Sunday, November 14, 2010

David Gallo: Designing Broadway And Beyond (The SOB Interview)

David Gallo
David Gallo: Designing Broadway And Beyond (The SOB Interview)

On Friday, I provided the first portion of my interview with Tony Award-winning scenic designer David Gallo, discussing his Snow Globe creation for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS.

Today, I'm pleased to share the rest of my interview with this affable, engaging and immensely talented designer in which we discussed, among other topics, August Wilson, his incredible inspiration for The Drowsy Chaperone and even how one of his works is now in the Smithsonian Institution.

Here's the SOB Interview:

Steve On Broadway - You had a long association with August Wilson’s works.

David Gallo - That’s correct. My daughter’s name is August as well.

SOB - That's amazing. Can you tell me a little about the experience of working with this great playwright?

DG - It was just the highlight of my career. To even be alive during the same time period with such an extraordinary talent and such an important voice for forever, you know, with world literature. So that enough, but to be able to participate on them was just the highlight of a career to be able to bond with August and be able to work with him directly in developing the visuals aspects of his stories, you know, the words that he was putting together. It was amazing.

August Wilson's Fences
What was it like? I mean, it was great. It was about fourteen years of my life. It was a new challenge every day. Always interesting, you know, because my initial exposure to August was doing a production of Fences almost 20 years ago, which was the first time I had really any connection to the plays themselves. And then I designed the premiere productions of his later works and getting to the point where I was designing productions of August Wilson plays before the plays were written.

SOB - Wow!

DG - Yeah, it got to that point where we would discuss the ideas before he would even have typed out a word, I would already have pen to the paper.

SOB - Well, I was going to ask you how much influence does a director’s vision have on what ultimately you see?

DG - Well a director, a lot. But in this case the playwright, you know, usually not so much. But this was special. He was very much a part of all that stuff. He was a huge influence. And the settings were always so much more than met the eye.

Hughie -  1996 Broadway revival
SOB - With respect to your first design on Broadway, which was for Hughie, you were working at Circle in the Square (a theatre in the round), which in and of itself presents some interesting challenges. I’ve seen many shows that have worked in that space, but so many that just don’t. What were your challenges there.

DG - Well, that space is like really tough. As you know it’s a very difficult theatre to master. And a particular challenge for Hughie is it’s a play that really has just two characters. There’s only two people in it, and one of them is the focus -- the role that Al Pacino played -- and he wanders around a bit. And then the other one played by Paul Benedict is a character that literally never gets out of his chair.

So you’ve got to get a pretty tight ground plan because to get something like that to work in that context is always a little bit tricky. It’s not like a busy play with a lot of characters and a lot of movement and everything is running around that space and you really have to use that space. We pretty much were committed to a very particular play with a very particular presentation style. Yeah, that theatre is not easy.

SOB - I’ve also admired your work in The Drowsy Chaperone. I thought that scenic design was absolute genius. What was your inspiration for that?

The Drowsy Chaperone - Man in Chair's apartment
DG - A guy I knew who was that character.

SOB - Really?

DG - Yes. I read that play and I said, “Holy s***! I know this guy.”

I called my friend and I said I’m coming over with my camera, and I photographed every centimeter of his apartment. The set wasn’t a replication of that apartment, but it was seriously inspired by that guy’s apartment.

He lived in the same place since the late 1970s in a Hell’s Kitchen walk-up on the fifth floor. You know, he actually has his bathtub in his kitchen, you know, and it’s completely filled with musical theatre and opera records. He hangs out there and plays these records. Really, that’s his thing. He’s also a designer -- I mean he has a life. I mean he’s not, you know, as weird as our character. He’s the real thing. So the inspiration came from that.

The Drowsy Chaperone - Play within the play
And then the play within a play was all sort of based on the work of Joseph Urban, the great designer, at the beginning of the century. What if Joseph Urban had actually designed The Drowsy Chaperone. What would it look like?

SOB - I also loved your elaborate designs for Memphis and thought you were really robbed of a Tony nomination.

DG - I never really considered that too much, but we certainly liked the way it turned out certainly.

SOB - It’s also your first Broadway show with a projection design credit?

Memphis (Photo by Wolfram Ott)
DG - Yeah. The first one on Broadway. I’ve done other things.

SOB - Do you think projection designs are here to stay?

DG - Well, yeah, I mean they’ve been around for over a hundred years. So it’s not like it’s new. There’s a lot more that we can do with the ability to make it more effective right now. I think that they’re almost a little too in vogue at the moment. But I think used effectively I think they’d be great. But they’re not going anywhere.

We just opened another one, the Colin Quinn thing – we designed all the projections for that, too.

SOB - You also did the set design for that.

DG - That’s right. It’s sort of my thing.

SOB - It certainly gave me the impression of being right in the middle of a Greek amphitheater.

DG - Oh you saw it?

SOB - Yes.

DG - Good for you.

SOB - Now you have to settle a bet. I was talking with someone about your projection design for Memphis and we were arguing back and forth as to whether it was a live video feed or it was taped.

DG - During the second act when they’re on? It’s all live. It was impossible to do tape.

SOB - And how does it feel to have gotten this far and have something in the Smithsonian?

DG - That actually happened in ’98 or ’99. It was freaky.

SOB - It’s "America’s attic."

DG - I guess so and we’ve cluttered it up with junk. They asked, and they actually had a whole bunch of my stuff and they ended up settling on one thing. But that’s what they wanted to do, and there it is – somewhere in the basement next to the Ark of the Covenant.

I don’t know. It’s never left my bio. I always thought it would. But it’s always still in there. I guess it’s interesting. I don’t know anywhere else with stuff in the Smithsonian.

SOB - I don’t know anybody else with anything there.

DG - So, it’s cool. You know. I mean, when you think about it, you donate it and now it’s not yours anymore, and if I want to go see it I have to have a good reason like it’s my own thing and they’re very clear that you can’t ever have anything back again.

I got some stuff in another museum and that was sort of trippy because I went there to give a lecture and they were like, “Well, while you’re here…” They had a model all laid out and they wanted me to glue it all back together because it had been damaged. And they’re like, “Only you can do it because you’re the original artist.” I know it’s weird. All these art archivists and art restorers are sitting there watching me glue this thing back together again. Weird.

SOB - What’s next for you?

DG - Right now we’re doing Madagascar, the movie -- we’re doing a live version of that. We’re doing a big splashy musical version of Madagascar.

And then we’re just getting started working with a rock band Phish and so we’re designing a New Year’s experience extravaganza for three dates around New Year’s. And then we’re doing scenic design and projections for a very large scale Frank Wildhorn musical -- new musical -- that’s going to happen in South Korea. And then we’re doing another in China. We’re pretty busy. And then I’m going to Stuttgart next week because we have a show opening in Stuttgart, and we just had one open in Rome recently, too.

I ended my conversation with a couple design-oriented recommendations for David Gallo while he's in Stuttgart. I'm sure I'm not alone in looking forward to what this designing genius does next.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminate against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I have received nothing of value in exchange for this post.

Powered by FeedBurner

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,


At 16 November, 2010, Blogger Bob said...

Fascinating interview and great job!


Post a Comment

<< Home

Technorati blog directory Blog Directory & Search engine
Visitor Map

Powered by FeedBurner