Guild Hall’s latest virtual benefit, A Totally Disrespectful Evening of Short Plays, was penned by longtime supporter Joy Behar. The Virtual Benefit Reading, which also supports the Bridgehampton Child Care & Recreational Center and JBJ Soul Kitchen, will premiere on Sunday, October 25 at 8:00 p.m.
The star-studded cast includes Bob Balaban, Brynne Amelia Ballan, Chris Bauer, Joy Behar, Lorraine Bracco, Rachel Dratch, Susie Essman, Paul Hecht, Danny Hoch, Robert Klein, Irene Sofia Lucio, Dylan McDermott, Albert Jack Peterson, Linda Smith, Brenda Vaccaro, and Steven Weber.
We had the pleasure of speaking with John Gould Rubin, who directed the five short, comic pieces, as well as Jack Peterson.
The evening will feature five short plays penned by Joy Behar. Is this your first time working with Joy?
AJP: Yes, this is my first time working with Joy.
JGR: We started working together on a piece she wrote called Crisis in Queens. We had done a reading of it live, in a room with actors and an audience, just before the pandemic hit. This came about because she has a house out in the Hamptons and she knows Josh [Gladstone], and Josh came to the reading and really liked it. I think other people from the theater from the board came, and they liked the reading. When he was putting together his benefit programming for the summer, we talked about doing that. Joy had the idea that maybe there would be something she could come up with, new pieces that would be more conducive to doing things on Zoom as a benefit, because I think it’s a little grueling to do a full play on Zoom and have people watch it. It’s not a film, it’s not a TV show. So, I think the idea was that maybe if we did a series of shorter comic pieces, and it was an hour evening, instead of a two hour, hour and a half evening. I think that was the impulse behind taking all these pieces and putting them together.
Albert, what attracted you to your role in Pearl Has a Visitor, also featuring Susie Essman, Bob Balaban, and Steven Weber?
AJP: I felt like I could relate to him because he’s a character that’s 13 and I’m also 13. To play a role that’s realistic, it’s nice.
The play centers around a teenager who learns a few things from a notable comedian. What have you taken away from working with Susie, Bob and Steven?
AJP: It was really nice working with them. I’ve learned so much from them – just seeing how they were acting. It was a lot of fun working with them.
A Totally Disrespectful Evening of Short Plays will stream as a virtual benefit. Albert, could you discuss what it was like to rehearsal and film via Zoom?
AJP: They were a lot of fun. It was my first time and a lot of people’s first time doing rehearsals and doing a show through Zoom because of COVID-19. I thought it was a lot of fun and interesting to do something I’ve never done before.
So, was everything done from the actor’s homes then?
JGR: They were shooting from home, nothing was done in person. I mean, it was in real time. But everybody was shooting from their computers or phones or tablets or whatever, from home over Zoom.
John, what was it like directing a Zoom production?
JGR: I’ve done a fair amount of it, because I was about to direct a play when the pandemic descended. We ended up doing the play on Zoom. I sort of had a trial by fire. I’ve done a lot of readings since then. So, I guess I would say I’m no longer unfamiliar with the medium and I think that part of it is, for me, to get the actors in the same world. But that’s not dissimilar from working on a play. Part of the process of directing a play, or even a reading of a play is getting the actors in the same world, like stylistically or energetically. To do it on Zoom is part of that. It’s just adapting to the fact that everybody’s looking into their screen and not talking to people. That is the hardest, the biggest obstacle to making it feel real. Would you agree, Albert, that getting accustomed to talking to a screen was the most unusual part?
AJP: Yeah, I would definitely agree – because usually, when I act, I act face to face with other people.
John, A Totally Disrespectful Evening has quite the talented cast. Were you involved with casting?
JGR: I was, a lot. Joy knew some people, Josh knew some people and I knew some people. Casting was fun, because it’s calling up people who you know are sitting around at home. Because what are they doing? If they say they’re too busy, you get to say, “Really? Doing what? Are you the only person in America who’s busy outside of a hospital?” And I think people are delighted to do it. These pieces are light hearted and fun. It’s a romp for an actor; I think it’s a fun thing to do. I think that’s part of the appeal. Also, a lot of the people that are doing it are friends of hers, and the people I asked to do it knew who she was and imagined it would be fun to do.
John, what drew you to this benefit and the material?
JGR: It’s a theater, and I didn’t know the people who ran the theater. So, it’s a way to get to know people who run a theater and hopefully do something at the theater. Also, Josh is interested in doing Joy’s play at some time in the future. Therefore I want to help and further advance that project. The material, she writes a comedy of a genre that’s sort of 60s Boulevard comedy. Like the Joe Bologna, Renee Taylor stuff. It’s just really, really funny.
There’s something intrinsically delightful about working on material just to see how it can land, and also struggling with it on Zoom, to see if we can actually make it as comic on Zoom as it reads and would be live. It’s very funny, it is disrespectful, the material is disrespectful. It feels like it’s nice to be politically incorrect in the times in which we live. There’s no downside. I have to say that I got along with Joy when I started working with her, and my approach felt right to her, and I respond to the material.
There were challenges, like Albert and I had to figure out how to work together. It’s like putting a group of people together, who don’t know each other, some of the stars in it do know one another. I’m hoping not to be indolent entirely during the pandemic, and this gave me something to do, and something pleasurable to do. Also, I got to rekindle friendships with some of the actors who I hadn’t seen in a while.
Is it hard to find that chemistry while you’re directing over Zoom?
JGR: No matter what you do, making a connection between the director and actors is a critical thing. It’s like, how do you get to them? Part of it is just making them feel assured that they’re in a project that they’re going to be happy to be involved with, in which they’re going to look good. I think there’s just an additional burden on Zoom – because I think everybody’s aware that Zoom is just not a theatrical or cinematic medium. It sort of intrinsically undermines your efforts to look good. So, part of my job is to make actors feel reassured that they’ll look good. In Zoom, it’s partly about letting them know that it’s not cinema, it’s more stage. The acting is not the same scale as it is in cinema or on TV. It’s more theatrical – and, I think, it’s because the camera doesn’t move. It’s just like on stage, actors are acting for a perspective that’s frozen, because they’re in a theater and the stage doesn’t move. In cinema, the camera moves, and you get a lot of activity and energy and vitality and diversity, just from the movement of the camera and the changes in angles. In Zoom, the camera doesn’t move, so the actors have to be as animated as they would be on stage. Part of my job is to make sure they feel comfortable doing that and don’t think that they’re going to look like they’re overacting or foolish.
It’s a version of just doing video calls, but it’s its own medium, and it’s its own animal and it’s about making them feel comfortable acting. Really, in the end, it’s making sure they feel comfortable acting the way they want to act.
Do either of you have a connection to the East End?
JGR: Well, Albert lives on Long Island. Albert, what town are you in?
AJP: I’m in Port Jeff.
JGR: My connection to the East End is that I’ve been there. I’ve been there a number of times.
AJP: This was my first East End production. One of my old acting teachers, Bethany – who works at Gateway, went out to the East End and was doing a few things there. She heard they were looking for a 13-year-old boy and reached out to see if I wanted to do it. I said I would be thrilled.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
JGR: It was a ball. It was taking these diverse pieces, and this rather large and diverse cast, and trying to meld them all into one evening. Honestly, I think the trick for me is to actually make it a real entertainment. So that it’s not just an evening of celebrities on your screen, but actually that the material and the way we’ve done it is diverting and you can really howl at it. I expect it to be, and aim to make it really, really funny.
Tickets are $75 per household.
For more information, visit www.guildhall.org.