Interview by Sal Mattos
Our next featured member is actor and ArtistRepSF company founder Justin Gillman. As an ATLAS alumnus, Titan Award winner and TBA Awards adjudicator, he’s been one of our most active members since he moved to the Bay Area in 2011. Many actors dream of making it to L.A. or NY to work, but it was landing in San Francisco that really got Gillman’s career started.
|TBA featured member Justin Gillman. Photo: Lisa Keating
Tell us a little about your background in theatre.
My first week of freshman year in high school, I was a loner and had nowhere to sit for lunch. I found this little room tucked away at the edge of campus with some friendly and lively people in it, and soon realized that I had inadvertently crashed a Drama Club meeting. Sign-ups were going around for auditions for the fall production, As You Like It. I signed up simply so I could blend into the crowd, eventually got cast as Silvius, and the rest is history!
I love all kinds of theatre, and I make it a goal to always try to switch it up whenever I can—new works, modern, classical, musical, experimental, etc. I have a lot of really great training from UC Santa Barbara and Columbia University, and one of the best things I’ve learned is to always strive to build theatrical muscle and to never settle for the expected or the ordinary. Though acting will always remain my first love, this sensibility has also led me to branch out into other theatrical arenas (writing, directing and producing).
You’re an ATLAS alumnus, as well as a Titan Award winner. Tell us what that experience was like, and how it’s affected your career.
ATLAS was an incredible experience for me on many levels. It was beautiful to see so many artists participate in the program, and to be able to feed off of everyone’s passion and love for Bay Area theatre. The program also allowed me to focus on what was truly important to me as an actor. Prior to ATLAS, I felt like I was just jumping from show to show, without any sort of goal setting or plans for the future. ATLAS helped me to create my career road map; I refer to it every day now as a rubric for all my theatre-related decisions. For instance, I didn’t know how important it was for me to join Equity until I actually wrote it down. Now, I have a plan and I’m sticking to it! Also, I am so grateful to have received the Titan Award. Money is always tight, and to be able to pay for new headshots (thanks, Lisa Keating!), business cards, and a website will allow me to make the next leap in my career. And getting to have Liam Vincent (an accomplished and fabulous Bay Area actor) as my mentor has been such an enlightening experience.
How has your journey this last year held up to the career map you devised in ATLAS?
Acting can be a frustrating profession, and a lot of my own personal frustration comes from the fact that there is so much that is out of my hands (getting through the right doors, having the right look, getting that part you think you deserve). What I can sometimes forget is how much is in my hands! Some answers to my daily frustrations: My headshot is five years old and doesn’t even look like me any more. (Answer: Get a new one!) There’s never enough time in the day to feel accomplished. (Answer: Wake up earlier!) Why am I even submitting for this audition? It’s not like they’re going to seriously consider me. (Answer: You won’t know if you don’t try!) I know these seem like logical answers, but it can get very crowded in an actor’s head. Especially mine.
You’re a fairly recent transplant to the Bay Area. What was the transition like, and what advice might you give to those just moving here, looking for work?
I moved to the Bay Area from NY in 2011. And even though NY was a nightmare for me in many ways, I was still worried that the Bay Area would not provide me with as many opportunities. Boy, was I wrong.
I think the most important part of my transition to the Bay Area was that, in NY, I had been labeled as a recent graduate student with a particular set of skills taught to me by my university; the Bay Area simply treated me as an actor. While labeling and typecasting still go on, there is such a plethora of opportunities that are truly within your grasp here. And if you’re not getting the parts you want, put on your own play and rent out space at the Exit and do it yourself! I did that this past winter with a friend of mine, with a small but well-received production of Rabbit Hole (in a role I would probably never have been cast in, but was crucial for me to attempt for my own growth)—that quickly transitioned into a full-fledged theatre company, ArtistsRepSF! That never would have happened for me as quickly in NY. Here in the Bay Area, I can go from my day job to a commercial audition to an industrial shoot to a musical theatre audition to rehearsal for a Restoration comedy, and I never feel like I’m a particular kind of actor. I’m simply an actor. The Bay Area is here to help you find out who you are as an artist.
What’s something you really like about the theatre scene here in the Bay Area?
Everyone is doing great and daring work here—the huge companies, the midsize companies and the small-but-fierce companies. It’s a pretty incredible town if you’re able to see The Pillowman, The Mystery of Irma Vep, and Company all in one summer season. Also, word-of-mouth is an explosively potent tool here, so if you see a show and like it, scream about it on social media. People will listen! I know I do!
What’s one of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on?
I just played Katurian in The Breadbox’s production of Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman this summer, and it was truly the highlight of my acting career thus far. McDonagh’s play is one of the most vital pieces of literature on the topic of the importance of art. The production itself was hilarious, brutal, violent and pretty scary. And the process was guided by the firm, intuitive and graceful hand of Ariel Craft, one of the best directors working in the Bay Area today. It was a perfect storm of awesomeness!
What’s been your most memorable theatre moment thus far: good, bad, proud achievement or total embarrassment?
My family and my boyfriend’s family (who had not yet met) decided to come to the same performance of The Pillowman, and I had the pleasure of listening to them meet for the first time as they were taking their seats, while I was blindfolded onstage for 15 minutes during the pre-show. #OnlyInTheatre
Any upcoming projects to share with TBA’s members?
My next show, Aphra Behn’s The Rover, runs Oct. 15-Nov. 22 at Shotgun Players! I also highly recommend going to The Breadbox’s season-closer, Medea (directed by boyfriend extraordinaire Oren Stevens), playing Oct. 2-17 at Exit Stage Left.
A big shout-out to my theatre company, ArtistsRepSF, whose next show, Peer Gynt, runs Jan. 22-Feb. 6, 2016 at Exit Stage Left!
You can also see me later this season in Born Yesterday at Center Rep (Jan. 29-Feb. 27) and Will Eno’s Middletown at Custom Made Theatre Co. (Mar. 24-Apr. 23).
After that, I’m taking a long nap.
Theatre Bay Area members: Creative. Committed. Community.