Meet The Artist: DISCORD Actor Mark Gagliardi

Meet The Artist: DISCORD Actor Mark Gagliardi

AUTHOR: Erin Treat, Online Engagement Coordinator

Mark Gagliardi plays Charles Dickens in ATC’s much-loved production of The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord. He has appeared on stage (and online) in The Thrilling Adventure Hour (Largo at the Coronet), among other productions; in numerous TV shows, including Drunk History, The League, and How I Met Your Mother; and on the podcast We Got This with Mark and Hal.

ATC:
What brought you to acting?

Mr. Gagliardi:
When I was little, I was obsessed with a behind-the-scenes TV show on Nickelodeon called Standby: Lights, Camera, Action. I told my mom I wanted to be an actor, and she enrolled me in classes at the Bijou Theatre, a historic former vaudeville palace in Knoxville, Tennessee. When I got my first laugh on that stage in December 1985, I was hooked. At six. Haven’t looked back.

ATC:
You were the narrator of the first-ever episode of Drunk History, which went viral and eventually led to a series on Comedy Central. How did you get involved with the project?

Mr. Gagliardi:
Derek Waters (the creator of Drunk History) is an old friend of mine. He knew that I was a history nerd, so one day he called me and asked, “You know how historic reenactments always mirror what the historian says? I want to shoot a reenactment, will you be the historian? Oh, and also will you be really, really drunk when we do it?” Of course I said yes.

ATC:
Did you get to choose which historical story you wanted to tell? Why did you settle on the duel between Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton?

Mr. Gagliardi:
Derek gave me a couple of weeks to pick a topic, so I started digging in. A documentary on PBS really pulled me in with the story of a young Founding Father whose conflicting beliefs on morality and honor met a tragic end. Perfect drunk storytelling fodder.

ATC:
Have you seen Hamilton yet? What do you think of it?

Mr. Gagliardi:
I was early to the Hamilton party (which is rare for me – I’m usually not that hip). Early in the show’s run Off-Broadway, I saw Lin-Manuel Miranda walking out of the Public Theatre and introduced myself. To my surprise, he was a fan of Drunk History, and he even took a selfie and tweeted it! The theatre nerd in me flipped. I saw the show the following week and it hasn’t left my head since. Masteriece. And everything came full circle when… Well, watch next season of Drunk History.

ATC:
You’re also a big podcaster [The Thrilling Adventure Hour, We Got This]. How did you get started podcasting?

Mr. Gagliardi:
The Thrilling Adventure Hour began in 2005 when two comedy writers, Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, gathered a group of friends to read their animated feature script, Sparks Nevada: Marshal on Mars. We all had so much fun that the Bens decided to do monthly staged readings, and the conceit of old-time radio gave the show both a style and an excuse for the actors to hold scripts, which meant a serialized space western, a supernatural series, countless commercials, and a new script every month. We became a hit on stage at M-Bar in L.A., where we ran for five years before moving to the larger Largo at the Coronet, which became our home for five more years. We officially closed after ten years, but we still do a few shows every year.

We became a podcast when we moved to Largo because the Bens finally gave in to the folks who were saying, “You guys should podcast this.” This was before people really knew what a podcast was, and they were skeptical, but they cut up the show into segments and released them weekly. It got popular (thanks in part to scores of really great guest stars), joined the Nerdist Network, toured Australia and New Zealand, and eventually joined forces with another popular show called Welcome to Night Vale for crossover shows.

After Thrilling Adventure Hour ended, I toured for a while with WNTV. It’s amazing to get to play sold-out shows based on a podcast, and Thrilling has been my creative family and spiritual home for over a decade.

We Got This is my new show, just over a year old, with my old Thrilling castmate Hal Lublin. We say that we are the final word on dumb debates, and every week we discuss a pointless topic in passionate argument. We have had many of our Thrilling gang on as guests doing what we all do anyway, this time in front of microphones. We’re growing, and now we’re on the Maximum Fun Network, which is a great gang of forward-thinking wizards and a perfect fit.

ATC:
How did you get involved with this production of Discord?

Mr. Gagliardi:
Believe it or not, I did it on tape! Casting director Michael Donovan remembered me from a play he’d cast me in and requested a tape from my agent. I read the play and loved it, and I recorded the first part of Dickens’s gospel in my apartment and emailed it to the team. They asked me for a callback and sent a new scene from later in the play. I recorded the callback and, seeing director Matt August’s email address in the body of a message, I decided to bypass the proper channels and just sent it straight to him with a request for adjustments and direction. Chutzpah worked (this time) when he called me a few minutes later, and we chatted about the play for awhile, and he asked me for another tape. Unfortunately, I was headed to Seattle for a family visit, so I would up sending a final tape the next day from my iPhone in a borrowed classroom in downtown Seattle. But hey, it worked!

ATC:
You’re the most recent addition to the Discord team. What was it like joining a cast and creative team who already had a couple of runs of the show under their belt?

Mr. Gagliardi:
It was intimidating at first because these two actors are so good and so respected and absolutely on point as these characters. On the first day, I thought I had to go in and prove myself worthy of jumping into this well-oiled machine, but everyone was so kind and so welcoming that I felt absolutely free to try and fail and learn and grow with them. I never saw the earlier production, but I have been told that my energy gives the show a different dynamic. Which I like, because if I’m gonna take from the potluck, I should contribute to it too.

ATC:
Did you do a lot of Dickens research in preparation for the role? What kind?

Mr. Gagliardi:
I did. Scott [Carter] was kind enough to mail me a box of books about Charles Dickens, and I dove into studying him and his work. His conscious and constant effort toward carving himself a place in his world became the center of my version of Dickens, and throughout the play, I always come back to that desire.

ATC:
Were you surprised by anything you learned about him?

Mr. Gagliardi:
Did you know he always slept facing north and had OCD?

ATC:
Had you read any Dickens prior to joining the cast?

Mr. Gagliardi:
I have had an obsession with A Christmas Carol my entire life. I love the characters. As a kid, I would drape a chain over my shoulder, tie a bandage around my jaw, and tell my family that they were going to get a visit from three ghosts. I even enlisted my siblings to put on our own version at home. I have also seen every film version and have them all memorized. Oh, and Oliver! was the first musical I ever saw. Does that count?

ATC:
Dickens is the most physically active character onstage – you do a lot of walking, climbing around, falling on the floor, etc. How did you develop that physicality? Do you have a background in physical comedy?

Mr. Gagliardi:
I worked with Matt August in rehearsals to create this very physical version of Dickens. It all comes from fact (he really did walk an hour for every hour he wrote), and I wanted to add a little playfulness to the characterization – a slightly silly flavor to balance the show’s intelligence. I have trained in physical comedy and worked at Disneyland for a long time, so I have just done what I know how to do. Which is apparently to counterbalance intelligence. You’re welcome, smartypants.

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