Currently in the midst of live weekend performances of his original digital toy theater production of Planet of the Grapes Live – a zany and meaningful take-off on the sci-fi classic Planet of the Apes – Peter Michael Marino keeps clocking those fifteen minutes of fame in cosmic time as a performer, writer, producer, and educator, whose spirited works hold appeal for all ages, both as entertainment and enlightenment.
On stage, Marino has performed in dozens of NYC, regional, international, and festival productions, including five years Off-Broadway and on tour as the comic relief and drummer in STOMP, on 42nd Street as the villain Joules Volter in the immersive award-winning family hit Pip’s Island, and in his own solo show Desperately Seeking the Exit and participatory family comedy Show Up, Kids! – both of which played around the globe before moving online during the pandemic shutdown of in-person performances.
Pete was kind enough to chat with me about his work and to share his spontaneous thoughts the day after getting his second COVID vaccine, which, I’m happy to report, caused him minimal discomfort, but is a step in the direction of bringing him back to the stages of NYC and the world!
- What is it about sci-fi?
Pete: It’s for dreamers, and I’m a dreamer. I recall it being a great escape when I was a kid; I read Buck Rogers and all of those old sci-fi classics. Plus watching the moon landing when I was four really made an impression on me.
- Which of the shows that you’ve created is your favorite to date?
It’s always the one I’m currently working on.
- What’s the most fabulous thing about digital theater?
That you can do it in your shorts or your underwear! There are a lot of negatives, but that’s definitely a positive. And that the whole world is your audience.
- What’s your biggest motivation?
I guess escaping boredom. Being bored is really bad for my mental health. I’m always concerned that I won’t have another project, but my own brain is somehow keeping me busy. Thank you, brain!
- What leisure activity or comfort food has kept you going during the pandemic?
Edibles – something I never did before the pandemic. And Brussels sprouts. You can make them in so many ways, and they stay fresh for so long. Oh, and Turner Classic Movies has saved me. You learn about the movies in advance of watching them – it’s a great format, and there aren’t any commercials.
- Do you prefer writing, performing, or behind-the-scenes producing?
Behind-the-scenes producing. My father’s friend once asked him what I do, and he said I was a producer. Then the friend asked, what’s that? And my father said, I don’t know, I’ll ask him. A producer makes things happen, and I like to make things happen. But most people don’t have a clue what a producer is.
- What’s the funniest line you’ve ever delivered?
Oh my God. Oh geez. My memory is so bad, I don’t even remember my own stuff. I would literally have to go through my computer to find one. And that would be unfair to all the other jokes.
- What’s the most memorable reaction you’ve ever gotten from an audience member, young or old?
In Desperately Seeking the Exit, I talk about how poorly my show was going and how freaked out I was and I was bleeding out my ass so I had to see a doctor. It turned out that it was just internal hemorrhoids, which apparently are pretty common, but I set it up in the show so the audience would think it was something terrible – and I got to do some serious acting! After I finally said what it was, there was a moment’s pause throughout the entire theater . . . and then came the “ohs” and the “hahahas” every time.
- What three words would you use to describe yourself?
Creative, tenacious, and optimistic.
- What three things do you always keep in your pocket?
Breath-mint strips; something shiny – I pick up shiny things, even if they’re broken, and put them in my pocket so I can look at them later when I get home, like I’m eight years old; and some sort of headphone device to listen to music. Or maybe not so much to listen to music as to block out the world!
- Who or what has been the biggest inspiration in your career?
Warner Bros. cartoons; I was a real TV kid. Anything by Hal Roach – Our Gang, Laurel and Hardy. John Ritter was – still is – the most authentic and honest comic physical actor there is. And Pee-wee Herman.
- Can you give us a sneak peek at an idea you have in mind for an upcoming show?
I don’t have a single idea. NO! What is this, Back to the Future?! I can tell you that we’re already scheduled to do a special event to launch a summer run of international productions of Show Up, Kids! in Japanese, Spanish, and English, with the three of us who are performing passing the baton throughout the show. It will be fun for me to hear it in languages I don’t understand!
- Is there a show or a character you most relate to that someone else wrote?
Hmmm. Wow. Yes. It’s Ren of Ren & Stimpy. Ren is a Chihuahua who loses his temper at the most ridiculous things, especially friends who are not quite as quick. I’m a full-grown middle-aged man, but I loved my childhood, I had a very happy one. I feel like Chihuahuas are so much like me – small and surrounded by people above them. It puts them on edge.
- If you had a pet ape, what would you name it?
If it’s a male, Roger. If it’s a female, Sue. I love it when pets have normal people names.
- What do you most look forward to about being back live on stage when it’s safe?
The happiness that it will bring to other people – so they can shut up about how much they miss they theater! But we’ll still keep the streaming with the live chats going in addition to the live performances, so people at home can see the shows and we can reach and interact with more audiences.
Thanks, Pete, for taking the time during your busy live-online performance schedule to talk, and for keeping us laughing and thinking well beyond a mere fifteen minutes!