2015 Best Supporting Actor in a Play Nominee: Greg Maraio as Jonathon/Miranda in SpeakEasy Stage Company's "Casa Valentina"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

Photo Credit:  Becca A. Lewis

Photo Credit: Becca A. Lewis

Greg Maraio was a dazzling presence in a star-studded cast of Casa Valentina at the SpeakEasy Stage Company in Boston.  His Jonathon featured remarkable growth and resiliency; Greg took us along for a journey with his Jonathan as we discovered a Miranda within us all. His ability to shine opened our eyes to his strength as a storyteller and performer. 

In his Interview, Greg tells us about the challenges in Casa Valentina, the best traits in a partner and best friend, and one of the roles on his bucket list.

Hi, Greg, and thank you for joining us for the 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.  Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself?

Hi, Brian, thank you and ArtsImpulse for the nomination. I am a Boston native and I have been working here as an actor, director, and costumer for the past 10 years. My “day job” is my own costume business specializing in reproductions, cosplay, as well as film and television. I currently live in Revere, Massachusetts, with my husband and 3 “fur children.”

Who is Jonathon and what is Casa Valentina?  What is the play about?

Jonathon is young, married school teacher in the early 1960s, who has been secretly cross-dressing in his basement for a few years. One weekend, when his wife is away, he takes a trip to “Casa Valentina” (a retreat for cross-dressers in the Catskills) to let his alter-ego, Miranda, emerge and to be around others like him for the very first time. Needless to say, it is quite a journey for him.

There is humor, there is heartache, there is a fantastic makeover. As for the play as a whole, it’s hard to describe because there are many themes woven throughout by Playwright Harvey Fierstein. But, ultimately, I think it is about finding one’s true self, and all the beauty, pain, joy, and sacrifice that entails, not only for that person, but also for those who love him.

What was the most challenging part about this production?  What was the most fun?  What did you learn about yourself as a performer?  As a person?

I’d definitely say that the most challenging part of this production was embracing everything it takes to be a girl (specifically one in the 1960s). I have a new found respect for actresses who have to come in an hour early to do makeup, hair, etc. Between the heels, girdles, and pantyhose, it took a while to have everything fall into place and feel right, but, when it did, it was an amazing experience.

The cast of SpeakEasy Stage Company's  Casa Valentina  (Photo Credit:   Glenn Perry Photography  ).

The cast of SpeakEasy Stage Company's Casa Valentina (Photo Credit: Glenn Perry Photography).

The most fun was, undoubtedly, working with this amazing cast and crew. It really was an embarrassment of talent, from Director Scott Edmiston [2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award Nominee for Best Director of a Musical] to the entire cast. I learned so much from being around them. I mean, when Tommy Derrah [George/Valentina, and 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award Nominee for Best Leading Actor in a Play] is working, you watch. You take notes. It’s a masterclass.

As for what I learned about myself as a performer and a person, I’d say I learned to stop second-guessing myself. So many times I have thought, “Oh that is such a great part, but I’m not right for it,” or “They won’t cast me in that role, I bet they have someone in mind.” This was one of the very first times I put that aside and thought, “Why not just go in to the audition and do the best damn job you can, and let them decide?” I’m so glad that I did.

If you could eat anything for the rest of your life (and not gain a pound!), what would it be and why?

Oh gosh, here is the million-dollar question. Well, I was raised in a big Italian family, and pasta was served at almost every meal, so it’s definitely comfort food. For me, it can be dangerous, so it’s a slippery slope. That being said, it would be a very close call between pasta and cheese. But I’m going to go with pasta. Also, we call the red sauce that goes on pasta “gravy,” not sauce, in my hometown of East Boston.

What do you think the best qualities are in a life partner?  In a best friend?

Humor is very important to me. I love laughter. If I am going to spend the rest of my life with anyone (life partner or friend), then I hope to still be cracking each other up when we are 90 years old. Communication, supporting one another is key. Lifting one another up.

You hear so much about “theatre widows”- husbands and wives who rarely see their loved one or spouse because of rehearsal and performance schedules. It’s important to support each other and find ways to spend time together especially during a production.

Bucket list! What are some roles on your bucket list?  Life experiences?

For me, Doubt by John Patrick Shanley is a perfect play. It’s one of my absolute favorites. I would love to play Father Flynn. Every character in that play is so brilliantly written, I hope it happens before I die.   I think there is still time (fingers crossed).

