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October 12, 2017

New Play, THE BENCH, puts NY's Homeless Center Stage: Q & A with Robert Galinsky


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As many people walk through the streets of New York, very focused on what is right in front of them, they tend to ignore those they see seated on the curb asking for a dollar or something to eat. Collectively, we tend to look away, not make eye contact with hopes that the “problem” disappears.

That is not what actor/writer Robert Galinsky has done. In a journey that began almost three decades ago, rather than look away, he turned toward these homeless people and listened.  The stories he heard and the people he met are the source of his “new" solo play,  20+ years in the making.

GSJ had a chance to talk with Mr. Galinsky as he looks to finally bring his play, The Bench, Off-Broadway to the historic Cherry Lane Theatre, beginning this Sunday.

GSJ: What was the inspiration for The Bench?

ROBERT GALINSKY: The inspiration for this show grew out of simply overhearing wildly interesting conversations from homeless people sitting on benches in urban environments and also observing the behavior of people largely ignored, but so publicly available to me, on benches. The language I heard was rich and colorful, poetic and vulgar, and it stimulated and drew me in. I began to congregate with these women and men, eat with them, and even slept outdoors, with fellow artist Joey John, on occasion to get a true sense of what that world was like. I discovered it's not so much different than the world where people have homes.

GSJ: What do you hope the audience walks away saying or thinking?

RG: The hope is the audience will get a similar connection to the normalcy of the homeless, and they'll understand human problems are human problems, whether you sleep on a bench or in a bed. We all have enjoyable or difficult relationships, loving relationships, and essential needs. Homeless people are the same as anyone, they're just on a part of life's journey where they are, for so many reasons, having a difficult time maintaining somewhere consistent, indoors, to live.

GSJ: You wrote this ten years ago, has anything changed since then?

RG: I wrote the first draft 28 years ago and have continued to tweak and rewrite it. At the time of the first draft, we were at the beginning of the "AIDs crisis" with the homeless and gay men conveniently taking the fall for having and spreading the disease. The reaction of society to AIDs was one of paranoia and hyper-fear, and those stigmas still exist today. With little or no information at the time, people treated anyone with HIV as though they were toxic to the point of not wanting to touch them, breath near them, and in many cases not wanting to be in the same room. The roots of the stigmas that still exist today were sprung from those early days, and there have been incredible strides made to accept the disease like any other, but there still exists an overreaching discrimination around people with HIV and people who are homeless as well.

GSJ: You wrote and perform in The Bench, which do you prefer and why?

RG: Originally there was a full cast of actors in the first readings at the Performance Studio run by Amy Seham in New Haven Connecticut, but the night before the performances were to begin, the lead actor got stage fright and ran away. Left a note at around 10 pm on my door and disappeared. I stepped into that role and loved it. Since then I've been involved as a performer in the piece. After watching one person shows take off with great success in the theatre, I wanted to explore the form, but I was bored watching: monologue blackout, monologue blackout. So I challenged myself to take on the play written in traditional dialogue form and found a way of performing that I love. I'm equally happy writing and performing.

GSJ: The show is directed by Jay O. Sanders, he is a masterful performer, how is he as a director?

RG: He is a masterful director. I have never seen anyone get a read on what is happening in front of him and turn it around into a clear direction than I have with Jay. He is thoughtful, creative, he pushes hard and has the unique ability to see what could be with the work, not simply what is already there. He's taken me to places that I had not imagined and has left what works alone, but has helped me discover what I didn't know was there and has made that blossom. I hope to work with him again on the next show I'm writing too.

GSJ: You have some star power as presenters how did you get Chris Noth and Barry Shabaka Henley to sign on?

RG: I asked. I asked them all. It's as simple as that. And... they also all believe in honest theatrical work, and they felt that is what The Bench is. They all believe in supporting their fellow hard-working actors and writers in the theatre. They all believe in helping others dreams to come to fruition, just as their dreams are being realized. Barry "Shabaka" Henley has been a friend for years and we have a mutual respect. He said yes immediately. Chris Noth is a colleague of a dear friend of mine, an Associate Producer on the play (and incredible actor) Shannon Hamm and I asked her to connect us. He heard some of the material, he saw the breadth of my work and said yes. Jay has also been a friend of mine since our children attended the same school and he was impressed by the one actor playing five characters and how I approached it, so he agreed to direct. Also, for the same reasons, helping others, Jay said yes. Terry Schnuck, my producer, has been a great supporter of my work for years and has faith in my talents as well, hence his support.

GSJ: What do you hope the future holds for The Bench?

RG: My team: Terry, Chris, Shabaka, Jay, and Joe Trentacosta, Jeff Chrzczon, Shannon Hamm, Mark Schoenfeld, Daphne Arthur and Deep Singh all want this show to extend it's run Off-Broadway for a long while. We want to tour it to colleges and universities, and we want to see this through as the next Netflix, HBO, Showtime or HULU hit (with a full cast and a number of episodes and seasons to develop current and new characters). We want the world to see homeless people and folks with HIV as what they are: you and me.

GSJ: What is up next for you?

RG: The Bench, A Homeless Love Story is all I am thinking about right now.

The Bench

Written and performed by Robert Galinsky, directed by Jay O. Sanders

Original Graphic Images by Daphne Arthur; Audio Design by Deep Singh

Plays Sunday at 7pm from October 15 – December 17, 2017

Exceptions: NO Performances on November 5 and December 3; ADDED performance: Tuesday, December 5 at 7pm

Cherry Lane Studio Theatre located at 38 Commerce Street in the heart of New York’s West Village

Tickets are $59 and can be purchased by visiting TheBenchPlay.com or call 866-811-4111

For more info on The Bench

 Robert Galinsky visit www.galinskyplace.com and for the Cherry Lane Theatre visit www.cherrylanetheatre.org

 

Comments :

Cheryl


10/19/2017
Thank you for sharing the nice interview with the author, it's very nice to know the whole story behind. instagram hashtags

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