Photo by Braden Nesin
Before Kelly Williams became manager and pr coordinator for Gorilla Tango theatre, she’d wandered from Honolulu to Santa Fe. Living briefly with her parents, she spotted an audition notice for an Albuquerque company looking for improvisors. Not only did she get cast, but when Gorilla Tango owner Dan Abbate brought the company to Chicago in 2006, she joined him. Since then Gorilla Tango has opened a Skokie location in addition to their Bucktown location, oh, and Williams and Abbate are now married with a son. Our Town spoke with Williams about the pleasures of producing, what’s unique about Gorilla Tango and the US Department of Defense. No, really.
Our Town What makes Gorilla Tango unique?
Kelly Williams Gorilla Tango is unique in that it really stresses sustainability and marketability. We want folks to produce their shows in a way that gives them the maximum potential to make money, or at the very least, break-even so they can continue to produce shows in a sustainable manner. We welcome any sort of show - we always say if it can fit on one of our stages and work within our structure, we want it produced by us. It is important to us that people are able to produce whatever they feel is worthwhile, without an entity censoring or judging their choices. That said, we also encourage folks to think about what an audience would like to see. That's a huge part of the theatrical equation that very often gets overlooked. If you are producing what YOU want, but it doesn't coincide with what an audience wants to see, then don't be surprised if no one shows up.
OT You produce, act and direct. Is one of these a favorite? What are the pros and cons of each?
KW I like them all for different reasons (how diplomatic of me!). With acting, you focus pretty much on yourself. Of course you interact with others, but the bulk of the focus when you act is on YOU. You are responsible for your little piece of the puzzle and that's it. That's incredibly freeing. One of the most stressful aspects about directing is that you have to think big picture- there's a certain element of 'herding cats' which gets frustrating. That said, the great thing about directing is that I get to decide the overall feel of things. Producing is great because you get to come up with an initial idea and then commission someone else (or several someone elses) to do it. So it's a lot of 'this is cool, this is cool, you do it' but conversely it's a lot of risk (financially) and not near as much fun as acting or directing because you aren't involved in the day to day rehearsal process.
OT Gorilla Tango does a LOT of burlesque parodies. What’s interesting about that form?
KW What we do is very unique to burlesque - we infuse burlesque numbers into a full scripted (geek-themed) parody much like how musical numbers pepper a musical. The burlesque is directly incorporated into the storyline and forwards the story, rather than various stand alone numbers as one encounters in a typical cabaret burlesque show. Also, instead of the women performing sexy burlesque numbers in between male magicians/stand up comedians providing the humor, it was important to us that the women get to be both the funny and the sexy. So with this in mind, our shows are all female and very plot driven. What we discovered about the form is that the sexy (classic burlesque striptease) brings people in the door, and the high quality funny keeps them talking about it which in turn helps bring MORE people in the door.
Photo by Lisa Predko and the Chicago Reader
OT What goes into producing them?
KW We commission treatments for scripts based on ideas we think would be fun (or folks approach us with their own idea and we say yay or nay). The writers then write a draft based on our parameters, and once it's finished we pair the script with a director and choreographer and go from there. We have figured out what rough budgets for the shows can be based on overhead, payroll, and expectations of audience numbers, so that dictates what scripts we can produce. Again, it goes back to that sustainability thing. We want to be able to continue to do these shows, so we have to make sure we keep expenses under control and produce something that has the potential to appeal to a large market.
OT What’s your favorite burlesque parody right now?
KW They are all awesome - it just sort of depends on what 'flavor' you prefer be it Star Wars or Batman or Indiana Jones, etc. That said, I am a HUGE Doctor Who fan and so I really get a kick out of "Don't Blink: A Doctor Who Burlesque" which performs Fridays at 9 p.m.
OT You performed for the US Department of Defense....um, explain?
KW Ha! This was my first foray into the world of improv. A person I knew in Denver had this gig where he'd take a group of actors to various army bases around the world (sort of like a USO thing) and perform murder mysteries. He was putting a tour together to Northern Europe and thought I would be a good addition. So we did this murder mystery dinner theatre show set in the Old West. We'd do about 25-30 minutes of scripted show, then the audience could ask our characters questions and vote on who they thought murdered the guy. We all had confessions worked up, so whoever the audience voted as the murderer would confess. I played the Goody Two Shoes wife of the murder-ee and was more often than not voted as the murderer. Hmm.
A writer with an MFA in Creative Writing from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Sarah Terez Rosenblum freelances for sites like Pop Matters and
afterellen.com Her debut novel, “Herself When She’s Missing," was called “poetic and heartrending” by ALA Booklist. Sarah is also a figure model, Spinning instructor and teacher at Chicago’s StoryStudio. Inevitably one day she will find herself lecturing naked on a spinning bike. She's kind of looking forward to it actually.
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