Gaby Affleck advises those starting out in the arts to “never stop learning.” As she’s established a remarkable career as both an actress and director throughout the South Jersey community theatre circuit, performers would be wise to study what follows. Ms. Affleck kindly provided readers the opportunity to learn some things about her. We conducted this interview via email during the winter of 2017.
Critique Compendium: What first interested you in the performing arts?
Gaby Affleck: Way, WAY back when I was in 7th grade, I saw my sister’s friend, Joan Kratowitz Tenaglia, play Julie Jordan in Carousel in a high school production. I was so enamored by her performance that I knew that’s what I wanted to do! But, alas, I was terribly shy.
When I enrolled at St. Hubert High School for Girls, I joined Glee Club, following in my sister Melissa’s footsteps. I found I could perform, but just be a face in the crowd. That was until my Glee Club instructor, Sr. Pat Cashman, encouraged me to audition for The Wizard of Oz, our Spring Musical. I was cast as part of the ensemble, and had a small role. AND…I was bitten by the Acting Bug!
Critique Compendium: In addition to acting, you also direct. Which do you prefer? Why?
Gaby Affleck: I don’t have a preference, per se. I like them both for different reasons. I like to act because it gives me an opportunity to show off my talents, and hone my craft. To quote one of my favorite characters, Ursula in The Little Mermaid, “It’s what I LIVE for…” Okay, let’s be honest, I do it for the applause. Applause is like a drug. Once you experience it, you want it over and over again.
Directing, on the other hand, like putting together a puzzle. It’s making sure all of the moving parts are working properly. It’s also “the thrill of the chase” finding the perfect actors, costumes, props & set pieces. I do so love working with the actors to push them to dig a little deeper and find the heart and soul of their characters. I also enjoy collaborating with the set designers and the tech gurus, the costume designers and producers, and together, as a team, building the final product! Then I get to take the credit for everyone’s hard work. (I KID! I KID!)
Directing is a different kind of satisfaction. It’s being able to look at the final outcome and say, “That’s my vison come to life!” It’s a proud moment.
Critique Compendium: What types of things interest you in prospective projects? Why?
Gaby Affleck: In the acting department, I like two kinds of roles: Ones that allow my current wheelhouse of talents to shine. BUT, I also love to play roles that are far from the “real me” and make me really work hard for the outcome. They are actually more fulfilling.
In the directing department, I like scripts that scream out “direct me, Gaby!” They must have meaty characters that need to be brought to life! I prefer to direct shows that aren’t often produced. I also tend to lean towards thrillers. In short, I’m drawn to scripts that speak to my soul.
Critique Compendium: What’s the most challenging show in which you’ve participated? Why?
Gaby Affleck: That’s a tough one. I’ve been involved with many challenging shows, from both sides of the stage.
I think I it would be when I directed Dracula at Burlington County Footlighters. Dracula was the most technically involved show I’ve ever worked on. We had a plethora of special effects: On-stage transformations, disappearing vampires, creatures with glowing eyes, books opening of their own accord, vampire stakings (complete with a geysers of blood,) crosses that caught fire, exploding coffins…just to name a few!
To accomplish all of that, you need the BEST OF THE BEST on your team! I’m looking at you, Jim Frazer (Set Design,) Bob Beaucheane (Tech. Design,) Torben Christensen (Producer,) Pat Frazer (Assistant Director,) Jasmine Chalfont (Blood FX Specialist,) Valerie Brothers (Makeup and Hair Design,) Lynne Johnson (Costumes,) Kristina VanName (Props) and Sarah Flanagan (Stage Manager.) I could not have done this show without them, and I can’t thank them enough for having faith in my ability to stage this show!
Dracula also boasted a brilliant cast, with whom I’m honored to have had the opportunity to work.
We also won a few awards that year. Best child actor (Lisa Krier as The Girl,) Best Supporting Actor (Bernard DiCassimiro as Renfield,) Best Technical Show, and Best Show! So, yeah, I’m very proud of that one!
Critique Compendium: Describe your most memorable theatrical moment: either performing or directing.
Gaby Affleck: Just one? That’s not easy.
I’d have to say playing Mama Rose in Gypsy to sold out houses. I’ve been lucky enough to play Rose twice, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Rose is the role of a lifetime, and she is larger than life. And based on a REAL PERSON, with so many layers to peel back. I think I’ve a lot more to learn about her.
Critique Compendium: In addition to acting and directing, you’re also an excellent vocalist. What inspired you to learn singing?
Gaby Affleck: I’m going to give St. Pat Cashman another shout-out here. I grew up singing for my own personal pleasure, but it was Sr. Pat who convinced me that I actually had talent. She encouraged me to audition for the school play, gave me my first solo, had me sing “God Bless America” for the Rotary Club, and she even submitted my audition tape for the 1988 Coca-Cola World Chorus (for which I went on to be a semi-finalist.) She really was my guiding force.
Critique Compendium: What performance artists have influenced you? Why?
