Friday, April 12, 2013

Adam Rodriguez: Punch vs. Capitano, with cameos by Paolo Garbanzo

Adam Rodriguez is rehearsing his fourth show with La Fenice.  Previously, he has only played the role of Pulcinella, but this time he's shaking off his hunchback to play Capitano.  In this interview, Adam, stand up comic and Esther's Follies veteran, is joined intermittently by Company Member at Large, Paolo Garbanzo (who was making eggs), and Managing Director Kate Meehan.

Kate:  Usually you play Punch.  This time you're playing Capitano.  How different are you finding the characters?

Adam:  There's a lot of similarities and a lot of differences.  Naturally, the physicality is very different.  In rehearsal, I often find myself growing a hunch back, and it's like "oh, damn it!  Capitano stands up straight!"  The fact that he's new is exciting is nice.  When I played Punch, I was just trying to add layers to him as a character.  He started off as just a straight up murderer, and later he turned a little more perverted, and by Sloop I think he had a lot more complexity.  Capitano now is just back at square one, so it's cool to get to start the process over again.  There are still a lot of similarities.  My Capitano is a killer and a pervert, so in that way, they are very much the same.  They're both scumbags, really.  The only real difference is that Capitano gets a sword instead of a rubber chicken.  Just in the back of my head, I want to play Capitano once or twice more to fill out the complexity of the character.  Standing straight and goosing my neck and carrying a pair of swords is the real fundamental difference.

Kate:  Gotcha.  

Paolo:  I've got a ton of eggs!  I'm adding this chicken to it, okay?

Adam:  Do it!

Kate:  What about the differences between performing stand up comedy and performing Commedia?

Adam:  They're both very experiemental.  My fundamental difference is that in standup you're flat-footed, by yourself delivering a joke, so if it doesn't work, it's all on you.  All the consequences are yours.  In an ensemble, you've got people to bounce off of.  If something doesn't work, you've got people to share the blame and maybe fix it.  You have people to help you out.  In standup, you're all alone in the cold vaccuum of comedy.

Paolo:  Doing solo shows, you're not alone, the other character is the audience.  If they're not giving you the time of day, you're screwed.

Adam:  You have to trick them into investing in you.  You sell yourself in the first five seconds, so the audience decides in the first five seconds whether they'll like you.

Kate:  And whether they'll allow you to be funny.

Adam:  And that you're worth their bloody time.  In an ensemble, you get five seconds for each performer, and if one of your cohorts can win them over, by the end of the show they may have softened to you a bit.  They're already invested in the scenario concept, so if you can hook them into the story, they'll probably like you more by the end of it.

Kate:  It helps that we cover ourselves in masks and fancy wigs and shiny baubles.  It helps that we dazzle them.

Adam:  You aren't as alone as standup.  In stand up you're just alone with your voice and your presence.

Kate:  And your meat.

Adam:  And all of our stupid props.  I mean, really, we're a swordfight away from being a Carrot Top show.

Paolo:  I've done so much solo stuff, so the things you can get away with in an ensemble show is awesome.  You can have someone be a total jerk, and then the rest of the group gets to totally overreact to his jerkness.  If the other members of the troupe are the people who call a performer out, the audience doesn't have to over-react.  If they watch you overreact, they can say "Oh, well, come on, he's not that bad."

Kate:  Yeah, "You should meet my brother in law.  He's a way bigger dick than that guy."

Paolo:  "Sure, his joke has offended half the population of the earth, but...  I mean, come on."  You can totally go over the top, but if you're alone and you're a jerk, you're just a jerk onstage and everyone hates you.

Adam:  In an ensemble, frequently the audience will love you for being the jerk.  That's why playing the villain is so fun.  You get to invite the audience to hate you a little bit.

Kate:  I don't think anyone's going to hate your Capitano.

Adam:  I'm goofing him a little bit.

