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Brooklyn's Best Kept Secret

Mary Ruth Goodley talks about working with one of the most eclectic theater companies in New York. logo
A production photo from the Gallery Players'
1998 production of Angels in America
During any given season in Manhattan, you can tromp around town and find a farce, an operetta, an O'Neill play, a big frothy musical, a pre-WWII era classic, a contemporary hit, and a groundbreaking new musical--or you can find all of this at just one theater during any typical season of The Gallery Players. The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940, The Student Prince, Anna Christie, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, The Front Page, Over the River and Through the Woods, and Floyd Collins are this year's productions at the ambitious little theater, nestled inconspicuously in Brooklyn's Park Slope neighborhood.

The company's range is remarkable. Most New York theater companies pick a focus, be it children's theater, classics, musicals, or multicultural works. But The Gallery Players' tastes are broad, and they happily alternate between the likes of Sondheim and Rodgers & Hammerstein, Shakespeare and Kaufman & Hart. They're not afraid to offer seldom-produced oldies (The Front Page) or challenging newer works (Floyd Collins). They even have a special play reading series that showcases new voices in the theater.

TheaterMania spoke to president Mary Ruth Goodley about the The Gallery Players' wonderful eclecticism and about how the company has continued to thrive for 35 years.


THEATERMANIA: How long have you been with the Gallery Players?

MARY RUTH GOODLEY: Oh, a long time! Let's see...about 25 years.

TM: Do you ever act in or direct any of the productions?

MRG: I haven't done any acting in probably 15 years. I've been asked a few times, but I don't think I could do that anymore. It's been awhile--and I don't think I was that great an actress, anyway. But I do direct, usually at least once a year.

TM: What is your role as president of The Gallery Players? What keeps you busy?

MRG: Overseeing, as much as anything. I do a lot of the flyer designs and newspaper ads. I run the meetings, of course, and I am a liaison with the building we're in. I also go down to the theater on Saturdays and work on sets or things like that. And I'm directing Floyd this year. We have a producer for each show; if I've got someone that knows [what they're doing], then I feel I don't have to worry. If I call once or twice a week, I've just about done my duty.

TM: That's a great idea, having a producer for each show.

MRG: We have a lot of new directors in and they don't know our system, so we're there to help. We want to make sure everything goes smoothly.

TM: Do you consider yourselves a professional theater or an amateur group?

MRG: We're a showcase house, which means we're the very lowest form of professional theater. We can use Equity people without paying them; we only pay their transportation. Consequently, we have a large turnover, because the people we get are aspiring to be professional actors and make their living at it. We also sometimes get people who have worked on Broadway but they want to do a certain role. For awhile, Gallery Players had three or four people on Broadway.

TM: Who is your audience?

MRG: About a third of our audience comes from the community. Including that third, I would say 80% come from Brooklyn. We also get a lot of people from Staten Island and Queens. And we certainly do get people from Manhatttan, but I think Manhattanites have a different twist on it: 'I don't want to go to Brooklyn.' They think it's like going out of the country or something. They don't understand that it's two or three subway stops away.

TM: Your company seems to maintain a pretty low profile.

MRG: We don't want to! You know what it is? We're a very small organization and it's hard to do the marketing and everything. We certainly have flyers and we advertise in the local papers and things like that.

TM: You do so many different types of shows. It's amazing

MRG: There are a lot of reasons for that. We're doing Floyd Collins this year, and no one has done that in New York since the original Off-Broadway production. We were the first ones to revive Assassins and Love! Valour! Compassion! and we're considering Corpus Christi for next year. We're always looking to do the first revivals; especially for things that didn't run long, a lot of people didn't have an opportunity to see them.

TM: How are your shows chosen?

MRG: The play reading committee people are meeting right now. I'm the chairperson, but I decided this year that I wasn't going to take a voting interest in it because I've been on it for the last couple years. I want to let some other people pick the shows, because you get a better variety that way. We realize there are playwrights that we haven't done; for example, we haven't done Mamet or Fugard. One of the plays that we're thinking about now--and this may or may not come to fruition, cause it's a little scary--is A Raisin in the Sun. It scares me because we don't draw a lot of black auditioners--but, if you do something like that, surely it will bring them out. We want to appeal to all ethnic groups, not just middle-class white America. With musicals, I happen to be pretty well versed because I've directed a lot of musicals. And our play reading committee this year is incredibly well read, which is very nice. I love some of their suggestions. Do you know Cloud 9? That's kind of a weird little play, but there is an audience for it. Some of our subscribers come up and say, "I didn't like that play. That's the weirdest thing I've ever seen. Don't do that one anymore." But they still come back because of the quality of our productions.

TM: Tell me about your new writers' showcase.

MRG: We do what is called our black box series in the month of June, usually for four weekends. Sidney Fortner sort of runs that. There are submissions of scripts that are anywhere from 10 minutes long to a full-length production, and they can never have been produced. What we like to do is work with the playwright. We don't want to do a play just because it's an original, we want to do it to help the author. We like playwrights who want to make changes, who want to grow. We're also doing play readings throughout the year, on every second Saturday. There's an original full-length play or maybe two one-acts, and the public is invited. Some of them have been well attended and some have not; some people are just not interested in readings. But there is an audience!

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