On stage, Kevin Gillese finds it easy to switch into "party guy" mode. The 29-year-old Canadian director, poet and improviser can comfortably portray loud, oblivious, floppy-limbed Will Ferrell types who brim with beery bravado. Off stage, he tries to keep his energies focused and disciplined as Dad's Garage Theatre's new artistic director.
Gillese moved from the wind chill of Edmonton, Alberta to the heat index of Atlanta seven months ago, and performs at Dad's improv shows every week. He'll makes his Atlanta debut as a director with Dad's season opener, The Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, which envisions a Shakespearean version of the Coen Brothers' cult film, The Big Lebowski. "We've tried to embrace the idea of the mashup," says Gillese. "When listening to The Gray Album, how much is Jay-Z and how much is the Beatles? It's both. So with this, the costumes are a combination of Shakespeare and modern. We've been working with a cellist from Berlin, who'll play live music with an old-fashioned vibe, but then he'll plug into the loop pedal and do a cello version of 'Hotel California.'"
Kevin Gillese and Arlen Konopaki in a trailer for their improv show Scratch
At Dad's, Gillese is adjusting to a slightly older, more experienced and settled staff and ensemble compared to his younger, hungrier colleagues at Edmonton's Rapid Fire Theatre, where he was previously artistic director. Plus, the economics of American theater make different demands than Canada, with its bounty of government arts funding. "I'm a helluva grant writer, but never done individual solicitations. ... Sometimes the artistic representative of a company is part of the process."
As artistic director, Gillese plans to build on Dad's mission to develop original work while drawing more national attention. "I want the rest of the United States to know about Dad's Garage. We'll keep doing what we do best — comedy — but broaden our understanding of it. I want to get into video and audio, and launch a YouTube channel for next season, not just for advertising, but for content. We got a grand from a lovely foundation to develop a season of online work."
Dad's Garage Beefcake Calendar promo
Gillese admits to experiencing about six weeks of culture shock when he moved to Atlanta, but then he settled into his Little Five Points apartment and began feeling at home. He finds that Atlanta has more in common with Edmonton than he expected. "People avoid the heat in Georgia like they avoid the cold in Edmonton — they run from their houses to their cars," he says. "In Edmonton, most of the year you have to wear gloves while driving, because the steering wheel gets so cold. I thought I'd never have to do that again, but here, sometimes you have to wear gloves because it's too hot to touch the steering wheel."
You know, that could be a funny improv sketch: Canadians deal with the weather like this, but Atlantans deal with it like this.