Welcome back everybody!
So the other week I was very fortunate to have a nice sit-down with the director of Problem Child/Criminal Genius, Leonard Mario Zgrablic. Since this was one of the first interviews I had ever done, I thought it was best that I record our interaction. And let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, I am so grateful that I did, because I found out that I am a MUCH better speaker than I am a note taker. All my notes were basically scribbles and if it wasn't for my recording I would not know how to arrange this blog. So sit back, relax and (hopefully) enjoy my little interview where I put the director into the proverbial Hot Seat.
Tell me something about yourself.
With a sly grin, and a slight chuckle, he replied, "I'm a man... with blue eyes ... and a bald head."
If you haven't seen a photo of our wonderful director, here's one to give you some reference. He wasn't wrong: he is a man with blue eyes and a bald head.
(Meet our Director Leonard Mario Zgrablic)
Leonard went to the University of Waterloo, (which also happens to be my alma mater! Go Warriors!), and he started his University career in the Sciences, but then ended up taking Drama. He got into acting because he wanted to write and direct films. He was planning on taking a concurrent BA in drama but said that after six years of school he decided not to get the BA. He was in fact more interested in moving to Toronto to do what he wanted in film and theatre. He fell in love with theatre and acting at UW and decided that he wanted to work in all aspects of drama.
What inspires you most when you’re directing or writing?
"Naturalism. When I was younger I really liked slapstick comedy, but these days I really like the subtle - the real stuff that rings true".
Why did you decide to do, not just Suburban Motel, but these two specific shows in particular?
"I played Phillie in these two [shows] for a second year acting class at UW... I wanted to revisit them and I had almost no experience at the time; I didn't appreciate them, I didn’t really delve deep into them… So when I decided to put in my application to direct, I reread all the plays in the series… These two just go well together. Especially after the ending of Problem Child; Criminal Genius serves to lightens everything up a bit… There are some other ones with recurring characters, but in [these two] it’s just the [motel] manager… I wanted at least one character to be involved [in both]”.
How has time with the play as an actor at UW translates into your time now as a director at KWLT?
“It's been so long that I don't think there was a major impact, aside from the impetus to want to revisit them... I don't think the previous work has really coloured [the show] much at all but it's been interesting to see what these actors brought as a contrast.”
What differs in each production?
“I think it’s more in the development of the characters. This time around, I’ve really tried to get them to drive deep into the souls of the characters, into the motivations, [and] what their background might be even if it just colours a moment slightly.”
Since your played Phillie, how does Brian’s character compare to yours?
“The interesting thing with that, is that I was actually looking for someone… older. Compared to playing it in my early 20s… I wanted to bring that background. Like, who knows what [stuff] has happened in his life.”
(Brian Fox as Phillie)
So did you play Phillie as if he were in his 20s?
“I really didn’t think about the age much. Like I said, I was inexperienced; I think it was my second acting class?"
And this show stayed with you all this time?
“Yeah, because I felt like I never really understood the plays… Now I’ve really analysed them”.
Let’s talk about your vision. What did you hope to see versus what actually ended up happening? Is there a difference?
“Not so much… Basically when I start out my vision is more thematic, so I didn’t have a physical idea of what it would look like; I try to be very flexible with that… The biggest things were that the actors realized things about the characters that I didn’t even catch sometimes.”
Would you ever consider doing the other four?
“Actually I want to act in one of the other ones: Adult Entertainment. There’s a character that I really like.”
“Max. He’s uh - he’s complex, and it has a tragic ending to it.”
Well, thanks for that! What about directing? Which two would you pair off if you continued the series?
“There’s actually another one with RJ and Denise from Problem Child with Denise’s mother, but that would require redoing Problem Child if I wanted to pair those off. But Adult Entertainment - Max and Donny are cops, and there’s another play featuring them as well: [End of Civilization], so those two would work.”
(Nike Abbott as Shirley and Leonard Mario Zgrablic)
Out of all six, which is your favourite?
“For comedy: Criminal Genius. For Drama it would be Problem Child and Adult Entertainment. I was actually serious about doing Adult Entertainment this time around, but the pairing worked out better this way”.
With already playing Phillie and wanting to play Max hopefully in the future, would you consider those characters the ones you most identify with, or is there another character?
“I identify with [Phillie and Max]. I didn’t choose Phillie in school, but I do identify with him [and] with his obsession with justice. Max I definitely identify with. I also identify with Denise”.
What kind of advice would you give others who want to act and/or direct in community theatre?
“Make sure you have the time! Don’t book yourself for anything else during that time!”
From a director's standpoint, what advice would you give in terms of the initial setup of your show? Any methods or tactics you use when you direct?
“In general, not just community theatre, I like to see what the actor brings. I don’t try to have any preconceptions about what I want. And even if I do, I'll let the actor bring it before I tell them what I want, and see if they come up with something that I didn’t even think of, that might work; that I might like better. I try to feel out whatever works; whatever I feel might instigate the actor into getting what I want out of them. That will vary depending on the actor, depending on the play. The rehearsals between [the two shows] have been completely different atmospheres; completely different experiences”.
Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
“That’s an interesting thing!”
What is your favourite thing about the series?
“It doesn’t try to portray people as polished, [which makes them real]. It shows their quirks”.
What do you hope the audience will get out of the shows?
“I hope they’ll laugh, for one! And then I hope - I hope it will spur them on to take a look at themselves and society”.
(Leonard Mario Zgrablic and Stephanie Kraus)
Well, there you have it folks! I hope my interview with Leonard was insightful and intriguing enough for you to come out to see this great show! Tickets are on sale at Eventbrite (https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/kwlt-presents-problem-child-and-criminal-genius-tickets-69261177045) or at the door! For more information, please check out our Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/KWLTheatre/) or continue searching this website. You can also find the other blog I wrote at https://www.kwlt.org/blog about the history of the Suburban Motel series.
Coming soon: An indepth interview with actor/producer extraordinaire: Nicole Lemieux
I leave you now with this final remark from Leonard:
“‘Come as you are’ as Nirvana would say!”