What can I say about the man who adores me to no end? I mean, the man who adores "Call Me Adam" to no end. He actually never has said he adores me, Adam Rothenberg, he just loves my site, but I'll take it! I can't believe I've known Joe for eight years and have gotten to interview him, now three times, plus have seen him go from a fellow blogger to an award winning playwright! He writes, acts, directs, and produces. He does it all!
GARBO tells the story of Joe, a Gay New Yorker, who happens upon the tiny, hidden, candle-lit Garbo Bar during his visit to Rome, Italy. An emotional adventure begins when he is introduced to the handsome, enigmatic, (possibly!) closeted bartender/owner. Funny and heartfelt, GARBO explores why life and love may be better lived outside the closet...even (or especially) in the shadow of the Vatican!"
I'm thrilled to bring this new interview to you about Joe's latest play, GARBO, that will be presented in the 2017 Downtown Urban Arts Festival on Tuesday, May 9 at 7pm at The Cherry Lane Theatre!
1. On May 9, you are presenting a one-night only performance of your play GARBO at the Cherry Lane Theatre as part of the 2017 Downtown Urban Arts Festival. What excites you about having your play in this particular festival? I am huge fan of the Downtown Urban Arts Festival! They care about playwrights. They care about "the words." Their festival is curated within an inch of its life. So, I am extremely proud that they selected GARBO. Oh and, um, they are producing us at the Cherry Lane Theatre! Adam, c’mon…THAT is exciting! And, in my case, a dream come true!
2. GARBO has had some previous incarnations already...in 2011 it was a ONE ACT selected for the 2011 FRESH FRUIT FESTIVAL...and then, in 2012 it was selected by the TIMES SQUARE INTERNATIONAL THEATER FESTIVAL for a STAGED READING…and since then, you have added a second act. What made you want to add a second act? What did you feel was missing from the show as a one act or did you just love performing the show so much that you wanted to write yourself more stage time...hahaha? I love this question! Nothing was ever missing from the ONE ACT (short play) version. I wrote about my experience having (what I call!) an "unrequited love affair" with a bar owner in Rome, Italy. I was very pleased with the piece, its message and the early performances.
The fact that the play was only an hour long bothered me. I believe in GARBO and I wanted it to be available to larger audiences and (in my mind) that meant it had to be a proper TWO ACT (full length) play. This stymied me because the original version was true to what happened to me in Rome. It had a beginning, middle and an end!
My director, Brian Rardin, challenged me to come up with an Act 2. I was resistant! Like I said, there was no more "true" story, so I did not know where to go with it. I didn’t rush my feelings about it. I let it all marinate. Then, one day, I was at the gym and it just "came to me." A twist! A freakin’ twist, Adam! One that opens the story up but, at the same time, allows it to go deeper. I am pretty sure Act 2 will come as a big surprise to our audience. It definitely creates a richer…more resonant experience. But, honestly, it also adds another element of just plain soapy fun! So, no! I did not write Act 2 so I could have more stage time! Ha! I am already horrified enough about the amount of memorizing I need to do!
3. Without reading a description of the show, one might think GARBO has something to do with Greta Garbo, but in actuality, it's about your time in Rome where you had an unrequited love affair with the owner/bartender of a tiny candle-lit bar called GARBO Bar. Has there been any confusion about this? Yes! All the time! But, to the confused, I say…"Was MOBY DICK really about a whale?"
4. Now, let's get into the intricacies of the show itself! As stated in the previous question, GARBO is about the three years you spent in Rome, but you initially went there for just three months, until you "fell in love." You original reason for going to Rome was because you felt it was your duty to visit the homeland & get to know your history. What happened in your life that made you feel this necessity? It sounds like something "negative" happened but, actually, it was the opposite. In the mid-90’s, I took a trip to Spain that was supposed to last a month. I ended up staying there for a year and a half! As a native New Yorker, I was astounded by how "out" the gay guys were. I lived in New York all my life and, obviously, New York is a great place to be if you are gay. But, I had never seen men holding hands in the streets, kissing and making out in public spaces until I lived in Spain. This stayed with me.
