The 31-year-old ex-artistic director of Rapid Fire Theatre and director of Atlanta theatre company, Dad’s Garage, returns home this month for the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival premiere of Winner: The Story of You, which he directs. “Every show, [the cast] chooses an audience member,” he says. “It’ll be the story of their life, and they star in it.”
Prior to the show, the crew mingles with the crowd and decides who’s up for the task. The show follows a basic structure, but mostly it’s improvised.
Gillese’s extensive experience in improv – something he’s been doing since he was 15 – means shows like this are his specialty.
In fact, for eight seasons, he’s toured Europe and Australia with Scratch, a long-form improv play co-created with another Edmonton ex-pat and Rapid Fire alumnus, Arlen Konopaki, and the second of three works he’s bringing to the 31st annual Fringe festival this month.
The third show, Scratch: The Revengence, is a Scratch best-of, compiling his favourite characters – 30 in all – played by him and Atlanta’s Amber Nash, a voice actor from the animated series Archer, and Gillese’s fiance.
Gillese is particularly excited to show Nash his old stomping grounds, the Varscona Theatre, which has been Rapid Fire’s home base since 1990, but no longer after August.
The roof above the theatre where he once brought dates is leaky. The building is falling apart. So, the theatre will be torn down and rebuilt some time after the Fringe, while his old improv group migrates to the Citadel.
Though rebuilding is overall a positive thing for local theatre, says Gillese, he can’t help but feel a little mournful. “The reason I’m here today is because of the skills I developed in that building. It’s where I learned everything.”