Saturday, August 02, 2014

I Interview Playwrights Part 679: Gianmarco Soresi



Gianmarco Soresi

Hometown: Potomac, MD. But I say I’m from Washington DC to sound interesting.

Current Town: Harlem!

Q:  Tell me about Less Than Fifty Percent.

A:  Less Than Fifty Percent will make its world premiere in the New York International Fringe Festival this August (www.LessThanFiftyPercent.com). The show is produced by Robb Nanus (I AM HARVEY MILK, DEBUTANTE.), Allison Bressi (TOUGH TITTY, (NOT JUST) THREE NEW PLAYS), myself and directed by Max Freedman (BEERTOWN, PILGRIM). Unofficially we’re calling it “Annie Hall” meets a Charlie Kaufman nightmare with a dash of “Inception” but our Fringe blurb is:

When Gianmarco and Laura ended their five-year relationship, Gianmarco wrote a play about it. This is a play about that play - they are starring in it together - and all of it is exactly as it happened.... at least according to Gianmarco.

Less Than Fifty Percent began as a stand-up comedy bit about the chances of a first, second and third marriage staying together, less Than 50 percent, 40 percent, 27 percent respectively (Mike Birbiglia references the same statistics in his phenomenal “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” – I promise we come to different conclusions). The bit was part of a larger set (or rant if you ask my Mother) that criticized getting married at a young age, as some of my peers are alarmingly apt to do, or getting married at all for that matter. Coming from a divorced household myself, during a period when both my parents were going through their second divorces, I was and am, though perhaps less so in my old age, cynical about the whole affair.

 At the time I was in the midst of what would be a five-year relationship with a fellow actress that was rather wonderful. We spent an absurd amount of time together, as we were in the same conservatory program, did tons of shows, and even put up our own production of “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea”. My plan upon graduation, however, was to break-up. She knew this and my reasoning behind it (I need to find out who I am, all relationships end in disaster, life is meaningless, etc.). Fortunately we were both accepted into an international Meisner-based acting company in Philadelphia during our senior year that temporarily postponed our inevitable split. Unfortunately, the company was short-lived so in a very windy December, my prior plan re-reared its ugly head, no longer looking like a choice but rather a regrettably necessary life stage: I would move to NY, she to LA. BUT I had a solution: I would write a play about our dilemma, starring the two of us, which would reunite us that summer.

That’s where the first version of Less Than Fifty Percent came about a narcissistic, cynical comedian and the girl who was unfortunate enough to fall in love with him, chock full of direct addresses (basically just “Annie Hall”). It wasn’t bad! But it wasn’t good enough for the Fringe. I did not get in. And my long-distance-not-relationship-but-what-is-it-then-we-need-space-can-I-visit?-crying-skyping-too-much-then-too-little-nightmare got a lot more complicated.

Undeterred by rejection on all fronts, I continued work on the play, determined to get in the following year. I was aided by to-be-the-producer Robb Nanus, who was a bit exhausted by the plethora of ‘relationship plays’ in the universe to begin with, priming me for the turns the show was soon to take. Enter Max Freedman, on board as the director despite zero production plans, who challenged me to acknowledge, within the show itself, that I was writing a play about my ex that was to literally star the two of us. From there, over many sleepless nights, the simple play became a play within a play…within a play…and for a brief moment within a play, time got warped, shit got weird, and soon my romantic comedy was anything but.

Fortunately I not only got into the Fringe this year but my ex agreed to be in the show and we’ve created the hopefully hilariously emotional train wreck that is today’s Less Than Fifty Percent now subtitled “based on a much simpler play that was never produced.

You can see the original stand-up comedy set performed at The Metropolitan Room here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZnHT2HpXTk

Q:  Tell me about your web series.

A:  An Actor Unprepared, inspired by Constantin Stanislavski’s “An Actor Prepares” in name only, came about after I watched the short-lived “Smash” series pilot on NBC. The show, which aimed to capture “the beauty and heartbreak of the Broadway theater” had a scene where Katharine McPhee’s (or Megan Hilty’s, I don’t recall…) agent called her to let her know the lead in a Broadway show, which she was up for against one other person, went to said other person. Tears were shed, soft music played, it was all very moving, however, I thought to myself “SHE WAS UP FOR A LEAD IN A FUCKING BROADWAY SHOW! I can’t even get an audition for a…anything!” Until recently, most shows about the biz displayed what life is like at the top; “Entourage” was my guide for what my future in the performing arts would entail. I have been severely disappointed. Thus “An Actor Unprepared” was born, capturing what life was like at the very bottom of the food chain, where the majority of us are.

