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October 12, 2000 Gerry Gross, Concordia's theatrical wise man



Photo of Gerry Gross

Gerry Gross

by Anna Bratulic

The play to be analyzed is The Rose Tattoo, by Tennessee Williams, a story about a Sicilian family living in 1950s New Orleans. A group of about 15 Theatre students are seated in a circle for an early morning directing class in the F.C. Smith Auditorium, ready to listen to classmates who have been assigned the task of deconstructing every conceivable facet of the play.

Among them is Gerry Gross, the instructor, who is quietly jotting down notes and listening, occasionally interjecting comments and observations. He lets the students do the talking.

They describe the play’s historical context, the circumstances of the characters scene-by-scene, the Sicilian world-view, even the impact that the suffocating New Orleans heat has on the story. They “verb it,” “beat it” and plot “character spine” graphs, all in the hope of understanding the play the way a director should.

Heather Markgraf, Director of Facilities in the Theatre Department is a former Gross student. She runs Village Theatre West, a summer theatre, out of the old Hudson train station, and Gross directed On Golden Pond for her three years ago.

A director who rambles on and on

“He’s very careful about what he says, very concise. Part of that comes from being a director, because directors should say only what needs to be said. There’s nothing worse than a director who rambles on and on.”

Many years ago, as a student at McGill, Gross performed in the Red and White Revue, a musical that has a 75-year tradition at the university, with the likes of William Shatner, who went on to be Captain Kirk on Star Trek, and he was in a company that did satirical revues.

He has degrees from McGill, Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh and the Université de Montréal. He has done research on the work of Montreal writer Reuben Ship, a left-winger who was deported back to Canada from the U.S. during the McCarthy era. However, his true passion has always been teaching.

“When I started doing theatre, there was very little professional theatre in Canada. I don’t think I had the confidence [to pursue it as a profession]. It was just too damned hard, too chancy. I found I liked to teach.”

He taught English at Loyola College for a year, and then was assigned the task of setting up the fledgling Fine Arts Department in 1973. He assembled a group of existing courses from different departments (Art History, Painting, Communications, a couple from Music). At that time, the department was composed of two divisions, performing arts and visual arts.

When Loyola and Sir George Williams merged and the Faculty of Fine Arts was created, what was once a department teaching a broad range of disciplines became more departmentalized, which he regrets.

“The dancer who does a theatre piece doesn’t see herself as a dancer or a theatre performer,” he said. “A lot of modern art integrates the arts.” He likens the tendency to departmentalize to “mercury forming into puddles.”

Theatre is arguably one of the most difficult arts to fund. According to Gross, that’s because of its controversial content.

“A lot of theatre, if it’s good theatre, is going to be challenging and not going to be comfortable. Think of the theatre of the 1960s and ‘70s, where there was a lot of nudity and expletives. Either people got comfortable with the nudity and the expletives or they chose not to go to the theatre.”