insight into your process as an actress? What are the challenges of playing Mrs. Conway and what are the challenges of doing a period piece like this?  

EM: That is an interesting question. I have spent a lot of time in this period. I’ve been embodying it for quite some time and living the reality of it. In fact, weirdly, I’m currently doing an independent film which is also set in this period, so I’m destined to always be in a corset and early 20th century dresses. It is almost part of my unconscious now; all of the things that at the beginning of Downton Abbey might have been research for me are now really deeply in my bones. I’m not an expert in a historical sense, but I have lived in it in my imagination. I feel research makes my job more fun and fills in the space between the lines in terms of my own imagination. Research allows me to bring things to life inside my brain, but I don’t know if it is absolutely necessary -- it’s just a lot of fun. I think my process as an actress is to really study what is in the writing and getting all my clues from what that writer teaches me about the character and her relationship to the other characters. I like to let the writing guide my work and then be open to what the director is suggesting in terms of characterization. Also, for me, it is very exciting to respond to other actors and what they are bringing to their roles -- that will influence me, too.

TS: I’m curious about how you view Mrs. Conway even though rehearsals haven’t yet begun.  

EM: At the moment, I am really fascinated by Mrs. Conway because even though she is a mother who obviously adores her children, as a person, she is so unevolved; she is not self-aware. I would describe her as a crap mother; I can’t think of a better way of putting it. She has a lot of love and passion, but so little emotional intelligence. You can see her wreak destruction on her kids without meaning to, and you see the damaging effect that it has on them as they develop and grow. I am very eager to explore that.  She is probably one of these people who would have been well-advised not to become a mother at all, but, of course, that probably wasn’t something that was an option for her. She did what was expected of her and had a pack of children. I don’t mean to imply for one second that she doesn’t love them or that she’s not devoted to them, but she is not really grown up herself is my assessment. I haven’t started rehearsing or exploring this with the director or the other actors yet; but right now, I think she is still a child herself.

Elizabeth McGovern and Company. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

TS: I keep wondering why Mrs. Conway seems to favor her son Robin over her eldest son, Alan?

EM: My instinct – again, this is without exploring it in rehearsal -- is that she has a romantic fixation on Robin; she has substituted Robin in her mind as her husband; it is as irrational as that. Alan is, in her estimation, an uncolorful, unexciting guy. She just doesn’t get him; she doesn’t take the time to see what is there, to appreciate what the audience will about Alan. He is the one who has the wisest things to say. For me, he is the moral voice of the play, but Mrs. Conway cannot see that because she is caught up in Robin’s charm. I don’t think all mothers are maternal; they sometimes put their children in positions that aren’t appropriate for them psychologically.

TS: Priestley’s writing seems very modern to me in that way.

EM: Yes, it is modern in the sense that we now look at character from a psychoanalytic point of view, whereas the playwrights who wrote before Freud didn’t necessarily write about the subconscious.

Act 2. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

TS: How do you see what happens in act two?

EM: I’ve never seen it in performance; but on reading it, I think it is very significant that Priestley ends with that quote that Mrs. Conway’s daughter Kay asks her brother Alan to tell her – knowing it will cheer her up. The quote basically says, “There is lightness and there is dark. There is both. That is the fabric of life.” My feeling is that Priestley is showing us that the Conway family we see in the first act is exactly the same family that we see in the second act, but it is their darker side. It is when everything has gone awry. That isn’t to say that in another decade they’ll have found their way again and things will be better. I don’t think that Priestley is saying that we’re all headed for hell and that life is going to be all bitterness and woe. The reason I say this is because Alan does comfort Kay with those words.

TS: How do you keep yourself inspired as an artist?

EM: I love these questions! I have invested a lot in my marriage and children, and that feeds me. It has given me the energy to stay really excited about the work that I do. I think if I lived for nothing but work, it would soon lose its allure. I’ve had years and years of being away from acting, and that makes me really hungry for it when I come back. I stay inspired by seeing other people’s work; that has always been really important to me. And it’s something that I share with my husband because he is someone who loves seeing things. Also, I love the process of acting. I find it hilarious and fun and, yes, sometimes I despair, but it’s always oxygen for me.

TS: A lot of public school children will be very well prepared for seeing this play, and they’ll be studying theatre as part of our outreach program in the education department. If a young person were to ask you for advice about being an actor -- what would you say to them?

EM: I would say to find the joy in every aspect of it. Find the joy when you do find work and also when you don’t have work, as strange as that sounds. Find the positive in not working; invest in life, invest in the opportunity to develop other parts of your brain, your body, and your soul -- look at not working as an opportunity. If you are committed to doing that, you and your work will grow and grow and grow.  That is not to say that there aren’t going to be frustrating times and times you feel you have fallen short or the business has disappointed you, but learn to forgive and forget. Find the joy.


Time and the Conways runs through November 26 at the American Airlines Theatre. For tickets and information, please visit our website here.


Related Categories:
2017-2018 Season, A Conversation with, Time and the Conways


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