Monday, February 23, 2015

Director Gary Mendoza: Entranced by Theatre

Gary Mendoza teaches Talented Theatre at Covington High School and has been a regular feature on the Slidell Little Theatre stage for several years and has even served on SLT’s Board of Directors. Though it has been several years since he last directed a show at Slidell Little Theatre – Romeo and Juliet in 2008 – he has been at the helm of a number of other productions including Pterodactyls for Cutting Edge Theatre, and countless shows for Covington High School and the CLAPS Summer Theatre Program. He returns to Slidell Little Theatre to direct Doubt: A Parable, on stage February 27 - March 15, 2015.
Gary Mendoza

Gary received SLT’s Ginny Award for Best Actor in 2013 for his tour de force performance as the adult Ralph Parker in A Christmas Story and he was most recently onstage as Nick Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Gary took a moment from his very hectic production schedule to tell us more about his experiences.

Q: What was your earliest involvement in theatre?
Mendoza: I was a junior in High School at Pearl River, and my friend’s girlfriend was in Lil’ Abner and she wanted him to work crew, so he begged me to go along with him. They broke up and I ended up getting a role when another kid quit.   

Q: What attracted you to theatre to begin with?
Mendoza: It was gradual, but as I got going I found myself becoming more and more interested. I started realizing the difference between bad writing and something that is actually compelling. I wanted to experiment with how sound and lighting could help add to the show and not just be there because it’s needed. I started to like reading Shakespeare, not necessarily to read it, but to imagine how it would look like on stage.
Q: What is it about theatre that holds your interest today?
Mendoza: Everything! I like to challenge myself with every show I work on as an actor, director or designer. I like to see shows and marvel at them to the point that I start thinking of a way I might be able to do it better. I like to see bad shows and learn a lesson in what not to do.

Q: What are five plays that you’ll never forget and why?
Of Mice and Men – I played Lennie for my thesis role in the MFA program at UNO.  I had done scene work from the show before while in college and I fell in love with the character. It is one of the few roles that I would play again in a heartbeat.

A Christmas Story – I liked it so much I did it again nine years later. Both at SLT. The first
Gary Mendoza as the adult
Ralph Parker in
A Christmas Story
time around I developed some lifelong friendships with an incredibly special set of brothers. The second time around I got to share the stage with my son, which was awesome!

The Last 5 Years – I directed this for our CLAPS Summer Program a few years back. It was beautiful. Two people singing through the entire show (and I am not necessarily a musical theatre person.) The story is told from different directions of their relationship. His from beginning to end, hers from end to beginning. The only time I let the audience see them make eye contact was when they met in the middle for their wedding.

Macbeth – It was the first theatre production in thirteen years to be directed at Covington High by somebody other than George Sanchez (who has become a true friend.) I was a new teacher who was actually not hired the year before when I interviewed, and I’m sure that everybody thought that the new kid was just going to fail miserably. It was epically incredible! The students were amazing and the show ended up being spectacular. At circle on opening night I confessed to the cast that it was my first time directing a Shakespeare play. They didn’t believe me, but it was true.

Beauty and the Beast – A few years ago at CHS, we were deciding what to do for the school musical. We joked that we should do that and I would play Lumiere and Cedric Bridges, one of the choir teachers (who is an unbelievable singer) would play Cogsworth. We laughed for about ten seconds, then it became a reality. We’re reprising our roles this summer for the 20th anniversary of the CLAPS program.

Q: What play do you think people should see, but probably haven’t?
Mendoza: Waiting for Godot – It’s absurd, so most people would probably hate it or not get it, or both, but it really is an interesting show. I was lucky enough to see it on Broadway last year with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellin.

Q: What was the oddest play you ever saw, directed or starred in?
Mendoza: I was in a play called Going Under while in grad school. It was student written and student directed. It was supposed to be about the New York subway. I’m still trying to figure that one out.
I directed Strindberg’s A Dream Play once at the high school. It was a weird experiment, but the kids got something out of it.
Q: What was the best advice you ever received about acting?
Mendoza : A professor once told me that Stanislavsky said “it takes 20 years to become a good actor. 10 to learn everything, and 10 to forget everything that you’ve learned.” That has always stuck with me.

Q: When did you first know you wanted to become an actor?
Mendoza : Even in Grad School I wasn’t sure. I never felt like I was good enough or really knew what I was doing. We were working on a scene for class, from a bizarre little play called Germs, and all of a sudden things just clicked. I had figured it out. From that point on I quit trying to walk away from the theatre.

Q: What was the first show you ever directed?
Mendoza: WASP, by Steve Martin. It was for a directing class at UNO. It was incredible.
I directed a scene from Angels in America while in undergrad and absolutely became enthralled with that show.

 Q: Name your top three roles as an actor and tell us why.
Lennie in Of Mice and Men – It’s too easy to label him as retarded. He is a child in the body of a grown man. He is innocence lost.

John Proctor in The Crucible – the sheer power and intensity is riveting. Guilt which becomes overwrought with Love and Pride. Playing opposite Julie and Robert, and everyone else for that matter, was just inspiring.

Magnificent Bastard – It was a ten minute play called Cauliflower for a 24 hour play fest at UNO. I wore a paper bag with a smiley face on my head and had to enter dancing to “Let’s Get It On!”

Q: What role would you love to play that you haven't yet?
Mendoza : Hamlet. I also want to direct it, but not until I’m too old that I can’t play it anymore.

Q: What is the scariest part of an audition?
 Mendoza: Waiting for the cast list afterwards

Q: What is the strangest thing a role required you to do?

Mendoza: The final scene in For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls (a spoof on the Glass Menagerie), I popped open a door with my knee and I’m standing in the doorway wearing a white tank top, a pea coat, combat boots, and incredibly short cut off denim shorts. Like way too short! I also had spiked hair and I was smoking a Capri cigarette. I still have the shorts actually.

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