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Interview: Director Bob Turton on Bringing CAN'T PAY? DON'T PAY! Back to The Actors' Gang After Two Years

The show is a hilarious satire at the Ivy Substation in Culver City.

Interview: Director Bob Turton on Bringing CAN'T PAY? DON'T PAY! Back to The Actors' Gang After Two Years

In mid-February 2020 just prior to the Covid-related shutdown of live theatre, I attended a performance of the hilarious satire Can't Pay? Don't Pay! presented by the Actors' Gang at the Ivy Substation in Culver City. I remember how director Bob Turton's set design, from the moment I walked inside the theater, took me inside the working-class home of Antonia and Giovanni, the play's two main characters, with two rows of audience seats on the stage which allowed the actors to speak directly to and include those seated in such close proximity to become part of the discussion about what is fair and right when upright citizens have no recourse to keep from starving and keeping a roof over their heads.

Of course, this is overwhelmingly true for most Americans being forced to live below their means then and now due to the cost of living increasing while wages or government benefits cannot keep up. After all, news of seniors living on dog and cat food constantly fill the media, given the prohibitive cost of healthy food. Unless you are wealthy enough and just don't care about those starving around you.

Interview: Director Bob Turton on Bringing CAN'T PAY? DON'T PAY! Back to The Actors' Gang After Two Years And now after two years of most people living in at least semi-isolation, with many unemployed through no fault of their own, or perhaps due to the loss of interest in having to go to work outside the home ever again, the Actors' Gang is returning to the stage with a re-mounting of Can't Pay? Don't Pay! written by Nobel Laureate Dario Fo and Franca Rame on March 19, 2022, with previews beginning March 12, exactly two years from the day the theater was shuttered and had to suspend this hilarious production. Fo's high-energy, satirical farce is again directed by Bob Turton (pictured), who won a Stage Raw Award for his role, The Madman, in The Actors' Gang's 2019 production of Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist.

I decided to speak with Bob Turton about the journey he has taken with the production, especially what it's been like waiting for two years to bring the play back to its original location.

Thank you, Bob, for taking the time to speak with me! I am sure neither of us could have imagined how the theatre world was about to change back in March 2020 when you first presented Can't Pay? Don't Pay! How did you make the decision to shut down the production? Was the hope to bring it back as soon as possible?

Hello Shari! It's such a pleasure to speak with you. I can't tell you how excited we are to share this production with audiences again. It's strange to think back to the "before times." It felt like the entire world was falling around us. We had been hearing about Covid and seeing our audiences diminish as we were all getting more and more uncomfortable with group settings. No one knew what to do. There was conflicting information and a real sense of confusion. Ultimately, the difficult decision was made to close down the show and shutter the theater until further notice.

Interview: Director Bob Turton on Bringing CAN'T PAY? DON'T PAY! Back to The Actors' Gang After Two Years

Pictured L to R: Lynde Houck as Margherita, Kaili Hollister as Antonia

Luckily, we were able to continue on as a company during the entire pandemic by working and performing several Zoom productions and workshopping in person between surges. It's been an exercise in patience and growth for our company, trying best to understand the constantly evolving state of the world, navigating our own boundaries, and accepting the boundaries of each other. The decision to bring Can't Pay? Don't Pay! back was made around 8 months ago. The truths in this text have become only more relevant during these last two years with rampant homelessness, eviction, hunger, and exponentially increasing wealth disparities.

Did the cast keep meeting to rehearse/review lines with you during the shutdown?

We took a significant break. Once the production shut down, we didn't meet to talk about it for at least a year or more. I can't speak for the rest of the cast, but I was so wrapped up in my own fear and anxieties to even comprehend re-mounting the show. However, once the decision was made to re-open the play, we started to meet with one another on Zoom and continued meeting virtually until about a month ago when we all finally felt safe enough to work together in person. It blows my mind to think that we're now deep into a rehearsal process with the opening just right around the corner.

Interview: Director Bob Turton on Bringing CAN'T PAY? DON'T PAY! Back to The Actors' Gang After Two Years

Pictured: Stephanie G. Galindo and Steven M. Porter

Did The Actors' Gang offer any online presentations of the play during the shutdown?

Yes! Absolutely. Several. We had a nice long run of an adaptation of Studs Terkel's Hard Times called We Live On (a 3-part virtual production). We also offered Hot Chocolate Holiday Club. We streamed Mayhem, The Invasion, Bobbo Supreme, 45 Seconds of Laughter and Embedded, Puppets for All as well as 4 Axis Mundi conversations - 1 each with Gina Belafonte, Peter Brook, Ariane Mnouchkine, Guillermo Calderone. Our Prison Project also had live Alumni Workshops for the public to view and participate in.

Interview: Director Bob Turton on Bringing CAN'T PAY? DON'T PAY! Back to The Actors' Gang After Two Years While many theaters opened as early as September 2021, The Actors' Gang decided to wait until March 2022 to reopen - so were you able to keep all the original actors in place, given two years have gone by?

