Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Planet Connections Interview - Thom Fogarty of "Hell Is Where the Heart Is"

By Byrne Harrison

Name: Thom Fogarty
Play: Hell Is Where the Heart Is by Melissa Skirboll
Relationship to production: Director
Website: http://thomfogarty.weebly.com/ and http://melissaskirboll.weebly.com/hell-is-where-the-heart-is.html

How did you first get involved in theatre?

In high school, performing in plays with the Drama Club. Then at Ohio State University, where I ended up becoming a Dance Major, as I realized the body had a much shorter 'shelf life' than a life in the theater, which I have come full circle back to. My work as a dancer and performer, very theatrical and based in movement, has always dealt with the vastness of the human condition as told through the observance of small everyday gestures and their meanings. This movement rich approach, which includes dance and traditional miming, allows the work to be both profane and profound at the same time, constantly creating a duality and acknowledging the yin and yang of daily life. My life's work in performance has brought me to this regarding my role as DIRECTOR: The PLAYWRIGHT supplies a wonderful world through their words with which to play. The ACTORS, through the honing of their craft bring an amazing array of colors to the table from which to pick and chose. My role is to provide a safe space, and offer my guidance, whereby the coloring of those words can begin and the story is fleshed out for an audience that wants nothing more than to be moved and escape the outside world for the time they are with you, out there in the dark.

Who are your biggest influences?

Joseph Chaikin, Sam Shepard, Ellen Stewart, Martha Graham, the films of the golden era of American Cinema in the 1970's and directors like Sidney Pollack, Robert Altman, Michael Cimino et al. The work of Red Skelton, who sustained such a broad and far reaching career as an actor, comedian, writer, and painter. His sense of complete characterization and full bodied work, watching weekly on his television show, was most definately etched into my performance psyche. It is that sense of joy and depth of emotional character that I am constantly seeking in the work I help create. And lastly, Jack Lemmon, whom I once heard say that for every performance he "...shoots for the moon. Sometimes you hit it, but more often than not you miss it. And when you miss the moon, you are miles and miles away - out there on your own." This notion, that it is still best to shoot for the moon, has made me the performer/director I am today.

What is your show about?

Melissa Skirboll, the playwright, has stated: "This comic look at sibling rivalry and dysfunctional families is fueled by bad dreams and unreliable psychic gifts. As circumstances force the sisters to confront their past, long buried family secrets surface. Reality becomes unreal, dreams become nightmares, and the Devil wants his due. Can this family ever win?". I posit that it is all that and then some. It questions our basic sense of belief. What do you believe in? How strong is your faith? Do we really have control over our life here on this earth? How far are you willing to go?

What inspired you to direct it?

The play is beautifully written and at first glance tells a rather simple tale. However, the structure with which Ms. Skirboll has chosen to frame her tale was most intriguing. It is structured as a dream within a dream within a dream, which may or may not be real, along with flashbacks and the real life embodiments of what we have come to know as Heaven and Hell. I love a challenge and this seemed right up my alley. To compound this are the restrictions of a festival setting, i.e. the sharing of one singular light plot for multiple shows, the 90-minute format (this play was originally written as a traditional 2 act) and the shoestring budget (gone are the physical flying scenes, the trap door, the smoke, etc). Thus, we have to rely on good old fashion stage craft AND the imaginations of the audience. That was the biggest selling point for me. It is totally in keeping with my sense of creating a phsyical space that is safe to work in and providing the movement or choreography to pull off and allow the audience to enter into this world for the 90 minute running time and forget the life that waits outside the theater. To take what at first may seem incomprehensable and make it clear was the biggest enticement.

Why was it important to you to be part of an eco-friendly theatre festival?

My family has been of the eco-friendly mind set for as long as I can remember. We recycled when there were only a few spots here in NYC, like back in the late '70s, when the area that is now a little pocket park, on Sixth Avenue at Washington Place between the diner and the basketball courts, was one of the original classic old 'recycling centers' where you would take you cart full of recyclables, newspapers, magazines and all to on the weekend and sorted it all out in the appropriate containers. Long before the city's attempt to institutionalize the process. That was the beginning of my eco-friendly journey, which soon went beyond material things and became a mindset that encompasses all aspects of life. The opportunity to be part of a sharing theatrical community that overs up their goods and services to the collective whole is an idea whose time has come. And I thank the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity for bringing us all together to share in this month long caring and sharing fest.

Planet Connections donates a portion of the box office for each show to a charity. What charity has your production chosen and why?

Sylvia's Place, through the auspices of Metropolitan Community Church of New York (MCCNY) is an emergency overnight shelter for LGBTQ youth (under 24). They are open 365 days/year from 8pm to 8am. Curfew is at midnight. They provide hot meals (dinner and breakfast); clothing; showers;case management; physical and mental health medical services; as well as court advocacy. I have long worked within and for this community. In speaking with Ms. Skirboll, we concurred that the very notion of 'Home is where the heart is' no long applies to these youth who are either thrown out or forced to leave rather than endure the abuse, mental and aft times physical, that takes place in the uncaring home environment. Because of this Festival, we have the opportunity to partner with an organization that opens it's doors to this underserved and under-reported population, and to share what they do with each person who comes to see Hell Is Where the Heart Is. These youth are going through a very real hell on a daily basis as they comes to terms with who they are and how they can make their way in what must seem like a very cruel and unforgiving world. It is the very least we can do to publicize their charitable work and hope that this show is indeed a hit so we can share as much of the monetary gain from this run as possible.

What's next for you after Planet Connections?

Next up I am directing MargOH! Channing’s new cabaret act Tipsy in June at The Duplex. In July I have a two-week residency at the Lillian Smith Arts Center, interviewing Nancy Smith Fichter about her life's work in dance and keeping the flame burning for her aunt's work. In September I will direct a staged reading of In the Name of God, by Peter-Adrian Cohen, adapted from the Frontline PBS documentary by Helen Whitney, about the repercussions on religion and faith in the aftermath of the 9-11 tragedy [as part of the citywide commemoration of the 10th anniversary at Judson Memorial Church], as well as an Equity showcase of Paula Vogel’s Desdemona, starring my daughter, Lulu Fogarty, at The Bridge Theater (NYC).

And finally, if your play was food, what kind of food would it be?

A pineapple upside-down cake. The pineapple has long been a symbol of hospitality all around the world. It takes very few ingredients. It is not what it at first appears to be, as it must be flipped upon cooking for it to become it's true self. It is crispy, gooey, sweet, tart, fluffy, solid, spongy and inviting. Just like the best of families. Yes, we are a pineapple upside-down cake!

Hell Is Where the Heart Is
Friday, June 03 at 6:00PM
Saturday, June 04 at 1:00PM
Thursday, June 09 at 4:00PM
Tuesday, June 14 at 8:00PM
Thursday, June 16 at 7:00PM
Saturday, June 18 at 4:00PM

The Gene Frankel Theatre
24 Bond Street

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