Here is the first interview with the extraordinary cast of Round House Theatre’s Ordinary Days. In Part 1: Meet Will Gartshore.
Joel: Where have local theatregoers seen you perform this year?
Will: Ordinary Days is my second show at Round House this season: I was also in This back in the fall. And last summer I was onstage at Signature Theatre with my solo cabaret Dressed Up and making a cameo appearance in the Summer Hummer.
Why did you want to be part of this cast of Ordinary Days? Had you seen the show before you were cast in this production?
I hadn’t seen or heard the show prior to being cast, though I was familiar with a couple of the songs. I actually performed the song “Calm” (which Erin Weaver sings in the show) as part of one my cabarets in 2012. And I really loved The Boy Detective Fails when it was done at Signature a couple of years back. So I knew I liked Adam Gwon’s writing a lot. Plus I really enjoy working at Round House and was looking forward to the opportunity to work with Matt directing me for the first time.
How would you describe Adam Gwon’s score and how would you describe an Adam Gwon song?
I feel like Adam’s music and lyrics represent one of the best examples of contemporary New York musical theater – or at least the direction that I’d like to see it continue to move in. There is a real smart, jagged energy to a lot of his songs – a Sondheim-like neurosis – but his ballads also have this strange, authentic beauty to them. Some of the musical progressions remind me of Guettel’s stuff at times. And “Favorite Places” is just a great, straightforward, beautiful ballad – but even there, the intervals of the chorus are just a little stranger than you might expect, which I love.
What influences of other composers to you hear in his score and where do you hear it?
In addition to the ones I mention above, I definitely hear Jason Robert Brown in some of the songs – “The Space Between”, for example. Sondheim looms very large, as with anyone writing musicals these days. You can hear him in “Fine” and in a few places in “Saturday at the Met.” And Michael John Lachuisa creeps in here and there as well, including in the opening bars of the show.
Introduce us to the character you play in the show. What do you admire about him and how is your character like you? How do you relate to him?
My character, Jason, is a country mouse in the big city. He’s a good-hearted, heart on his sleeve, guileless midwestern guy who finds himself living (somewhat uncomfortably) in the concrete jungle of New York City. Some people draw energy and freedom from the immenseness of the big city; for others, it weighs on them and closes them in. Jason is the latter, and he gets by through personal connection and the affirmation he feels from his relationship. But when you encounter Jason and his girlfriend, Claire, they are at a transition point – they are on the cusp of taking the next step together, and that affects each of them in very intense and very different ways.
I admire Jason’s simplicity, his openness, his forthrightness, his honesty about what he’s feeling. He’s not an overly complicated or calculating guy – he just says it like it is. I definitely relate to a lot of those qualities, having grown up a country boy in a blue collar family on the shores of a river in Northern Ontario with big spaces and big skies and a ton of stars at night. I grew up with a Midwestern sensibility, and I think Jason did too. And I lived in New York for 8 years before moving to DC, so I can identify with having to make that leap. As much as I loved the energy and excitement of living in that city, I can also identify with the struggle Jason is having to adjust to it and the loneliness that comes when you feel like you don’t have someone to experience it with. Without a partner in crime, New York can be a lot to deal with as a day-to-day existence. I should also say that I’ve played some pretty complicated and twisted up characters in my last couple of stage outings, so I’m embracing the opportunity to play someone who’s kind of an unabashed good guy with a big heart – and a bit of a softie at times.
How does your character change during the course of the show and through the songs you sing?
I think Jason is pretty sure of what he wants throughout the show, and it’s a singular objective, and that doesn’t really change. What changes is that there is an obstacle he can’t seem to get past, and when that obstacle appears insurmountable, he struggles to let go of what he wants. But without it, his life and all of his decisions are called into question. And in the end, it’s the obstacle that gives way and allows him to move forward with a new understanding. So I think Jason’s journey is one of self-discovery in a way: being increasingly honest with himself and others by expressing and owning what it is he truly wants, and dealing with the consequences of that honesty. In the show, I think he’s in many ways the catalyst for change precisely because he won’t give up on his goal.
What song or songs that you sing or someone else sings reminds you of a similar experience you have gone through in your life?
All of these songs are so human and true to life, so I think I see a bit of myself in all of them. I remember stressing out over whether I’d finish my thesis by the due date, but unlike Deb in the show, I think my professor actually granted me the extension that Deb’s dying to get. I identify with a lot of the sentiments Jason expresses in “Hundred Story City” about dealing with the intensity of New York. And the snowballing bickering in “Fine” is far too familiar to just about anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship, myself included.
What song or songs were the most challenging for you to learn and how did Director Matthew Gardiner and Musical Director William Yanesh help you with these challenges? What is the best advice they gave you when you were preparing for your role?
“Hundred Story City” probably took the longest to get a handle on vocally because it’s a lot of words, a lot of notes and a lot of syncopated rhythms. I also made a point of not listening to the recording so that I could have a fresh take on the music, so that meant learning it cold, right off the page. Bill and I spent a number of hours running it and working the dynamics and phrasing so that it ends up being relatively effortless, in spite of the vocal athletics required. In addition, you need to really act that song and bring a range of colors to it, otherwise the danger is that it can be sort of one-note. There’s a lot going on emotionally in it, and Matt was really helpful in working with me to pace the intensity and the frustration of the song and guiding it so that it starts out much more questioning and uncertain of where it’ll end up. Now I feel like Jason really takes a journey during the song, and it isn’t until the final coda that he really succumbs to the idea that he’s lost the one thing he wants. When I first started working on the song, I was sort of beginning in that ending place, which is never a good idea. Now it starts with a lot more residual hope and confusion and questioning, and there’s a real fight to hold on to possibility of a positive outcome during the song, which I think makes it ten times more interesting in the end.
Adam Gwon visited you during rehearsals and saw a performance. What did he say to you after the show? Did he offer any advice or suggestions? Have you ever worked with him before or sung his songs before in your performances?
Adam came to one of our final preview performances and did a talk back with Artistic Director Ryan Rilette afterwards. He talked a good bit about his process in writing the show and his musical influences. He was very complimentary of the show and came out for drinks afterwards, but he didn’t give specific notes or anything like that, which is pretty typical when a writer comes to see a show when it’s up and running. He did talk a good bit about the different people in his life who inspired the characters in the show (himself included). But as I recall, much of the rest of the cocktail conversation revolved around the relative virtues of Disney villains.
This is the first musical in 7 years that has been performed at Round House Theatre. What other musicals would you love them to produce and what role would you like to play in them?
I think they’ve got the right idea with a show like this one: small to mid-sized contemporary ensemble musicals. Honestly, given they’ve got that great turntable, I think Hello Again would work great in the space, and there are a couple of parts in that I might like. Plus it’s never been done in the area, and it’s a really cool piece. I’d explore what’s been happening Off-Broadway in recent years and give another life to more of those newer, smaller shows.
Why should local theatregoers come to see this ‘extraordinary’ show?
It’s new, refreshing, funny, moving, heartfelt, well-sung and well-acted – and it’s only 90 minutes long, so you can get drinks or dinner afterwards. Honestly, I haven’t heard a single person say they haven’t enjoyed it. My costars are superb. The show looks great in the Round House space. And you really leave the theatre feeling good and uplifted. We hear laughs and we hear sniffles every night. Plus Adam’s score really needs to be heard – he’s part of the future of American musical theatre – and I think this production does a great job with this music and this story.
Review of Ordinary Days by David Friscic on DCMetroTheaterArts.
Read other local reviews of Ordinary Days in “Other Reviews.’