Moving to Spain was sorta random. I never expected to stay that long. But, when I was back in the States, I started to feel guilty. I mean, there I was, I had lived in Madrid and Ibiza, but never even visited Italy. As an Italian-American, I knew I had to remedy this! In planning my trip to the "homeland," my goal was to "get in touch" with my Italian heritage and, ideally, fall in love with a sexy, hot Italian guy. Ha! At the very least, I’d experience that same European, gay (Spanish-like!) openness…only, this time, I’d be in the country my family is from!
5. How long into your three-month visit, did you meet the owner/bartender of GARBO? Then how long after that, were you like, I should stay longer? Ok, well…in real life, I was there for three years! I met the guy about a month into my trip. I knew I was staying for an "extended holiday," but I was not familiar enough with Rome to know exactly where I should settle. I’d read a memoir called, Four Seasons in Rome by Anthony Doerr. The author wrote rhapsodically about a part of Rome called Trastevere. All I remembered was that you could enter Trastevere from a bridge named the "Ponte Sisto." I bought a map (This was before I had an iPhone!) and I made my way to that damn bridge. I crossed it, fell in love with the neighborhood and got an apartment almost immediately. I went to Garbo the first night that I lived there...and, well, that’s when we met!
To be clear, I did not meet this guy and fall "head over heels." It wasn’t like that at all! I liked him! We became friends. As a foreigner, I appreciated his friendship and it made my acclimation that much easier. I never really "decided" to stay longer. I just sorta lingered!
6. Three years is a long time to stay somewhere for someone, who you say is an "unrequited love." What indications did he give you that he was in "love" with you too? Why do you feel it took three years to realize it was time to go home? What was the moment that made you say, "It's time to go"? First, I agree! It was a ridiculously long time to stay! I mean, besides him, I was enjoying every aspect of being in Rome. It lives up to everything you hear about it: gorgeous, magical.. "eternal!" So, the backdrop helped me stay stationary…for sure. I guess my answer is: Everything happened so slowly. It took time for my emotions and feelings to catch up with the friendship that already existed. I won’t say too much more because it’s pretty well-illustrated in the play. Oh and, in terms of leaving, the play is very specific about what happens and why I finally check out! Besides, Adam, you are going to be there May 9th! I want you to have an unfettered experience.
8. When did you decide this experience should be made into a play? What did you learn about your time in Rome writing this play that you didn't know going through it? That’s easy! While I was there, I became friends with an Irish painter. She was a lesbian and she spoke English. Both of these facts were a huge relief to me. I would spend my nights hanging out with the bartender/owner and I would spend my days gossiping and bonding with her. As months went by and the drama heightened, she would often say, "Joe, this is a play!" When I returned home, I sat down and wrote it! I loved the concept of telling a fully wrought story by simply juxtaposing two ongoing, yet separate, dialogues.
In terms of what I learned creating the play….Well, I didn’t learn much when I first wrote it. I just regurgitated my experience. I was "fresh" from it. But, when we started rehearsals, my director and my fellow actors had a million (understandable!) questions. This forced me (on a daily basis!) to relive it. Full on, intense therapy, Adam! Not fun! It is interesting because there are still a lot of questions unanswered.
We were rehearsing with our current cast last night. Kate Greer plays "Anne," the Irish painter. Aristotelis Ambatzidis plays "Ario," the sexy owner of GARBO! Adam, wait until you see the shocking amount of talent these guys possess! They are spectacular! Anyway, we were working through the script as a group and, once again, I found myself learning new things about what went down back in Rome. I mean, this was literally last night! Thankfully, the emotional stakes are lower for me these days! It’s a freakin’ relief…but, I promise, the impassioned potency of the material is strong as ever!
