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Monday, June 3, 2013

Groovy Guy of the Month: Andrew Volkoff



This month's Groovy Guy is Andrew Volkoff, the new Artistic Director of Chicago's About Face Theatre Company (where I've seen many wonderful LGBT productions over the years). A native of Milwaukee, Andrew was previously the Associate Artistic Director of Barrington Stage Company in Massachusetts for five years and of Genesius Theatre Group in New York City for three years. He was also chosen as the first director to participate in the US/Bulgaria Directors Exchange Project and directed the Bulgarian premiere of John Kolvenbach’s Lovesong at the Nikolai Binev Theatre where it is now in its second year of repertory. Other directing credits include I Am My Own Wife, The Santaland Diaries and The Laramie Project (at BSC), Follies (for NYC's Blue Hill Troupe), WTC View (in the NY Fringe), Stupid Kids and The Wild Party (at Boston's SpeakEasy Stage), and A...My Name Will Always Be Alice (at Boston's Lyric Stage).

So I thought featuring Mr. Volkoff here on the Dish to answer a few questions about his life and, of course, pop culture would be a nice way to welcome him to the Windy City.

What made you want to be the new Artistic Director of About Face Theatre Company?
About Face is a vital theatre that serves a large Midwestern city, generates new, innovative work, and retains a relevant stake in its community by contributing to its artistic development and growth and by advancing the public dialogue on sexual identity and gender. As a gay man who grew up in Milwaukee and as a director with a strong background in new plays searching for an opportunity to use the leadership skills I’d learned over the years to helm a theatre, impact a community and move back to the Midwest – it was the perfect storm! What greater honor could there be than to serve a theatre like AFT?

Do you have any plans yet for your first season at AFT?
I think every artistic director coming into a new position has plans or ideas of pieces they’d like to program or programs they’d like to institute. But it’s important to me to work with the AFT community to find out what direction they’re interested in taking the theatre. I’m sure that AFT already has some plays in the development pipeline that we’re still committed to and the Artist Associates attached to the theatre have some ideas for productions they’ll want to pitch. It’s going to be up to me to listen to all those various voices, drill down and find a mix that honors our mission and engages audiences. Exciting plans are coming, I assure you, but you can safely bet that we’re working hard to bring Liza back to Chicago this holiday season.

When did you first discover your love of theatre?
I think I first discovered my love of theatre acting in musicals in high school - creaky but fun shows like George M!, Hit the Deck and H.M.S. Pinafore. But it wasn’t until I saw a production of Follies in London in 1987 that I was truly bitten by the bug. When I was moved to tears over the beauty of a scenic transition – the music, the lights, the sets, and the actors all working in seamless perfection to maintain the story and the emotion of the piece through what could have been a purely mundane moment and elevated it to a moment of indescribable beauty and transformation – that’s when I knew that I wanted to share that feeling with people. I wanted to move them the way I had been moved and I knew I had to become a director.

What has been your proudest moment as a director?
I have two that stand out: first, getting emails of congratulations from overseas, informing me that the lead actress in the Bulgarian language production I had directed had been nominated for a Bulgarian equivalent of a Tony and that the play had been assumed into the theatre’s repertory; and secondly, being told by Mois├ęs Kaufman after seeing my production of I Am My Own Wife that my ending was more satisfying than his - that I had, in effect, trumped him. Yes, definitely my proudest moments.

I love the title of the musical you're developing - Swish; or my quest to become the gayest person ever. What is it about and how did you come up with the idea?
I can’t take credit for the clever title. That’s all the work of Joel Derfner who wrote a book of essays of the same name that we’re using as our source material. He’s also an amazing musical theatre composer. The book follows Joel on a series of non-fiction escapades as he delves into gay stereotypes, donning each one like a costume. What he finds along the way, however, goes much deeper than the stereotype or what it actually means to be gay. He finds a new relationship to gay culture, his parents and more importantly, to himself and who he is. And that’s ultimately what it’s about – self-discovery - except side-splittingly funny and set to music.

When can we expect to see it?
Well, that all depends on how long rewrites take and what opportunities I’ve got to workshop or produce it here. But hopefully soon!

If you could give out your own award for theatrical excellence for a show and/or a performance that you saw in the last year, what and/or whom would receive it?
Michael Urie’s riotous, yet nuanced performance in Buyer & Cellar was pretty fabulous, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? on Broadway was spectacular, but that’s New York. For Chicago, I’m biased of course, but We 3 Lizas was an exceptional production that went beyond expectations and moved me last Christmas.

My five favorite TV shows of all time are:
Twin Peaks, M*A*S*H, Six Feet Under, Warehouse 13 and Melrose Place. Oh, and if you could include the opening of Quantum Leap for Scott Bakula, that’d be great!

Five of my favorite movies are:
All About Eve, Murder by Death, any James Bond film, Mulholland Drive and Showgirls.

If I were asked to choose the Sexiest Man Alive, it would be:
Hugh Jackman (I have a thing for comic books).

If I could have anyone in the world - living or dead - be a guest at my dinner party, I would invite the following three people:
Bette Davis, Michael Bennett and Harvey Milk - but can I have James Beard cook the meal and have Sandra Bernhard serve and Elia Kazan be the sommelier?

Sounds like a fabulous party, Andrew - and thank you for being such a groovy guy!

For more information about About Face Theatre Company, go to www.aboutfacetheatre.com.

1 comment:

Frank Anthony Polito said...

Congrats Andrew, old pal! NYC's loss is Chicago's gain :-)

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