Kate:  He's kind of tender, really.  He's the fat kid that picked up swords to keep people from picking on him.  He kind of reminds me of the Truffle Shuffle kid.

Adam:  Chunk.

Kate:  Yeah.  Like Chunk was an exchange student in Germany and fell in with a bad, stabby crowd.

Adam:  Started knifing people, totally.  Truffle Shuffle.  Yeah, I'm not doing the Truffle Shuffle.  Maybe the next show.

Kate:  You really shouldn't have told me that. I'll build an entire scenario around that. 

Adam:  That and the "dictate" joke.

Kate:  Paul, that smells delicious.  Adam, let's wrap this up.  Any final words on Commedia, or the show or the DC Universe?

Adam:  Hmm.  Let's see if I can have words on all three.  Yeah.  I think this show is probably one of our best, easily, because the process was very clean.  Not only is everyone in it a veteran of this process, the only one that isn't is Gian, who has more experience in Commedia than anyone I know.  I mean, more than any one of us know.

Kate:  Naw, Aaron and I met some pretty fancy dudes at the Commedia conference. 

Adam:  La de dah.  The ones willing to play with us. 

Kate:  But I don't think we'll be getting John Rudlin, Carlo Boso or Antonio Fava on our stage.  

Adam:  Having Gian has streamlined our process.  So often we'd lose a day in rehearsal to complications in the scenario.  Gian just nipped all that in the bud from day one.  The scenario was hashed out before we even started.

Kate:  Having the hash day in the beginning was nice.

Adam:  There was no second-guessing everything, so the rehearsal was clean.  Gian had already front-loaded the rehearsal process with second-guessing everything, so none of us had to.  I don't feel like we missed a single day in rehearsal, where in the past every now and then we'd realize that we'd have to trash a day's worth of work because something wasn't clicking.

Kate:  Yep.

A.  That alone has already added to the quality of the show.  We can throw all of our experience behind making things awesome, rather than making a story work.  We're like the A-Team.  We're like the Justice League of our particular little troupe.  So I get to play the Solomon Grundy to Gian's Lex Luthor.  That's awesome.  Good stuff.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Aaron Johnson: On Technology, Collaboration, and our Summed Parts.

Aaron Johnson serves as La Fenice's Artistic Director, and is currently playing Orlando, the male lover, in our next show.  In this interview, he speaks with Managing Director and long-time collaborator, Kate Meehan.

You had your laptop out the entire rehearsal.
Well, not the entire rehearsal, but for a significant portion of it, yes.

Were you looking at pornography? 
Yes, if by pornography you mean our scenario.

We're using technology this time around.  Talk about that.
We're chronicling the way we work in a way that probably isn't entirely new to us, but we're employing it more consistently.  We have the scenario, which was started as a very simple sketch of a plot, and over the time that we develop new material, we're now able to do live updates through Google Drive.  In fact, while you guys were working on the song, Tate and I were actually making jokes back and forth together, editing one of our scenes in the scenario simultaneously in real time.  So, he would enter a line and would suggest my reply, and I would edit it to say "what if I said this instead."  It's pretty nifty. We didn't want to interrupt the good work that was going on, so we worked collaboratively by typing.

So, when we called you out for having your faces in your gadgets in rehearsal, we were being jerks.
Yeah, we were actually working.

Probably a little harder than the rest of us.
But yes, I also had a side window up that was porn.

Was there a woman in the porn?
I think so.  Maybe?  Yes?  Moving along?  Actually, I do prefer my porn XX.

Um.  Does that mean Diet Porn?  Like a 100 calorie porn snack pack?
No, I was referring to chromosomes.  But that works too.  1/3 less the guilt.