I’d love to be in a musical one day, so maybe one day I’ll take some voice lessons. I think I’m tone deaf, but I would love to maybe try to see if someone can work a miracle. Maybe that can be the plot of the musical.

If you were to dress up as a woman like Jonathon, what is one piece of clothing that you enjoy the most?  What would you enjoy the least?

Charlotte (Will McGarrahan*) shows Miranda (Greg Maraio) the evolution towards finding her self in SpeakEasy Stage Company's  Casa Valentina  (Photo Credit:   Glenn Perry Photography  ) (* Denotes a Member of Actors' Equity Association).

Charlotte (Will McGarrahan*) shows Miranda (Greg Maraio) the evolution towards finding her self in SpeakEasy Stage Company's Casa Valentina (Photo Credit: Glenn Perry Photography) (* Denotes a Member of Actors' Equity Association).

Well, based on my wardrobe as Miranda (Costume Designer Gail Buckley handmade my dress from scratch), I would say I enjoyed my pink brocade dress the most. It really became an extension of the character and I would just twirl around every time that I put it on.

My wig was a bit tough, since it went through quite a journey itself during the show.  It constantly needed to be styled and restyled, so sometimes renegade hairs would get caught in my mouth; one night I think I swallowed a few strands onstage. So, that wasn’t fun.

What is the scariest or weirdest thing that you have had to do onstage?

Well, that would be a tie between when I had to dance around in a metallic singlet with a giant bedazzled star on my crotch as the “Gogo doctor” in John KuntzNecessary Monsters (also at SpeakEasy Stage Company), and my first professional show, which was Flesh and Blood with Zeitgeist Stage Company. In Flesh and Blood, there was a scene in which the matriarch is trying to call her 3 children, and all three of them are having sexual relations of some kind, so there was 3 sex acts happening simultaneously on stage. It wasn’t handled vulgarly at all, but still definitely one of the craziest things I have been a part of theatrically.

I know that you design superhero outfits and costumes.  Do you have a favorite superhero?  A favorite super power?  If you could create your own, what super power would you have, and who would be your sidekick?  Most importantly of all, would you have a cape?

I love Wonder Woman. She’s probably at the top of the list. I just love the whole truth, beauty, and love thing.

I’d love to fly, but the ability to heal myself or others would be the one power I would want to have more than anything. Imagine that. Cancer, gone. Alzheimer’s, gone.

My sidekick(s) would be my three dogs - Sophia, Emma, and Casper. They would all have individual costumes too because they are all very different personality-wise.

As for a cape, I am going to go with yes. They hide a few sins and I think it just looks more dramatic, especially on a windy night of crime-fighting.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

Yes, I will be participating in “The Boston Project” with SpeakEasy Stage Company in February 2016. It’s a new play program where two local writers pen plays set here in town. It's culminating in a 2-week workshop period and staged-reading.

I’ll also be performing in a new play called Ward Nine by Bill Doncaster. Then, it’s just gearing up for that magical time of year—audition season.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

I love Boston. I love theatre. I am so blessed to be able to do what I love in the city that I love. I’m so touched by this nomination. Casa Valentina was an absolute dream-come-true, in every way imaginable. I love Jonathon/Miranda with all my heart, and this is just gravy on the pasta.

Rita (Kerry Dowling*) and Jonathon (Greg Maraio) celebrate a wonderful weekend at SpeakEasy Stage Company's  Casa Valentina  (Photo Credit:   Glenn Perry Photography  ) (* Denotes a Member of Actors' Equity Association)

Rita (Kerry Dowling*) and Jonathon (Greg Maraio) celebrate a wonderful weekend at SpeakEasy Stage Company's Casa Valentina (Photo Credit: Glenn Perry Photography) (* Denotes a Member of Actors' Equity Association)

2015 Best Supporting Actor in a Musical: J.T. Turner as Alfred P. Doolittle in The Lyric Stage Company of Boston's "My Fair Lady"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

Photo Credit: Cynthia August

Photo Credit: Cynthia August

J.T. Turner shone brightly as the delightful rogue, Alfred P. Doolittle, in an enchanting and exhilarating production of My Fair Lady at The Lyric Stage Company of Boston.  J.T. succeeded in winning our hearts in his charismatic performance, especially in "With a Little Bit of Luck" and "Get Me To The Church On Time." It was J.T.'s ability to listen and react, especially with his daughter, Eliza Doolittle (played by 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Nominee Jennifer Ellis), that made his Alfred just that much more lovable. 

