"Every actor wants to be as authentic as possible." — Ian Swift
EH: Acting can be dangerous?
IS: Physical things happen to you that can be quite painful. I’ve had two instances, and I hope they were my last. They were both Shakespeare plays.
I broke my nose (of course inadvertently) on stage. That was during a very volatile and vigorous, production of “Julius Caesar.” I was Julius Caesar. In my assassination scene all the actors came up, simulated daggers and very slowly thrust their fists into me. Then, “Et tu Brute? Then fall, Caesar!” And I would fall. It was tricky to die on stage. I always tried different ways in rehearsal, and I finally pretty much had it down. But the other thing I was consumed with was blood being authentic. Every actor wants to be as authentic as possible. I tried different things, a bloody rag, blood pellets, nothing really worked. I gave up.
"There is no safety net and you are out there on the wire." - Ian Swift
Evalyn Hansen: What is it that is unique about theater?
Ian Swift: I think it’s something you don’t do by yourself; it’s something that you have to involve others in. Even if you are doing a one-man show, you still have a producer, a light crew, sound, whatever. It’s a team effort. It’s unique in that respect. It is a team sport. With painting, composing, writing — it’s a solo thing.
What goes into theater is extraordinary. You come together to do a play, and it’s like a bunch of folks put on an elevator. And the elevator gets stuck. And you are with these human beings for a very intense period of time, for five or six weeks of rehearsal. You see them almost on a daily basis. Theater also calls for putting yourself in a vulnerable position. Otherwise I don’t think it makes for a good actor.
"Maybe it's the schizophrenic in us all that just wants to be everybody all of the time." — Mark Barsekian
EH: So you’re basically an actor?
MB: I love to explore life through the characters I perform. Acting is my retreat. It’s when I don’t have to be me. Maybe it’s the schizophrenic in us all that just wants to be everybody all of the time. Any life that I want to live, I can, just by picking up a script, and doing the homework and dedicating my self to a character and to an author, and being true to what I see: in life and in the text. Because we portray life, we are communicating lives to our audiences, people that they know or will never know. That is one of the gifts of acting.
Over coffee and root beer at Bloomsbury Coffee House, Doug Ham described the theatrical team experience.
EH: Theater is life-giving, in a way, isn’t it?
DH: The first show I was ever in was during the height of the Vietnam War. People were afraid of being drafted. I was a mess. At the end of the show this couple came up to me and said it was so cool for two hours to come into the theater and to be able to laugh out loud and to and forget about all that is going on outside. I thought, “Well this is what I need to be doing.” It can be an escape and it can be a teacher.
"There is a truth to theater that you may not see out on the street." — Peter Alzado
As we sat in the darkened theater on a sunny day, Peter expanded on his vision of theater and the release of the soul.
EH: You have two plays coming up in the next season: “Golden Boy” by Clifford Odets and “Glen Garry Glen Ross” by David Mamet. What attracted you to present those plays?
PA: Both plays deal with the downside of the American economic system. I’m all there with free enterprise, but I think, taken as far as it can go, it becomes cannibalism, and we are seeing that now. There needs to be free market but there also needs to be a recognition that we’re all human and we need to treat each other in a fashion that respects that money is not the end of everything: the be-all and end-all. That’s what has brought us to the place we are now.
Because I was already an artist in other media, as soon as I started dancing, I immediately started choreographing. — Jim Giancarlo
Jim Giancarlo puts together an inspired life for himself and for numerous other theater artists on a daily basis. As we sipped steaming coffee at Bloomsbury Café last Friday, I could easily see that he brings a relaxed creative atmosphere wherever he goes. He wrote and directed “Ali Baba,” opening that evening.
EH: So you grew up on the East Coast?
JG: I grew up in Buffalo, N.Y.
EH: And that’s where you went to the university?
JG: My degree is in visual art. So I kind of came to theater in a back-door sort of way. When I was in college I started doing quite a bit of writing. I moved to San Francisco in 1972 to write, and I immediately got caught up in dance, which was always a secret passion. I was 25 when I started training as a dancer.
I want to hold the mirror up to society. I try to do shows, that highlight the best in us, and sometimes it means highlighting the worst. — Livia Genise
With her fine bones and raven curls, Livia Genise is a musical comedy diva. But visiting over coffee at Bloomsbury’s café, I found she is also a serious artist with remarkable integrity.
EH: Does anyone ever call you the Queen of Camelot?
LG: You know, one of the reasons we call it Camelot is that I envision a round table where everyone is valued. There doesn’t need to be somebody that is at the head, but I’m responsible for the quality of what we do.
I try to do shows each year that are thoughtful, but also bring in the audience. It’s hard to sell shows with dark subjects. I usually do something each year that is not making Camelot’s political statement, but that is thought provoking. My first year the play was “The Music Lesson,” which was about the war in Sarajevo, the siege, and how it affected artists and children. That was powerful and very well attended.