For the most part, with two exceptions. One of our actors decided to relocate back to Pittsburgh during the pandemic to be closer to family and another actor is no longer with the company. However, the cast still includes Kaili Hollister as Antonia, Lynde Houck as Margherita, Jeremie Loncka (pictured) as Giovanni, and Steven M. Porter as multiple characters (Agent, Old Man, Sergeant, Undertaker). Can't Pay? Don't Pay! 2022 also introduces fresh faces to the original cast, including Luis Quintana as Luigi and Stephanie G. Galindo as multiple characters (Officer, Agent, Nurse, Assistant).

I remember how the actors playing multiple roles mastered backstage costume changes within seconds to re-enter as other characters, all the while making fun of themselves for being stuck in a play that cannot afford to hire enough actors to play all the roles. That certainly must be a hoot to stage! Do you find yourself laughing through the rehearsal process?

Oh yes. To a fault. The actors think I'm faking it. I'm not. They're hilarious. Every actor brings a unique brand of comedy that I'm deeply grateful I get to observe in every rehearsal. I've seen the play about a hundred times now and I still laugh every single time.

Interview: Director Bob Turton on Bringing CAN'T PAY? DON'T PAY! Back to The Actors' Gang After Two Years

Pictured L to R: Kalli Hollister and Lynde Houck

Will audience members still be seated onstage with the actors and be able to interact with them?

Ah yes, the most important question of all. Definitely not! When we were first rehearsing the original production, I remember telling the cast, "I want the audience on stage right on top of you. Play with them. It's a small and claustrophobic apartment, they're in the room with us. They might even get some sweat or spit on them and that's fine, IT WILL BE SO REAL!" Boy oh boy. I really had no idea what was coming. We've returned the audience...to the audience. It's been quite a blessing in disguise. We've been able to create a more unique and versatile playing space and a set that I'm so proud of. Our good friend and long-time collaborator Richard Hoover took my original set design and evolved it into what we have now. It's so fun to see a fully realized set in The Actors' Gang again.

Interview: Director Bob Turton on Bringing CAN'T PAY? DON'T PAY! Back to The Actors' Gang After Two Years

Pictured: Kalli Hollister

Given the incredible number of homeless people now on the streets struggling to exist, so many of whom are living with food insecurity, the increase in violent crime, and those who turned to looting during social upheaval during the past two years, Fo's play seems even more relevant now. Did you adapt any of the staging or line delivery to address changes that have taken place in the past two years? Or are the actors allowed to throw in improvised lines now and then?

We've definitely made adjustments to the script to match the new world we're all living in, but we didn't go overboard. It's been a process of finding the happy medium. We've experimented with varying degrees of topical reference. Ultimately, we've settled on incorporating the themes of what's happening today, but not the specifics. For example, Covid isn't referenced directly, but the fallout from the pandemic is all over the play.

Interview: Director Bob Turton on Bringing CAN'T PAY? DON'T PAY! Back to The Actors' Gang After Two Years

Pictured: Steven M. Porter

After seeing the play two years ago, I walked out hoping that things were going to get better, and then the rug was pulled out from under us. I know there is a "soup kitchen" type food dispensary now in Culver City which has a line around the block every weekday when meals are handed out. And not everyone looks homeless. Do you still have hope that society will somehow combat food insecurity for everyone?

Absolutely. Food insecurity, housing, and mental health care for those in need. However, I don't know what the solutions are. It's hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel sometimes, but I hope that those in power hear the voices of the artists and activists that are desperately trying to give voice to those in need.

Interview: Director Bob Turton on Bringing CAN'T PAY? DON'T PAY! Back to The Actors' Gang After Two Years What action do you hope audience members will be inspired to take after seeing Can't Pay? Don't Pay! in 2022?

I hope this play creates a shift in perspective; that it allows people to think differently about the citizens of Culver City and Los Angeles that are experiencing homelessness. I hope that it inspires action, no matter what that looks like. Volunteerism. Charitable donation. Humanity is in the midst of a real empathy problem right now and I hope this play can at least bring some awareness or reminder that we're all in this thing together and we need to help one another. (Pictured: Luis Quintana)

Is there anything else you would like to share with Broadway World readers?

The Actors' Gang is thrilled to be back on stage and we can't wait to share this production and many more to come!

Can't Pay? Don't Pay! performances are scheduled as follows:
Previews
Saturday, March 12 at 8 pm
Sunday, March 13 (Matinee) at 2 pm
Thursday, March 17 at 8 pm
Friday, March 18 at 8 pm
Performances
Saturday, March 19 (Opening Night) to Saturday, April 30 (Closing Night), every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 pm.
Matinees
Sunday, March 27 at 2 pm
Sunday, April 10 at 2 pm
Sunday, April 24 at 2 pm

General admission tickets are available for purchase starting at $35, with previews priced at $25. Seniors and students will enjoy a $10 discount on general admission tickets. For any questions regarding ticketing, please contact The Actors' Gang Box Office by phone at 310-838-4264 ext. 1, email to boxoffice@theactorsgang.com, or website at www.TheActorsGang.com. TAG is monitoring and following the fluctuating health and safety guidelines mandated by Culver City.

Photos courtesy of The Actors' Gang



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From This Author - Shari Barrett