By Sally Deering
Gallo, whose plays have been performed in Hoboken, New York and other cities throughout the country, is a theater arts professor at HCCC who helped institute a new theater arts degree program. The new curriculum – which began in the 2012-2013 school year – is designed to provide students with a broad-based liberal arts education with core curriculum classes in theater that include Acting, Playwriting and Drama. Students who successfully complete the two-year program earn an Associate of Arts degree in Liberal Arts – Theater, that prepares them to transfer to four-year colleges and universities where they can earn Bachelor of Arts degrees in theater and related programs.
A theater professional – he’s a producer and Associate Artist at Mile Square Theater in Hoboken – Gallo earned an MFA in playwriting from Ohio University and his plays have been produced Off-Broadway, at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. and at other theaters throughout the country. Gallo has taught Playwriting, Acting and other theater-related courses at the School of Visual Arts, Drew University and Kean University.
Recently, Gallo spoke with Riverview Observer about how he initiated the new Theater Arts program and what prospective students can look forward to if they decide to enroll.
RVO: Joe, can you share with our readers how the new theater arts program began?
JG: In 2007 HCCC hired to teach creative writing and because I have an MFA in playwriting, I was asked to revamp its Introduction to Acting class. I did that for the college and when I asked why the college doesn’t offer more theater classes, I was told, ‘because we don’t have a theater.’
RVO: Does a school need a theater to have a theater arts program?
JG: No and I told them,’ that shouldn’t stop you,’ I said, ‘Do you know who Bobby Hurley is?’ There would be a faint recognition. I said, ‘Bobby Hurley teaches at St. Anthony High School (in Jersey City. He’s their basketball coach and he’s the “winningest” basketball coach. He’s in the Hall of Fame. St. Anthony doesn’t have a basketball court. They practice in a basement of their church where they have to strike the table and chairs from Bingo to play.’
RVO: Why start a theater arts degree program at HCCC? Why was that important to you?
JG: One of the things I discovered was that HCCC was one of three community colleges in New Jersey that didn’t offer theater as a major. And yet, we’re a subway ride from the greatest theater district in the world. The theater is not an exclusive club. The theater welcomes all. That’s what I stress in terms of the students going forward. I tell them ‘You’ve been to Times Square. (The Broadway Theater District is right down the street.) You know how to get there. You have an advantage.’
RVO: Is that when you got the idea to initiate a degree program in theater arts?
JG: I wondered what it would take to create a major here. Harvey Rubenstein who is the Chair of HCCCs Humanities Department, a great guy and mentor, gave me a few templates for other programs and I started doing the work. To put the program together took a good five years.
RVO: And what are your plans for the fall when the program begins its second year?
JG: Now that we have the program, we’ll find the place to build that theater. That will be the next goal – to get a stage built. We also have an Acting II class that will begin in the fall.
RVO: Graduating from HCCC with an Associate’s degree in Liberal Arts, students will be able to move on to other colleges to earn a Bachelor’s degree?
JG: We’re setting up articulation agreements with other schools including Kean University, William Paterson, Ramapo and New Jersey City University. They will take our students if they transfer, they’ll accept the credits. If a student decides moving forward they don’t want to be in the theater, they have a Liberal Arts Degree to build on. They have that option. We’re giving the students a broad-based education which is essential.
RVO: As you know, a career in the theater can be very challenging and many theater professionals seem to find it hard to make a living. How do you address that with your students?
JG: Advice I was given when I was younger turned out to be true for me: If you follow your passion, the money will come. You’ll find a way to make a living. I stress to the students a life in the theater is a commitment to a way of life. You’re going to have moments when you score, when you crash, when you make a lot of money, when you’re searching for your next job. That’s just your life in the theater.
RVO: Although it’s early in the program, would you say it’s a successful venture?
JG: So far it’s been great. The word is out and everyone knows the program is up and running and the students are very excited about it. Several students who are graduating this year said to me, “I wish you had this last year. I would have majored in it.”
For more information on the new Associate in Art Liberal Arts – Theater degree program, go to: www.hccc.edu.