In Mark Gagné's world, anything, well almost anything is up for analysis. Whether it is making parody of the classics, retelling Shakespeare's As You Like It to As We Like It or sampling Eugene O'Neil's Long Day's Journey Into Night into A Long Play's Journey into One Act. Neither subject nor form is above his comedic gaze.
It is Gagné's gift for finding the amusing in everyday life that makes him one of the most sought after directors in the Chicago theater community. Not that his career is all fun and games—he has used his skills behind the curtain where he has served on the Board of Directors for the League of Chicago Theatres. Gagné also sits on the Advisory Board of the Chicago Improv Festival. Currently his directorial gaze is on today's corporate culture. With Karma, he teams up with playwright Mary Scruggs and the two take an entirely unique look at the workplace. Here past lives, time portals, and karma meet side by side at the water cooler and employee lounge.
WCT: How did you get into directing?
MG: I started out as an actor but now I am more of a director. I was the artistic director of the Free Associates for about 10 years and I founded the company; I left in 2001 and now I am working independently.
WCT: What is happening in the media that you would think would be worth parodying, besides J-Lo's relationships?
MG: That is a tough question. I think that it is such a media-saturated world especially from when I started out as a writer and an actor in the early '80s. I think that pop culture is so self-conscious now and when you are doing parody it is important to not just parody because someone ticks you or is just there. Like J-Lo, we see a lot of her so do a parody. I think that it is important to find a certain amount of integrity and to be aware of what you are trying to say and what your message is and having weight behind it.
WCT: So it is comedy with reason and not going for the obvious laugh or slapstick.
WCT: Are you writing a one-man show?
MG: I did a one-man show a couple of years ago that I dust off and do occasionally, it is called, Never the Straight Man, which is about my experience growing up and in show business with being gay. A lot of what I had encountered is pretty much that it is a pretty straight world and I always had to keep focusing to make room for myself. It seemed that comedy was pretty much a straight world, especially in the '80s. It was pretty much a white, straight male world— heterosexual world. I did a lot of touring with improv troops and I did some stand-up and a woman or a GLBT person has to work that much harder to be heard. I think that it is less so now but I think that there was a lot of unspoken bias.
WCT: That is interesting because I lived in LA a few years back and a lot of the top comedy acts were white men; women were not headlining.
MG: Just think of Ellen DeGeneres and how long it took her to come out. I mean like people in the comedy world really knew it and it was strange to me to watch her show and see her dating men on the show.
WCT: Yes those episodes were more like the Twilight Zone. When it was unspoken now that was funny—but the male thing was not. Do you think that the Chicago theater community is just as conservative or do you think that it is more inclusive?
MG: I think that it is much more inclusive. I have found that part of it is the audience; this is a working person's theater town. It is a place where the average person likes to go to the theater. Like being able to found the Free Associates and have it reach this level is probably not something that I could have done in Boston or New York as easily.
The name was actually a reject of a another troop that I was in called the Angry Tuxedos in Boston in the '80s. I had written a play and I was bartering for space to workshop the play and the owner said that I could use the space if I did a comedy night and during the course of that time I came up with a show called Cast on a Hot Tin Roof. And the people interested in it just clicked with me and we decided to mount it and at that time all of the men in the Free Associates were gay and I think that was the driving force for us going on beyond that show because it actually ran for about six years. It became important for us to have a voice and we felt like we could not have done this in a straight venue.
WCT: You directed and created Mediamorphis?
MG: It was a parody of Greek tragedies as well as contemporary adaptations classics. Mary Zimmerman and I put the two ideals together.
WCT: At first I thought that it was the play that is running on Broadway.
WCT: What is the biggest change that you have seen in theater?
MG: It is harder to put a show up because people are afraid that there will not be enough money and that it will be hard to get backers. But if you have something to say and you do it well, the audience will come, especially in Chicago. Even though there is a struggle with the economy now, people are still going to the theater. I have noticed that shows are doing really well or struggling; there does not seem to be a lot of middle ground right now.
WCT: It is survival of the fittest. When your income is limited, you want to see something that you will enjoy. So what is on the horizon for you in 2003?
MG: I am writing a play and I have some directing projects—one is a musical review.
WCT: What do you like to do when you are not working?
MG: I like to go to the theatre without any social or political attachments.
KARMA! Opens Feb. 20 at the Live Bait Theater.; (773) 871-1212.