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 plays 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
Hes 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. Theres 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 dont 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
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 doesnt 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, thats because of its controversial content.
A lot of theatre, if its 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.