Wednesday, April 29, 2015

6 Questions: Keith McDermott

Keith McDermott was one of the original stars of Jim Neu's The Floatones in 1995 when it premiered at La MaMa.  Well, Keith is back at La MaMa, co-directing (with the fabulous 
Catherine Galasso) the first ever revival of the show - for a new generation. The Floatones begins performances Friday night and Keith took time out from tech rehearsals to answer our 6 Questions:

1. What was the inspiration to revive this piece by Jim Neu?

In a way, for me, it’s been a case of not knowing what you have till it’s gone. I directed or performed in Jim Neu’s work for 20 years. I knew then that the plays were funny and fun to do, and his fans and reputation grew with each production. But after his death in 2010, I - along with so many others - missed the wit, intelligence and generosity of Jim’s plays terribly. Maybe I’ve become harder to please with age, but I’ve realized that great comedic writing like that is so rare. I wanted to remount a Jim Neu play but without Jim, and with the loss of so many of our core group of actors, I couldn’t quite imagine how to do it. Then I serendipitously met dancer/choreographer, Catherine Galasso at party. Her parents had been early collaborators of Jim’s, and she’d practically grown up on his work. We easily warmed to remembrances of Jim’s hilarious productions. A friend of mine was doing a festival of performance pieces paring performers under thirty and over sixty and we did a short Jim Neu piece. She put a choreographic spin on it that I loved. It was her idea to collaborate on a revival of “The Floatones.” She has a thousand skills I lack, and though I try to bring my ancient wisdom to our collaboration, I’ve really been sailing along on her talent and enthusiasm since since we began work about a year and a half ago.

2. How is this production similar and different from the original production in 1995?

I stepped into the original 1995 production of The Floatones a week or so before the opening when an actor didn’t work out. The other actors were Jim, Bill Rice and Mary Shultz. Mary and I, in our forties, were the youngsters. The 2015 Floatones - Jess Barbagallo, Joshua William Gelb, Larissa Valez-Jackson and Greg Zuccolo - are....younger. We also cast “crossover performers,” comfortable in the dance and performance world, and each of them create their own work. The similarity in the two productions is that there was a certain “ga-ga” quality to the 1995 Floatones that I loved, and it continues with the 2015 Floatones. Both sets of performers retain the oddball charm of social misfits who come together to form a self-help singing group.

3. Are there other works by Jim Neu that you'd like to see given a new production - either by yourself or others?

God yes! Kiss Shot which is set in old Hollywood, and starred the brilliant Mary Shultz and has a lot of music. Our longtime composer Neil Kirkwood is especially anxious to see that one go up again (though it includes a party scene with the Rhonda Fleming Society of Extras so it’s a double-digit cast). La Vie Noir is a hilarious play that takes place in a bar at the top of the highest building in a small city and includes a tornado. Jim’s last play at La MaMa, Gang of Seven was perhaps his most critically lauded play, but we had a tragedy - the death of one of the actors - mid-run, and I’ve always wanted to do that one again to take away the dark stain it left for all of us who were involved in the production (am I killing the party?). Truthfully, Jim was prolific. He wrote a play at least every 18 months. And it doesn’t have to be me who revives them - his archives are housed at Fales Library, at NYU’s Bobst. Anyone can look at the work, including plays, videos, etc..

4. Who has inspired you?

Robert Wilson is a major inspiration. I’ve worked for him off and on for thirty years. I wrote a novel, Acqua Calda, inspired by my work with Bob. I met Jim through Bob. My co-director’s parents were both “Byrds,” attendees of his early workshops on Spring Street in the 60’s and 70’s. Also, since I work in small theaters, Charles Ludlam, a master of comedy who used his tiny Ridiculous theater to such side-splitting effect, is an inspiration. These days I’m also inspired by anyone not on Facebook, but you can delete that if you think it just sounds like geezer rant.

5. What is the last good book you read?

Well, I didn’t read it, I wrote it. Or typed it. It’s Edmund White’s Our Young Man, which isn’t even out yet. Ed’s an old friend and he writes in long hand in big notebooks and dictates them to me. I was totally engaged and laughing out loud while my fingers raced across the home keys. Ed is brilliant. He may do some tweaking to the prose I’ve typed, but basically his first draft comes out full-blown like Dionysus from Zeus’ thigh.

6. What does working at La MaMa mean to you?

First of all, I did all Jim Neu’s plays at La MaMa. For that alone, I feel a deep love for the theaters and the rehearsal spaces on Great Jones. I know everyone there. Not only from work, but because I live around the corner, so most of the staff and crew are as much friends as working partners. And to me La MaMa will always mean Ellen Stewart. Her aura extends way beyond her death. When I was directing Jim’s Kiss Shot, she came to a dress rehearsal. The scene changes were slow because I hadn’t quite mastered the rather complicated set. She said to me, “Baby, you got to get it together. You almost got a very good thing here!”

La MaMa presents
by Jim Neu
directed by Catherine Galasso & Keith McDermott
with Jess Barbagallo, Joshua William Gelb, Larissa Velez-Jackson and Greg Zuccolo

May 1 - 10, 2015Friday and Saturday @ 10pm; Sunday at 6pm

The Club @ La MaMa74A East 4th Street(Between Bowery and Second Avenue)New York, NY 10003

Tickets: $18 Adults; $13 Students/Seniors; ten $10 tickets available for every performance, advance sales only, while they last!

For tickets and info: CLICK HERE