My goal with the series was partially to explore the life of a narcissist in the most narcissism-inducing career / what happens when you’re not only peddling a completely unwanted product but that product is you. But more so I aimed to shed light on some of the obscene practices that have become the status quo of struggling artists’ lives. In the pilot, Gianmarco has to get ten people to his stand-up comedy show, each required to buy three over-priced drinks, so that he may perform for five minutes, the carrot being that a commercial agent will be in attendance. Now that is an ABSURD requirement for an opportunity that, 99.9% of the time, results in nothing. Yet this has not only come to be acceptable but in some ways a mandatory step, paying for exposure (at least for actors and comics), to break into the industry.

With several episodes written, I was lucky enough to get in touch with Gia Mckenna of 1909 Productions (she cast me in an industrial a year prior as an Italian-accented businessman) who liked the pilot script enough to produce and direct the entire thing on a tiny budget (my first and, I naively thought, last indiegogo campaign ever). Along with her partner, Stephen M. Ditmer, they shot and edited five seven-minutes-ish episodes and I couldn’t be happier with the results.

We’ve no ‘official’ plans for a second season but I have written almost all of it, including an episode tailored for a guest star by my doppelganger: “Gianmarco pathetically struggles to get an appointment for the “Untitled Jeff Goldblum biopic”. Spoiler alert: I don’t get the part.” If you know him please pass this along.

Q:  What else are you working on now?

A:  Besides Less Than Fifty Percent and “An Actor Unprepared” I am valiantly failing to consume three meals a day, sleep more than 5 hours a night and figure out WTF is going on in HBO’s “The Leftovers”. Where did they go? I could also use a “girlfriend”.

On the playwriting front my next undertaking (which will not feature myself as a main character!) is “Para-”(I insist on obnoxiously odd titles). The show is inspired by Lamar Keen’s autobiography, “Psychic Mafia”, about his rise to stardom as a phony psychic in the still-existing Camp Chesterfield, a hotbed for phonies, charlatans and hucksters looking to make a buck off those with the will to believe. In my wildest dreams the show will open with a full-on séance, all the tricks: cold-reading, disembodied voices, materializations, the same that fooled some of humanity’s sharpest minds ironically including Arthur Conan Doyle. I also want to mix in a story from the Shanti Nilaya Healing Center scandal (famous for Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ frequent attendance) where Facet of the Divinity church leader Jay Barham would pretend to materialize widows’ dead husbands (by wrapping himself in translucent cheese cloth) and then have relations with them, a scheme that was busted when the many ghosts seemed to pass along the exact same STD…Oh, Jay, you silly goose.

I am also in the process of having my first (sort-of) children’s book, “Sisyphus and Sam”, illustrated by the very talented Brian Cheng. I’ve written a good number of these things though I’m not sure if they’re for anyone but myself as they’re generally wildly inappropriate for children and feature infinite amounts of absurd alliteration. To give you an idea, the other titles are “Divorce for Children”, “Science Versus Religion FOR KIDS!”, “Peter Pipsqueak and the Really Big Horn” and “Robb the Blob”, only the latter lacking a lot of four letter words.

lastly, I'm lucky enough to be in your (Adam Szymkowicz) play, “Clown Bar” every Saturday night at The Box. I’m a swing for Happy, an ex-clown cop hell bent on avenging his dead, unfunny brother, Bobo, a slimy mobster and clown bar owner, and Zeezoo, a le Coq school drop-out in charge of the The Box’s bathrooms. It has been a blast, I’ve gotten to play all three characters, which is a swing’s dream, and I hope it runs for the next ten years.

Q:  Tell me, if you will, a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a writer or as a person.

A:  I was cast as the Handsome Prince in Washington Episcopal School’s “The Princess and the Pea” in 2nd grade. My crown was made of gold-spray-painted-Styrofoam. It was a big deal.

