“It’s a Wonderful Laugh” runs Nov. 28-Dec. 20. at the Alliance Theatre’s Hertz Stage. Ages 18 and up only.
WHAT DO YOU DO if you’re homeless at Christmastime? If you’re Kevin Gillese and Dad’s Garage Theatre Company, you hook up with your friend Susan V. Booth and put on a show.
Which is exactly what’s happening for the second consecutive season at the Booth-run Alliance Theatre. The Dad’s gang follows last year’s Invasion: Christmas Carol with It’s a Wonderful Laugh, an improvisatory romp through Bedford Falls and the life of one George Bailey.
If you’re new to Dad’s, here’s what the company does, as articulated by artistic director Gillese (pronounced GUH-lease): “We make important things silly and silly things important. We take smart things and try to make them stupid. And we take stupid things and try to make them seem as intelligent as possible. In short: We’re always trying to flip things on their heads in pursuit of laughter.”
Two years ago, the 19-year-old Dad’s, which does scripted shows and a full complement of improv (competitions, game shows, TV and more) lost its longtime Elizabeth Street home to developers who paved it and put up a parking deck. You’ll now find those crazy kids in residence at 7 Stages in Little Five Points most of the time and, if all continues to go well, in a permanent home in the Old Fourth Ward in a few years. (A recent Kickstarter campaign, with a goal of $150,000, raised $169,985.)
Although we expect some of the Dad’s team to impersonate kettle bell-ringers and collect funds this holiday (kidding), six improvisers will have their way with It’s a Wonderful Life, with each performance featuring an invader. You’ll have to watch to see exactly how that plays out. Gillese adapted the script and directs.
We spent a few precious email moments getting to know the 33-year-old Canadian better and forcing him to answer our questions. Here’s what we got:
Answer: More than anything we are anticipating a veritable shower of rotting produce descending upon the actors every evening. Or at least we were until people explained to us that the Alliance is not the same as the Globe Theatre in Elizabethan times, which is a relief because we have some female actors in the cast and I was worried I’d have to replace them with men in drag.
Q: You are into your fifth year at Dad’s. How has that worked out for you?
A: I absolutely love working at Dad’s Garage. As of January, I’ll hit my five-year mark and the time has really flown by, not to mention that it has completely changed my life (I met my wife by working at Dad’s Garage!). I’ve gotten a lot of satisfaction because we’ve been growing and making positive changes while simultaneously navigating some of the biggest challenges in the history of the organization (namely losing our space). I’m not going to say it’s been easy, because it hasn’t been, but it’s been rewarding and inspiring, and I’m so excited to keep pushing us to bigger and better things.
Q: Is it what you expected? What surprised you?
A: The arts education landscape in Atlanta has surprised me. I come from a city where the arts are very accessible to young people and that ends up shaping their tastes as adults. I’m not saying that every kid in Edmonton grows up to be a fan of ballet and opera, but rather that the idea of going to a live show is a normal thing.
In Atlanta it sometimes feels like many of the people walking through our doors are coming into a theater for the first time, and they’re a bit dubious, like, “Man, if this sucks, I’m bailing.” I think that’s a big part of the value Dad’s Garage brings to the local scene. We’re an entry point for folks to get their first taste of live theatre and we go out of our way to make it fun and accessible. As we like to say: “We’re the gateway drug to the arts.”
A: First off, everything that has happened at Dad’s Garage since I’ve arrived has been a team effort, so I certainly don’t want to take all of the credit for everything. That being said, we have made some pretty significant changes to the way we operate and have grown some projects that have exceeded our wildest dreams. In no particular order, I’d say I’m proud of …
Dad’s Garage TV: This was probably the most drastic change I sparked and it comes from a devout belief that arts organizations need to embrace new media in order to stay relevant. DGTV has only been around for a few (three, I think) years, but we’ve already made music videos and sketches and web series and TV commercials and short films. We’ve won awards at festivals and been hired to produce all kinds of content and been invited out to meet with the folks at Comedy Central to talk about working together. We’re developing a series with some producers in Los Angeles, and we’re just getting started.
The Rookies: Back in the day, there was only one real way to become part of Dad’s Garage … hang out and ingratiate yourself and wait to just kind of be asked to do something and the hope that leads to more. It was an imperfect system, for sure, but it was appropriate for the size of the organization at that time. Now that we’ve grown to the size that we are today, we realized that we could keep a healthy flow of new talent coming in. Now every season we invite graduates from our class system to audition for the program, and we take on a group of new folks for a season to see how well they fit in (we give them training and guidance along the way) and after that season is done, we invite some of these new performers to join the general company.
Dad’s Garage and Friends: Last season we had our first event at the Goat Farm. We brought together a bunch of celebrity guests (Aisha Tyler, Tim Meadows, Colin Mochrie, Strong Bad, Kevin McDonald) and a bunch of local partners (Atlanta Opera, Zoetic Dance Ensemble) to join our ensemble for a night of comedy and fun. It was incredible. We sold out quickly, those 1,400 tickets flew off the shelves days before the event, and so this year we’re looking to do something even bigger.
A: There’s really only one answer. I want Dad’s Garage to have a TV show. I feel like the exposure that would come along with that kind of project would cement our place as an iconic Atlanta institution and the definitive comedy institution in the Southeastern United States.
Q: How would you describe the difference between Kevin the improviser and Kevin the artistic director?
A: As an improviser, I love to break the rules, to be wild and free, but as an artistic director I more often find myself being more moderate and even erring on the side of conservative when the situation calls for it. Example, if Dad’s Garage is in a meeting with a foundation or a funder, there’s no way I’d show up wearing ripped jeans and a band T-shirt and a bunch of guy-liner even though the improviser in me would find that to be a hilarious reversal of the tone they’re used to. As an artistic director I have to pick my battles. But as an improviser I can be as outrageous as I want because we’re existing within the reality of the show.
Q: Please talk about your work ethic. It’s been written about quite a bit.
A: It’s pretty simple, really. If you’re lucky enough to have a job when there are so many people out there who don’t, you should express your gratitude by working hard. If you’re luckier still, and have a job that you love, you should express even higher levels of gratitude by working even harder. That’s half of the answer. The other half is that all the clichés about the percentage of perspiration versus inspiration you need to be successful are true. The world is run by those who show up. I’m not saying I want to run the world but … well, somebody’s got to.
Q: What is it about improv that piqued your interest?
A: It’s the only art form where you get to create in the moment and get instant feedback about your work. This is the best training I can possibly imagine for writers, actors, directors. When we make a choice onstage, the audience will immediately tell us if that choice is working. As a result, we’re getting trained over time to have good habits, to make good choices, to create the kind of work that people want to see.
Q: How would you describe your sense of humor?
A: More than anything, I love discovering humor in the depths of human emotion. In my opinion, someone who can bring you to the brink of tears and then make you laugh out loud, is an absolute master. I’m not saying I’m there yet, but I certainly try. Also, I have a soft spot for dad jokes, which is fitting, considering.
Q: How would you describe your personal sense of style?
A: Over the last few years my style has become more and more dad-like. I’m all about the beard, the cardigan and a sensible pant. And yeah, the beard has grown and grown and grown. Soon it’s be asking for its own bed.
Q: If you didn’t do theater/improv for a living, what would you do?
A: Probably an entrepreneur of some kind.