Saturday, May 06, 2006

INTERVIEW: Al Germani

I visited Al Germani at his business office (private practice/psychiatry) recently and allowed him to sit comfortably in his leather chair and be the patient for a change. I encouraged and allowed him an opportunity to let it all out in an almost stream-of-consciousness fashion. After our brief session I have advised Al that he needs long-term care and recommended that he continue with theatre as a way to free himself from the dark daemons living within and to continue to infuse the San Diego arts community with rewarding, challenging, gut-wrenching theatre. Who knows, he may even follow my advice? Here’s some of what he had to say:

Cuauhtémoc Q. Kish (CQK): Would you be kind enough to gift your audience with a few pieces of the Al Germani picture puzzle: work, family, passions?

Al Germani (AG): I’m single, I’m in my fifth decade on this planet; I have a special person in my life at the moment; no kids; and I have a private psychiatric practice for long-term patients.

CQK: I understand that you and I were born in Western Pennsylvania?

AG: I was born in New Castle, Pennsylvania (Cuauhtemoc was born in Tarentum, Pennsylvania).

CQK: Is it true that you carry a degree in psychology as well as one in the arts?

AG: I have degrees in Psychiatric Social Work and Mental Health and I finished work for a Masters in Performing Arts. I got a scholarship to Rutgers (New Jersey) and completed my B.A. in mostly freezing weather with about 5,000 other male students. After way too much rain and cold weather I came out to L. A. From L. A. I came to San Diego and enrolled in USCD. I had several friends who were involved in dance and after attending a few events together I got hooked on some of the avant-garde dance troops from Europe. Apart from the artistic side of it, that exposure convinced me that it would also be a great way to stay in shape since I had been an athlete all my life.

CQK: A number of years ago you developed and taught a dance class for jocks; correct?

AG: In the 80’s I taught a “dance for athlete’s class” at SDSU. It received a lot of press at the time and it was a good way for the athletes to score high on their grades. I’ve got to tell you that I worked them extremely hard; they earned their grades.

CQK: The combination of dance and psychiatry appears to suggest interesting-to-strange bedfellows?

AG: The combination of the physical, mental health and the artistic proved to be a great combination. So much so that I just worked dance into my personal curriculum and got another degree.

CQK: And from there...?

AG: I worked with Scott Fetcher at Sledgehammer Theatre and became the resident choreographer for a time. I also connected with performance artists at Sushi through my friendship with Vicki Wolf and others.

CQK: You were on two separate paths (artistic and mental health) that somehow connected naturally as you progressed with both.

AG: Yes; it’s interesting how my path to private practice exposed me to some of the artistic mindscapes I would encounter in both dance and theatre, such as alcohol, drug, and child abuse; rape victims, working with prisoners, and other abused individuals. This eclectic background has direct application to many of the shows that Lynx has produced to date.

[Lynx Performance Theatre’s Mission Statement: “...dedicated to the creative, authentic investigation and presentation of the human condition. Our goal is to produce award winning plays in an exciting, provocative, progressive theatre format that incorporates psychological credibility and emotional realism.]

CQK: How do you actually pick as season of shows for Lynx?

AG: I look for actual characters in plays in which I have worked psychotherapeutically at every stage of their lives. In Jesus Hopped the A Train, for example, I worked with individuals just like the roles created by (Stephen Adly) Guirgis.

CQK: You sound like you would make the perfect playwright.

AG: I’m not quite ready to write a play yet but I have any number of ideas. I think I would tap into the style of (Sam) Shepard and Guirgis, whose cryptically written works allow for three or four meanings within a line of dialog. Buried Child can be analyzed for hours in that vein.

CQK: It appears that your Dance Company has morphed into a Theatre Company; would that be a correct assumption?

AG: Yes: our productions at Sushi lent themselves to theatre. There was dance, but they were combined with a nice mix of vocal recitation as well. In addition I have worked with Stage 7, SDSU and was a staff member of Grossmont College. My former Dance Company is now what is called Lynx Performance Theatre. You have to understand that dancing is a tough gig; it’s a hard thing to do. It requires tremendous physicality and as soon as you walk on a stage you are already abstracting.

[Lynx Performance Theatre Accolades: 2004 & 2005 KPBS Patte Award Winner;
2004 San Diego Magazine for Best of the Year List for both Jesus Hopped the A Train and In Arabia We’d All Be Kings.]
CQK: You’re not afraid of visiting and then further exploring the unconscious in your works?