In the penultimate scene, Pretty Princess said to me “I love you”. My response was supposed to be “And I love you” [emphasis added]. In the heat of the moment, twenty if not thirty parents’ eyes fixed on me, I stuck my index finger down my opened mouth, tongue outstretched and made a gagging sound. The audience approved. I saw those ten-to-fifteen adults roar with laughter, people who under any other circumstance wouldn’t have given me the time of day (my parents were in the audience as well…), all of us sharing something.

In that moment I became a writer, an actor, and a bit of an asshole all at once.

Q:  Who are or were your theatrical writing heroes?

A:  Writers, in general: Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David (My Father and I watched it every Thursday, they’ll always be a part of what I find funny), Charlie Kaufman, Leo Tolstoy, Nora Ephron, Orson Welles, Kurt Vonnegut, Edward Albee, David Mamet, Arthur Miller, Tennessee Williams, Stephen Adly Guirgis, Peter Shaffer, Philip Pullman, J. K. Rowling, Suzanne Collins (I’m a sucker for YA), John Patrick Shanley, Martin Gardner, Nicky Silver, Christopher Durang…so many more but that’s what’s on my mind.

Musical Theater and I broke up after college but I have to say William Finn and Stephen Sondheim changed everything for me.

Stand-Up Comics: Seinfeld, Louis CK, Dave Chappelle, Bill Burr, Eddie Murphy, Mike Birbiglia, John Mulaney

Q:  What kind of theater excites you?

A:  When I went to “Sleep No More” my first thought was…everything I thought about theater was completely wrong. The feeling faded but I am always happy when something breaks the boundaries of ‘traditional’ theater (whatever the hell that means).

I did not grow up in a theater or movie going family so the medium of my lifetime very much is television. I like my entertainment at home so when I do go to see theater I am excited by anything that feels like I couldn’t have gotten the same experience on HBO GO/makes me not angry that I’m not watching HBO GO (for free, I might add).

I do feel the need though to say that that’s complete bullshit because seeing “August: Osage County” on Broadway was unforgettable. I would consider that traditional yet absolutely electrifying (and better than the movie). As much as I would have loved an immersive production of “August”, what they did suited the piece just fine J

So…in conclusion: I’d say anything that feels like I couldn’t have gotten it at home (and alone). Whether that means its immersive/interactive or whether that means the script and acting create an intimacy I can’t achieve with a screen…that’s what excites me.

Q:  What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?

A:  I’ve actually been combing your prior interviews for advice since I feel I’m rather new myself but if I could give advice to myself even a year ago I would say:

1. See projects all the way through. Anything that I’ve learned from chronic script-reading and classes pales in comparison to what I’ve learned by getting work up on its feet. Even a public reading goes much further than doing yet another draft by yourself. I very consciously tried to do more this year and practice less in all respects and it has made a world of a difference.

2. Find your people. Other writers, producers, actors, anyone that might read your work and give feedback, act it out, ANYTHING. And then take the time to give back to them. Nothing is more disheartening than a play unread and nothing more inspiring than one person intrigued. Having not gone to college in New York can be rough for the first few years.

3. No more plays about your ex-girlfriend after this one. We get it.

Q:  Plugs, please:

A:  Less Than Fifty Percent will be running at the Kraine Theater (85 E 4th Street) in the New York International Fringe Festival. 
Friday 8/8 @ 7:45pm
Monday 8/11 @ 2:30pm
Friday 8/15 @ 5:30pm
Thursday 8/21 @ 5:00pm
Saturday 8/23 @ 1:00pm

Tickets can be purchased at:
http://www.fringenyc.org/basic_page.php?ltr=num#%3C50%

And more information (+video promo!) can be found at:
www.LessThanFiftyPercent.com

An Actor Unprepared (the web series)’s entire first season can be found at:
www.AnActorUnprepared.com

But here’s a link to the TRAILER:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=85zpGQxaJRc

And Indie Series Network’s Nominated Third Episode: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbRA1cHi7ZE

Lastly but most importantly (just as an actor though) I’m in the hilariously twisted clown noir masterpiece, Clown Bar, Written by Adam Szymkowicz and directed by Andrew Neisler.

Clown Bar runs every Saturday at The Box (189 Chrystie St.) and tickets are available at: http://pipelinetheatre.org/main-stage/clown-bar/


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