BWW Interview: Playwright Joe Giovannetti and THE PROMOTION at NJ Rep
New Jersey Repertory Company (NJ Rep) will present the world premiere of The Promotion by Joe Giovannetti from March 5 to April 5. Directed by Evan Bergman, the play stars John Caliendo, Phillip Clark, Chantal Jean-Pierre, and Sophia Parola.
Trish and Josh are coworkers and good friends. When they're both up for the same promotion, they're pushed to their limits. Just how far are they willing to go to get ahead? This is a comedy about surviving in this dog-eat-dog world of business.
Broadwayworld.com had the pleasure of interviewing Joe Giovannetti about his career and The Promotion at NJ Rep.
Giovannetti is a theatre- and film-maker from Chicago, IL. He has worked on or behind Chicago's stages for over a decade as a writer, technician, designer, actor, and director. His plays include The Promotion (National New Play Showcase 2019, developed at NNPN/Kennedy Center MFA Playwrights Workshop and at Steep Theatre in Chicago), Kung Fu Suburbia, Lilith, Kung Fu Suburbia 2: Cul du Sacrifice, and Welcome to Earth. Joe holds a BA from North Park University in Chicago and an MFA from Northwestern University in Evanston, IL.
When did you first know that you were destined for a career in the arts?
I'm not sure about destined, but I definitely knew I wanted to be involved with the arts by 4th grade, when I got a speaking role in my school's holiday pageant December in Our Town. I remember being so nervous until I actually stepped forward to say my lines, and then I realized I was actually really comfortable and at home onstage. From then on, I found ways to be involved in theatre or music or writing in one way or another.
Do you have any particular mentors or people who have inspired your career?
Too many to count! Off the top of my head, Aimee Taylor was the theatre teacher in high school who trusted me and gave me a chance to play lead roles even though I was this shy, weird, chubby kid. Chad Eric Bergman teaches at North Park University, where I went to undergrad, and he was the first person to trust me to write a whole, full-length play and then put university resources toward producing it. Reginald Lawrence, artistic director of MPAACT here in Chicago, was the first person who showed me how to piece together a living in the arts and gave me an artistic home. Zayd Dohrn was a mentor in grad school and, possibly without even knowing it, he helped me to merge my analytical, practical "designer" brain to my messy, outlandish "artist" brain.
You have worn many hats in the performing arts. How have you juggled these many opportunities?
With a lot of patience and understanding from my friends and family, mostly. It definitely keeps me busy, but I always looked at each opportunity as a chance to learn something about the craft of making plays, and it was just hard for me to turn those chances down. Lighting design teaches you about beginnings and endings (lights up, lights down) and how to craft them. Set design taught me about scale. Being an electrician or a carpenter is so physical and demanding and those gigs made me respect the entire process and the entire team more. Production managing gave me better insight to a variety of creative processes and the needs of each department. Being a director made me a better actor which made me a better writer. I guess it didn't feel like juggling so much as it felt like trying to get to a point where I could hold the whole process of "making a play" in my head and write with that in mind.
We'd love to know more about your college and graduate school education.
I did my undergrad at North Park University, which is a small liberal arts college known best (I think) for its nursing program. There was also a small but mighty theatre program where we studied the "Storefront Theatre Model" which is the very Chicago-theatre process of making do with what you have, and still putting on incredible theater. I studied acting and spent a lot of time trying to talk our director into letting me change things in the script, so he pointed out I should try writing, which I did at North Park.
Almost 10 years later, I was on my honeymoon with my wife and we were talking about things we felt like we'd missed out on, and I mentioned that I'd kind of always wanted to go to grad school. She encouraged me to apply, which I did, and was accepted to Northwestern University's "Writing for the Screen and Stage" program. That was truly life-changing - at North Park, I learned how to be scrappy and get things done within strict limitations. But it was an extremely practical course of study. At Northwestern, there was a lot more theoretical, sort of abstract thinking about theatre and storytelling which helped me see a bigger, less constrained picture of what I wanted to write and how it related to the broader world of theatre-making.
What inspired you to write The Promotion?
Most immediately, I was inspired by a talk I went to in grad school. The playwright Young Jean Lee described her writing process and said something about how she would think about plays she was afraid to write (I may be misquoting) and then whichever one seemed the most frightening would become her next project.
So I started to think about what kinds of plays would frighten me to write, and I landed on the idea of writing about white privilege, which seemed really thorny. Then I thought it might be more frightening for me to write if I centered someone who was not a white man, which felt frightening because that meant I would no longer be the "expert" about my own play and I would have to get comfortable saying "I don't know" and relying on generous, patient collaborators to keep me honest.
So after I decided on those two things, I located it in an insurance agency because I had some experience in that industry, and just kind of went off to the races. And it was pretty nerve-wracking to write and share, and I did get a lot wrong, and I did have to listen and learn a lot, and I am incredibly grateful to the collaborators who believed in me and this project enough to help me turn my scary draft into what will be opening at New Jersey Rep in March.
How is The Promotion different from anything else you have crafted?
Prior to this play, I never really wrote a naturalistic, character based play before. It was mostly surrealism or comic book action stuff. But I was always a fan of the Play-with-a-Capital-P and I figured I should try writing one.
How do you like working with the team at NJ Rep?
I love it. They are consummate professionals and I have felt very taken care of the entire time. It has been a dream come true, which is a cliche, but it fits.
What would you like audiences to know about the show?
It's funny, sometimes it's sad, and it may cause some interesting conversations on the drive home.
Can you share with us any plans for the future?
My short film "Lunar Cadence" is in post-production and should (hopefully) start making the festival rounds this year. My next play deals with Jerry Falwell, his ministry, and the rise of the "Christian Right" in American politics.
Please share web site and social media information that you'd like our readers to have.
Be sure to check out Joe Giovannetti's New Play Exchange page at: https://newplayexchange.org/users/22308/joe-giovannetti
The Promotion runs from March 5 to April 5, 2020. Previews are Thursday and Friday, March 5 and 6 at 8:00 PM, and Saturday, March 7 at 3:00 PM. A special talk-back with the playwright and director will be held after the first preview, Thursday, March 5. Opening night with reception is on Saturday, March 7 at 8:00 PM. Regular performances are Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 PM; Saturdays at 3:00 PM and 8:00 PM; Sundays at 2:00 PM. Tickets are $55 (opening night with reception, $65; premium seating + $5). Annual subscriptions are $225 per person. 3-show Flex Passes are $120 per person. For tickets or additional information, call 732-229-3166 or visit http://www.njrep.org/.
Photo: Courtesy of Joe Giovannetti and NJ Rep