I am proud to say that today’s interview with Patty Gallagher marks MD Theatre Guide’s 200th edition of ’A Quick 5!’
Patty Gallagher is currently appearing onstage at Folger Theatre in The Conference of The Birds. She previously has worked at Folger Theatre as their movement director for Orestes: A Tragic Romp and The Two Gentlemen of Verona. Regional credits include 1 Henry IV, Three Musketeers, The Diaries of Adam and Eve, Twelfth Night, Double Bind, School for Fiance(é)s (director), A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shipwrecked!, The Tempest and King Lear (choreographer) at Shakespeare Santa Cruz; Journey to the West, Shipwrecked!, Winter’s Tale, The Decameron, NagaMandala, Othello, Act Without Words I,Orlando, Good Woman of Setzuan, Happy Days, The Cherry Orchard, Red Noses and Endymion at Rogue Theatre; A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Happy Days at California Shakespeare Theatre; Antigone and Fire Throws at Ripe Time, Show Up! at New Pickle Circus; Girly Chaplin, Sister Keaton (director) at Local Hero;La Noche en que Se Perdió La Escopeta at Teatro Malayerbaand and Hamlet (dramaturg) at Arden Theatre Company. She received a Fulbright Fellow in 2006 (Ecuador). When not performing Patty is a Professor of Theater at The University of California Santa Cruz and was the Former Director in Residence at the Clown Conservatory, CircusCenter, San Francisco.
How did you first come to Folger Theatre?
I was invited to do Movement, Clown and Mask work for Aaron Posner’s 2006 glorious Two Gentleman of Verona. The production (starring Holly Twyford, Kate Eastwood Norris, and Ian Merrill Peakes and featuring the masks of Aaron Cromie) figures as one of the most delightful and artistically satisfying experiences of my career.
You have done a lot of movement direction for productions? Can you please tell us what a movement director does?
A movement director’s job varies from production to production, but in general, she helps the director create the physical landscape of the show. My tasks might include any of the following: developing an overall physical vocabulary for the show, aiding an actor in creating a role, developing safe stage combat, creating choreography, and training actors in specific techniques (mask work or Balinese dance, for instance). Though the tasks are various, they share the same objective: creating movement that supports the storytelling and moves the dramatic action forward.
It’s fun for me to be on the other side of the process now. It’s a joy to be an actor engaging with the brilliant work of this production’s choreographer Erika Chong Shuch. Her work, both muscular and lyrical, creates a richly embodied foundation for the poetic world that Aaron Posner constructs.
Can you please tell us about the character you play in The Conference of The Birds?
I play the Hoopoe, the bird that calls on the other birds to begin the arduous journey to the land of the Simorgh. As the leader of the expedition, the Hoopoe has to inspire and support the other birds. She has fortitude and wisdom, but is not without her fears, flaws and illusions.
You are currently a Professor of Theatre at the University of California at Santa Cruz. How do you balance being an academic and working on a production 3,000 miles across country?
UCSC is a research university, which means that it asks its professors to bring creative research from the professional artistic world back into the classroom. It’s incumbent upon me to bring the most contemporary and practice-based knowledge back to my students. To do my job well, I have to be a working artist.
It can be exhausting, doing many shows during an academic year, but I never consider that one aspect of my job competes with another. Teaching makes me a smarter and braver actor. Conversely, the beautiful struggle of art-making makes me a better and more compassionate guide for my students. I can’t imagine life without both sides of the work.
I’m grateful to my university colleagues for helping me find the balance. In any given year they help me arrange my schedule so that I can teach and perform (I do a lot of work with The Rogue Theatre, where I’m an Artistic Associate). In two cases (both Folger projects) I have applied for and been granted sabbatical leaves. Even when I’m on sabbatical, though, there is a lot of UCSC work to be done. There have been plenty of cases where I go home after rehearsal and write letters of recommendation or do “office hours” by phone and email. All my colleagues do the same: we’re in the professional world, but our first job is to take care of the students.
Can you please tell us about the Clown Conservatory Circus Center?
The Clown Conservatory was begun in 2000 by Jeff Raz, a former member of the New Pickle Circus (and later a Cirque du Soleil clown). It operates out of the San Francisco Circus Center. It brings together the work of American, French and Chinese circus and theatrical clown traditions. It trains performers from a number of approaches: from circus skills and acrobatics (for circus contexts) to movement and character-based clowning for theatre (anything from original solo work to the clowns of Shakespeare and Beckett).
I graduated from the Conservatory’s inaugural class and later taught there for 10 years. It opened up a world for me, one that brought together multiple cultures and which spanned many theatrical traditions, from popular culture to the most literary and esoteric.
CloCo students have gone on to work with Cirque Eloize, Cirque du Soleil, and theatres and festivals throughout the world.
Other students have developed social programs like hospital clowning and educational programs.