In his Interview, J.T. tells about his many skills, including as a circus ringmaster; explains about the joy of working with Director Scott Edmiston; and lists some of his favorite movies (we're with you there, J.T., and we see that you learned from some of the best!). 

It is a sincere pleasure to be able to interview and speak with you.  J.T., tell us a little bit about yourself.

Well, I am a stage actor, of course, but also work in film, teach acting, do stage combat choreography, work as a circus ringmaster and clown, and run a small non-profit theater company. A lot of my work is in the voice-over field for corporate clients and audio books. I do a lot of work with kids and teens, and use theater and the circus to teach life lessons and social skills. I am a Dr. Who fan, and I am originally from New Jersey, like most of New England!

Tell us about your character in My Fair Lady.  Who is Alfred P. Doolittle?  Why do you think that his story and character connected with audiences?

Alfred is the loveable rogue, with a surprisingly strong sense of clear morality. His moral view is that he has no morals, and he is proud and happy about it. One of the great pieces of direction Scott [Edmiston, the director] gave me was to think of [Alfred] as a street preacher, spreading the word about how to get away with as much as possible with as little effort as possible. I happen to be an ordained minister, so it was fun to play a character who preaches immorality as a life choice! What makes Alfred great is he knows who he is and makes no pretense about it.

Talk to us about Scott Edmiston as a director for this project.  How much latitude did he give you to develop your character?  How were rehearsals structured?  How did this shape the product?

I am glad you asked me this [question] because Scott is one of the greatest directors whom I have ever worked. His care and concern for the work and the process is thrilling for an actor, and he notices everything. He asks great questions of his cast, and truly listens to the answers. He allows as much latitude for the performer as he can, while making sure his clear vision of the whole story is honored. He is terrific to work for, ridiculously generous with his time and guidance, and puts a cast at ease with his clear grasp of the piece and where he wants to take the performance.

What is one of the most demanding roles that you have played onstage?  Why was it so demanding?  How did you prepare?

Playing Alfred was an absolute joy, but tons of hard work. I am not a trained dancer, and this role required a fair amount of movement. Thank heavens we had David Connelly as our choreographer. He challenged me to dance more than was in my comfort zone, while supporting me and playing to the skills I had. He was also a great collaborator; I used Charlie Chaplin as a physical template for Alfred, and he helped me incorporate that into the movement.

Alfred P. Doolittle (J.T. Turner) talks with his daughter, Eliza Doolittle (Jennifer Ellis) in The Lyric Stage Company of Boston's  My Fair Lady  (Photo Credit: Nerys Powell)

Alfred P. Doolittle (J.T. Turner) talks with his daughter, Eliza Doolittle (Jennifer Ellis) in The Lyric Stage Company of Boston's My Fair Lady (Photo Credit: Nerys Powell)

Do you have a favorite play?  Novel?  Movie?  Why are these some of your favorites?

I love Shakespeare, so any chance I have had to perform in his works has been a treat, especially as King Lear (in King Lear) and Oberon (in A Midsummer Night’s Dream). I just adore his language and structure.

Playing Ben Franklin in 1776 is another favorite of mine; he has always been a fascinating character to me.

I am a movie addict, and I love so many [movies] that it is hard to pick one. Citizen Kane, Waiting for Guffman, Midnight In Paris, Shakespeare in Love, and The Great Dictator are all ones that I watch regularly. Also anything with Buster Keaton in it, his deadpan delivery and physical work is tremendous.

Do you have a lyric or bit of dialogue from My Fair Lady that speaks to you as a person?

Well, for many weeks my mantra became “With a Little Bit of Luck!” It is nice to focus on the thought that, with just a bit of luck, or energy or divine intervention or grace, there are great things waiting for you.

Is there anyone in the Greater Boston theatre community with whom you would like to work?  Do you have a specific project in mind?

I told Scott Edmiston that he can call me anytime, for any project!

There are several theaters that I have yet to work at in Boston: The Huntington Theatre, Fiddlehead Theatre Company, and Moonbox Productions, for example, and I would love to experience working at different venues.

That said, working with Spiro Veloudos and The Lyric Stage Company of Boston always feels like home to me.

What do you think makes a strong or noteworthy supporting actor?

It is always about the work for me. Working hard and honestly on your craft and sharing that with others makes this a lifelong joy. I also strive to simply be a kind and generous person, with good work ethics. I think people see and know that, or I hope they do.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I have a one-man show about Robert Frost that I will be performing this year, hopefully at several venues.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Just a thank you to both ArtsImpulse and the Boston theater community for noticing my work, and for supporting live local theater. It matters!