9. After GARBO, you have another project already coming up called GAY.PORN.MAFIA, a collection of your award-winning, nationally produced plays. What made you want to name this collection of your work GAY.PORN.MAFIA? Ah, yes, and how lovely to have a project that is completely separate from my personal life! Ha! Keep in mind, my autobiographical monologues (THE BRONX QUEEN TRILOGY) and GARBO are what’s been keeping me busy these days. GAY.PORN.MAFIA is a lot of crazy fun! Yeah, there’s heart and layers, but we are going for some big laughs! The name derives from the simple fact that each of the six plays contains at least two of following themes: GAY, PORN and/or MAFIA. For instance, one of the plays, REEL WOOD, is about a gay married couple who are forced to live in the basement of their Hollywood home because the rest of their house has been rented to a straight porn production company! Fastidious gay men descended upon by straight porn stars, Adam! Ha! Chaos ensues!
10. Since this collection is called GAY.PORN.MAFIA. if you were to star in a gay porn movie, what do you think your porn name would be? "Moby Dick," of course!
11. How does one transition from porn to this next semi-serious question? I don't know, so I will just ask it. On "Call Me Adam" I have a section called One Percent Better, where through my own fitness commitment, I try to encourage people to improve their own life by one percent every day. What is something in your life that you want to improve by one percent better every day? First, I would like to be able to swipe my Metro Card once, as opposed to the three or four times it takes me to get that damn turnstile to unlatch. If I can get one percent better at doing that, I would be be a much more calm, affable and content subway rider.
Second, I am firm believer in the "pay it forward" movement! I am that corny guy who buys a latte for the lady behind me on line at Starbucks! And um, yes, that is ME receiving her suspicious/awkward/nervous glance when I do it.! We all have the power to be positive. I suggest being bold, being creative and being direct…be DYNAMIC in putting that positive energy out there!
I mean, I read someone’s Blog, Twitter and Instagram who does this ALL OF THE TIME….yep, I call him…ADAM!!!! Thank you for dialing me up, my friend!
Joe Gulla is an American playwright, actor and reality television participant. He is best known for the autobiographical monologues that he writes and performs for the theater. His best known work, Bronx Queen Trilogy is based on his experience growing up as a gay boy in the Bronx.
The Bronx Queen, first in the series, won the 2016 Downtown Urban Arts Festival "Audience Award" for Joe's sold-out performance at Joe's Pub at The Public Theater. The Bronx Queen was also awarded Best Comedic Script and Most Popular Show at NYC Theater Row's 2012 and 2013 United Solo Theatre Festival, respectively.
Faggy at 50, second in the series, was awarded Best One-Man Show at NYC Theater Row's 2014 United Solo Theatre Festival.
Daddy, the series' final installment had its World Premiere at NYC Theater Row's 2015 United Solo Theatre Festival. Joe won the 2015 United Solo Award for Best Comedian for his performance.
His play Garbo was based on an unrequited love affair experienced while living in Rome, Italy. Garbo was selected to be part of the New York City's Times Square International Theater Festival in 2012. He played the role of "Frankie" in Off-Broadway's long-running hit, My Big Gay Italian Wedding.
REEL WOOD, a short play written by Joe, had its World Premiere at the Hollywood Fringe Festival in June 2015. It was also selected by NYC's Village Playwrights to be performed in their "Re-Inventing Family" series commemorating Gay Pride.
Joe's play, Knock Off!, had its world premiere in Houston, TX at Theatre Southwest.
Christmas Caroline, Joe's newest comedy had its World Premiere at Studio C Theatre, Hollywood, CA in November 2015. His play, Gayfever had its World Premiere at the Funky Little Theatre Company in March 2016. Sleeping With The Fish by Joe Gulla opened the Village Playwrights' "Gay Pride and Prejudice" series in June 2016.
In June 2016, Joe's play, Fall and Rise had its World Premiere at the Carrolwood Player's "One Act Weekend" in Tampa, Florida. Later that month, Fall and Rise premiered at the 2016 Hollywood Fringe Festival. Fall and Rise was awarded "Best Play" in 2016 at the Acadia University Mini Fest in Nova Scotia, CN.
The Advocate named Gulla its "Anti-Bullying Hero" in 2012.