[The Premiere of Crave by Sarah Kane and directed by Al Germani is May 5 at 9PM. Visit theatre@lynxperformance.com for more information.]

AG: I enjoy artists like Sarah Kane and Sam Shepard. They both work cryptically in the sense that they offer multiple meanings within their text and their style lends itself towards a tapping into their own unconscious and free associating with their ideas.

CQK: How would you describe Sarah Kane’s work?

AG: Her earlier stuff was shock theatre (raping/killing/etc.). But there is brilliance in her work as she taps into the primal side of herself. At moments you can tell she was actually living that drama. In Crave, she moved from shock theatre to what Balanchine calls the beauty in anger. There is a beautiful esthetic in her poetry, even though it’s fractured.

[Sarah Kane is a playwright known for the emotional power of her plays as well as her suicide and the posthumous production of her last play, 4.48 Psychosis. She pushed naturalistic boundaries in plays such as Blasted, Phaedra’s Love, Cleansed and Crave. It’s no wonder Al Germani is intrigued by this writer since she touches upon themes of violation, loneliness, and mental collapse in her plays. Crave is about one individual with four distinct voices describing loss, desire, and love.]

CQK: How did the actors feel about their journey in the rehearsal process?

AG: They discovered the wonderful and the deadly within this piece; the joyous and the tragic. We tried to honor her poetry and while much is flying wildly about, we looked to the content for the profound within. It’s much like a work of art in that there is a distant beauty followed by the ugliness of reality that is another form of artistic beauty. I tried to have each actor discover the essence of the context of each of their assigned character’s lines.

CQK: As a director you have said that part of your success is measured with your definition of the “Trifecta.” Can you explain that concept?

AG: The concept of the “Trifecta” is broken down into three parts. The first part is the “Ah” feeling that I want the audience to feel (Is the presentation compelling enough?). The second part is that I want the audience to walk out of the theatre talking about the play and exploring the substance. And the third part is that over time I hope that they are touched by the play on a deeper level that can be explored again and again in the future.

CQK: In other words, you want the audience to be surprised and learn from the expected?

AG: The answer is something like the experience of Noh Theatre. That concept suggests that really great art brings an audience to a level of emotion that they weren’t expecting, about your visit to the theatre being experiential.

CQK: You seem to have a world view of dramatic presentation?

AG: I believe that a director is responsible for releasing the excellence within the structure of a play; finding that freedom within the text that he is presenting.

CQK: You have a mantra or saying that is known to your actors; can you recite it for us?

AG: Fuck good; only great matters.

CQK: It is said that you are very exact with the direction you gift your actors, even going to the point of scoring a text.

AG: I feel that each character has a different rhythm all its own and I will convey that rhythm to an actor if they can’t find it themselves.

CQK: What aspects of your directing style contribute to its success?

AG: Anything from improvisation to fever runs to actual physicality between actors; all in an effort to find the character and the play’s emotion; anything that will bring out the beauty and the beast while honoring the words of the text. I assist what I call a healthy deconstruction of the play; that deep essence that is beyond the words.

CQK: Describe yourself in three words.

AG: Excited, Passionate and artistic.

CQK: Al Germani has been known to say that theatre “is all about the work;” true or false?

AG: True: I like to find a place where the artistry is bringing something to the audience; that it is going to touch people. I don’t do “cutting edge” theatre for the sake of doing cutting edge theatre. For me it’s how you get there. Like Beckett said, that naturalistic place that you’re trying to reach is on the edge of animalism. It’s how you create art.

CQK: Name a few of your influences in theatre.

AG: A Dance-Theatre Performance Group called “Contraband.” They believe in bringing the audience to a new level called the Universal. Motzart called it “Being With God.” Another influence has been a Group called La La La Human Steps, an avant-garde group from Montreal headed by Edward Loche. And many others like Beckett, Peter Brook...

CQK: How do you unwind?

AG: It’s sometimes difficult in delineating between work and play. Even in my private practice it’s a mix because my practice is so rewarding. I can unwind by playing golf or seeing La La Human Steps in LA.

[If you’re looking for a great long-term shrink you might want to visit with Al Germani on a professional basis and you can start by visiting his website: http://www.psychotherapyfortheartist.com.]

CQK: What does accomplishment mean to you?

AG: Looking for the extended, long-term depth in relationships and taking a project to a level of quality where there is growth.

Al Germani is a man who loves talking about life (and theatre). His essence seems to be destined to unearth the beautiful chaos in our world and he has been successful on that level with Lynx Performance Theatre to date. We can only wish him continued success in San Diego. I say, rattle us, Al!

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