As the Artistic Director, you tend to get bullied by the rest of the company.
That's okay though.  I mean, that's the nature of working in a collaborative form.  Different people drive at different times.  Everyone tends to be very open to ideas, but also has to be responsible for shutting a process down if we're getting off track or if things aren't working.  I've studied a number of groups working collaboratively over the last year, and in class last semester we watched some behind the scenes production work from a company called Mabou Mines up in New York.  It was really interesting to watch their collaboration process alongside more traditionally trained actors, because they found their process extremely creative and innovative, but I found it to be very natural, the sort of interactions.  It's the same thing as here.  You're in a room full of people with very strong personalities, and you're sort of editing toward the best idea for the work that you're doing.  As a result of that, I changed my designation on our Facebook page.  I believe I was originally called the Artistic Pushover, but I changed it to Artistic Distractor, because I thought it mirrored the word "director" a little better and it's probably more accurate to what it is that I do.

Well, the tasseled pasties you wear to rehearsals are a bit distracting.  Especially when you set them wagging in opposite directions.
Hey, when you've got skills, you don't always know you're displaying them.

But to talk about the group we're working with, I feel that everyone in this show comes playing their A game whether they want to or not.  We've certainly gotten older and potentially wiser, but we've also gotten more efficient.  People are able to work fast and funny.  We're a commedic version of the Borg.

No way, dude.  We're summed parts.
The newest performing member of our troupe is Gian [Giacomo Colli], who has more experience than most of the rest of us combined.  I know he's having to learn a new process, - oh wait.  He's right behind me, isn't he?

Don't worry.  He's looking at porn.
Does he have his laptop open?  Oh, okay.  Good.  Well, I know we work in a way that's very different from how he likes to work, but he's picked it up very well.

I'm really enjoying working with Tate [Green].  It's my first time working with him, and I'm amazed at how quickly he and I work together and how well we jive.  I was talking to Adam [Rodriguez] the other day and remarking how much working with Tate is like working with Paul Joiner.

Both of them have Yes, And in their bones.
Adam is playing Capitano instead of Pulcinella, and I think that every show that we've done at this point.  He's behind me too, isn't he?  Is he looking at porn, too?

No, he's slurping soup.  Which I guess is a sort of Adam porn.
There's a website that charges money for that.  Adam's playing Capitano as the heavy, the dangerous Capitano, which seems increasingly to be our choice.  Theoretically, the Capitano in Sloop of the Damned was also dangerous, even if he was a Don Nazi.

Oh, man.  No, that went straight to the cutting room floor.  Thank God.
Genevieve is getting to go back to Columbina, which is something she's wanted to do for a long time.

We're actually a bunch of Fascist jerks for not including that burning desire while we wrote our scripts.  By "We" I'm using the Royal We.  But I'm including Adam.
The Royal We is a total pain in the Us.

Genevieve is getting a chance to play Columbina, but because of the construct of the show, she's now in the position of playing Columbina in a very different way than she ever has before.

How many shows have you and I done together?

I can't even start to count them.
More than a couple, basically.  I'm actually enjoying doing Lovers with you again.

I think the only time we've played the Lovers together was the pick up show we did of Family Jewels where I kneed you in the jimmy in the middle of the show.
Yeah, where you were drunk?

Yes, totally.  But, to be fair, it was my 21st birthday and people kept buying me shots before the show.
And you didn't actually get me in the junk, you frogged me on the top of my thigh.

Really?  I had this huge bruise on my shin afterwards.  I wonder how I managed that.
Yeah.  You didn't get me in the junk, because that probably would've stopped the show.  You were flailing about quite a bit.

Ah, youth.
But yeah, I think you're right.  I think that was the only time we ever played Lovers together.

Bruce, of course, doing music, is a great comfort.  Working with a musical genius is awesome.  I mean, we just sort of hummed some stuff to him and sent him away, and by the time he came back, we pulled together a three part operatic number.  It's encouraging, but not surprising when you've got Bruce around.

Am I missing anyone?

I hope not, or you'll look like a real jerk.  Any parting words?
Um.  People of the Philippines, I shall return?  Old soldiers don't die, they just fade away?  Thanks for this interview?