Gaby Affleck: I don’t think there is any one in particular. There are some wonderful actors out there that I just adore watching because I know they always deliver. Some of them are (in no particular order): Meryl Streep, Gary Sinise, Liev Schrieber, Denzel Washington, Helen Mirren, Kathy Bates, John Malkovich…
I always enjoy when I’m watching someone perform and they deliver a line, or make a physical choice, that is so NOT what I was expecting! I think to myself “Wow! That was a fantastic choice. I never would have thought to go that way.” Then I wonder, “Was that their choice or something the director asked them to do?” I’m constantly watching from both sides.
Critique Compendium: If you had the opportunity to work with any actor either living or dead, whom would it be? Why?
Gaby Affleck: Again, just one?
Meryl Streep because she is an amazing actress and I think I could learn a lot from her. There’s nothing she can’t do!
I want to be Meryl Streep when I grow up!
Critique Compendium: What do you do when you’re not on stage? What are your hobbies and interests?
Gaby Affleck: Sleeping is a favorite. The occasional adult beverage. (stop laughing)
Critique Compendium: How do you balance a career, family and other activities with the demands of participating in community theater productions?
Gaby Affleck: I don’t. Theatre wins. Every time.
Critique Compendium: How do you prepare to direct a show?
Gaby Affleck: I read several scripts until I find one that speaks to me. Then I read it again to be sure. Sometimes I give it to other people to read to get their opinions. And, if it’s a tricky script, like in the case of Dracula, I put together a team before I even submit the show to a theater for consideration.
Then I read it about 20 more times, taking character, set, costume and prop notes.
If the script is based on a book, I will read that book. But, I don’t like to watch the movie, or other performances as I do not want to be influenced by other director’s choices. I want my show to be my own. (For better or worse.)
Critique Compendium: What do you bring to your roles that other performers don’t?
Gaby Affleck: I’m big on character development and honesty.
I develop a new character for each production I am in. I’ve never re-used a character, though I do occasionally borrow bits and pieces to create others.
For me a character is not just a voice affectation. It’s everything: demeanor, style of dress, posture, gait, how do they respond to different situations/people, what is their backstory? All of these things factor into creating a believable character.
I’m also big on research. I will scour the internet for information about eras to learn how people looked, dressed, behaved, wore their hair.
As for honesty, I believe one must literally become the character to be believable in the role. You cannot just deliver lines. You can’t pretend to cry or laugh. An audience knows when you are not being honest, and they will find you boring or stilted. To be true to the character, and the author, you must live the role. You have to feel what they are feeling, and react as they would. That’s what makes a performance believable.
Critique Compendium: What’s the most difficult part of performing in front of a live audience?
Gaby Affleck: Going up on lines. Sometimes there is just no graceful way to recover.
Oh, and there was that time I walked out on stage with my dress tucked into my pantyhose, but, I’d like to forget about that.
Critique Compendium: How would you like audiences to remember you?
Gaby Affleck: Well, I don’t want to be remembered as the girl who walked out on stage with her dress tucked into her pantyhose.
I’d like to be remembered for making the audience feel something. Whether I make them laugh, or cry or become angry, I want the audience to leave feeling differently than when they came in. (Same goes for when I direct.)
Critique Compendium: If I asked people with whom you’ve either performed or directed what it was like working with you, what would they tell me?
Gaby Affleck: As an actress I’d like to think that they would tell you I’m a hard working actress, who comes prepared and is enjoyable to work with. And that they CAN’T WAIT to work with me again!
As I director I hope people would tell you that I’m a dedicated director who has a vision, and who has the creativity and know-how to bring her vision to the stage. Also, that I’m serious, but lots of fun to work with….and that they CAN’T WAIT to work with me again!
Critique Compendium: What advice would you give to young people interested in the performing arts?
1) Never stop learning!
2) Take something away from every experience.
3) If you don’t push yourself, you won’t grow!
4) If it doesn’t scare you a little, you’re not doing it right!
Critique Compendium: What adjective best describes your theater career?
Gaby Affleck: Eclectic!
Critique Compendium: I’d like to ask a bit of a personal question involving two characters with whom you’re familiar. If you were available with whom would you rather take a Hawaiian cruise: Count Dracula or Aldolpho from The Drowsy Chaperone?
Gaby Affleck: Tough choice.
Dracula is sexy on a cerebral level. Adolpho is pure physical sexual attraction.
Dracula would hide from the sun, making it difficult to enjoy the daylight hours. While Adolpho would “keep me awake” all night, also making it difficult to enjoy the daylight hours.
I think when it comes down to it, I’d pick Dracula. He’s a man (?) with whom I could enjoy intelligent conversations and long walks on the beach (after sunset.) He’s a snappy dresser, he owns his own castle, and he won’t drink any of my…wine.
Critique Compendium: And the big question I know readers are curious about: are you related to Matt Damon in any way? Just kidding. Any relation to Ben Affleck?
Gaby Affleck: Me personally, no.
As to whether he is a relation of my husband…well, we don’t receive a card from him at Christmas, so….
Critique Compendium: What’s next for Gaby Affleck?
Gaby Affleck: (Squealing with excitement) I’m going to be playing Ursula in The Little Mermaid! A Dream Role! She’s evil yet witty, with a little sexy tossed in for good measure. And she sings the best villain song every written: POOR UNFORTUNATE SOULS!
Come see me and the rest of this amazing cast! May 26, 27, 28 June 2, 3, 4 Yardley Players Theatre Company at The Kelsey Theatre at Mercer County Community College.