Brooklyn’s premier Off-Off-Broadway theater company, the Gallery Players, has a new executive director. Just because there’s a shakeup at the top of the Park Slope ensemble, don’t expect a revolution on stage. Neal Freeman, who took over quietly in January, is aiming for a seamless transition into his reign that upholds the troupe’s reputation as “the best Off-Off–Broadway,” according to legends Jerry Stiller and Anne Meara. Freeman, who has many directing credits under his belt, will focus more on the business side of showbiz and says one of his top priorities is to improve the bottom line. Bottom line? He spoke to Brooklyn Paper theater critic Mike “The Butcher of Flatbush Avenue Extension” McLaughlin about what’s happening on- and off-stage.
Mike McLaughlin: Do you think of the Gallery Players as Off-Off-Broadway or On-On-Fourth Avenue?
Neal Freeman: I like to think that we’re both. We’re proud to be part of the Off-Off-Broadway tradition that goes back farther than the Gallery Players, but not by much. And we love being part of Park Slope.
MM: Now that you’re in control, are there any plays you’re dying to produce?
NF: For myself as an artist, there are plays I’d like to see us do. But when planning a season, and with our tradition, we balance the things our subscribers would like to see, things we think we can do well and also things we can get the rights to. Let’s not overlook that just getting the rights can be tough. In Cleveland [a Rust Belt city in Ohio], we could probably get the plays we want, because no one would worry that there’s a Broadway production coming. Often the rights companies don’t want to talk to you so far ahead, which makes it hard to plan a season.
MM: What sets the Gallery Players apart from other companies of comparable size?
NF: There are other Off-Off-Broadway companies that produce in their own space, but most companies tend to be itinerant and do one or two productions a season. [The Gallery Players have a permanent home on 14th Street in Park Slope.] We do the Broadway in a Brooklyn tradition. Often as part of our season, a couple of shows a year are something that played in New York in the last five or 10 years and we think deserve another shot, or didn’t get enough traction or that it’s time to come back. Like “The Who’s Tommy.” We think it’s a show that people want to see and we’re fortuante can do an ambitious musical like “Tommy” following an American classic like “Bus Stop” [which The Brooklyn Paper called a rare misstep for the troupe] and not feel like we’re taking a big risk.
MM: Do you want to make any artistic changes?
NF: Artistically, no. Heather [Curran, the company’s artistic director] has a great vision. We think it’s working for us and we’re gong to continue it.
MM: Should ticket-holders bring their own earplugs for your version of The Who’s seminal rock opera “Tommy”?
NF: I hope not. We are playing a lot with the sound and the amplification of things. We’re obviously aware that we’re in a small theater, but the rock and roll nature of the show will require us to be clever.
MM: Will the cast at least destroy the set after each show in homage to the legendary band?
NF: That would be expensive. I’m going to say no to that one.
MM: Good answer, because it always seemed gimmicky when Pete Townshend and the rest of the band did it.