I first met Sergio Garza when I cast him as Arnold Epstein in Biloxi Blues at the Ice House Theater, home of the Visalia Community Players (VCP), nearly 20 years ago. (Although I have a vague notion that we knew each other before? Folks go back so far in Visalia, it is hard to say. . . ) It was my first time directing anyone other than middle-school students and was also one of Sergio’s first acting turns. We both stumbled our way through that production the best way we knew how – with a little humor and a lot of “get on with it”.
He’s been a fixture at the Ice House since that time, has served two terms as VCP’s board president and continues to serve on the board as vice-president for the 2018-2019 season. He’s appeared in countless shows on the Ice House stage, but this fall’s outing, Dixie Swim Club, is only his second outing as a solo director.
Known for his generous wit and big laugh, Sergio is one of those “live life and love it” types who makes you feel good after every interaction with him. Matching him with a feel-good comedy is undoubtedly a recipe for success. His passion for theater is a testament of what community theater can offer individuals who are willing to learn and put in the work, formal training not required. And his enthusiasm and zest is an asset to community theater. He’s one of the personalities that makes the Visalia theater scene a lively one.
Here is Sergio’s Drive-Thru Interview.
In one word, describe your present condition.
In one sentence, what’s going on in your world?
A: Right now it is work and the theatre.
With no restrictions on content or form, describe the present condition of your artistic outlook.
A: Growing. Not having gone to school for any of this, I have to fully rely on instinct and experience and while both of those can be great things to work with, I always feel at least a little if not a lot unqualified. Every show I feel that I gain a little more knowledge and growth. It is ever changing and I believe it should be.
Why Dixie Swim Club?
A: I just loved the show. I attended a performance last year with the King’s Players in Hanford and fell in love. It just was such a fun little jewel of a show that just left you happy and smiling when you walked out of the theater. It did all of this and just entertained you from beginning to end. It is not trying to be anything more than what it is, a funny, touching show about great friends. It isn’t trying to change minds or leave you thinking for days afterwards about it’s meaning. Although, I am very sure it will still make you laugh days afterwards. Also, I wasn’t planning on directing it. I knew it would be perfect for the Ice House and our audience, but had thought someone would want to direct it. Then we were suddenly in need of directors and I was kind of cajoled into submitting it, but now realize that I am so happy that I did.
What do you find exciting about working with this cast of women?
A: I am loving this cast. Four of the five women were already great friends of mine so I knew that would really help to make this an enjoyable experience. The fifth I didn’t know at all, but she has fit right in and they have all clicked from the beginning. I knew with this show that I would need a cast that could do just that. The characters in this show have been friends since college and that chemistry had to be there for this to work, I felt. One of the ladies has no experience at all and decided she wanted to try something new and it has been a lot of fun helping her find her footing. Things that come naturally for me and the others who have all had experience on the stage are completely foreign to her. Proper movement, cheating out, stage whisper were all things that were a bit perplexing to her so she has to get a kind of crash course on theater and she has done a great job and seems to be loving it.
Tell us about your directing experience at the Ice House Theater.
A: I have co-directed two shows and this is my second show directing solo. Directing wise, I loved The Vagina Monologues. Strange, I know considering it is probably the one body part I have avoided most in my life. Oh, the irony of it all. The show was such a joy, though, to be a part of. I had signed on as the assistant director, but took over when the director was unable to finish. I was scared to death of doing this as I hadn’t directed on my own. We were early enough in the process that I had a talk with the cast and let them know that if I was going to take over I would be starting over and directing with my vision. The original director had a very different concept for the show and while I was very intrigued with his ideas, I felt that I would never feel confident enough trying to take over his vision. It would always be a second-rate version. So I had to go with my gut and what I felt it should be. It turned out to be a wonderful experience and journey that I am so glad I got to take.
Tell us about a few of your favorite roles.
A: I honestly have no idea how many shows I have acted in with the VCP, but I definitely have some favorites. My top two are probably Lonely Planet and The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. Lonely Planet was such an amazing experience. We performed it in the lobby [Note: the Players’ utilize their lobby as a black box space for additional programming – hp] and it was only a two person cast. The show dealt with the AIDS crisis and felt very near and dear to my heart as a young gay man. The audiences received it so well and it felt so intimate in that space. A very different experience from any other show that I had ever done. I would do it again in heartbeat.
Spelling Bee was the polar opposite from Lonely Planet, but I loved it so much. When I did Spelling Bee, I hadn’t done a musical since high school and avoided them on purpose. I was convinced to come down to auditions and I very reluctantly did. I was then cast as one of the leads and had to work harder than I ever had for this role, but damn if I didn’t want it. I was so determined to be good in this role. This show felt like magic from beginning to end. The entire cast worked so hard and we bonded so much.
What makes a great audience for you?
A: Every audience is so different. I just love knowing that they are engaged and investing in the show. You don’t always know if that is the case with an audience. You can have a sold out audience that gives you nothing and the next night have a tiny audience that gives you everything. I always call those small, but mighty and they are have many times been my favorite, because I knew they were right there with me the entire time watching and rooting for me.
As a theater artist, what are you better at now than five years ago?
A: I guess this goes back to my earlier answer where I said I feel like I am continuing to grow in all aspects. Being onstage is really more my home rather than directing. I really hope I am a better actor and knowing what roles are a good fit for me, and at the same time knowing that a role may not be a perfect fit or even what would be expected from me, but can be if I am willing to try and make it my own. Also taking rejection. You aren’t going to get every role you audition for and may really want. Learning to be content with that and being able to move on and to not let it discourage you. It isn’t always easy, but it’s something I have found I am getting better at as I get older.
What are your top three theater reads?
A: Right now I have been so immersed in productions that I haven’t had time to read anything. When I do have some time to breathe again I want to relax with a good book and a glass of wine. I always have a stack of books at hand ready to be picked up or finished. I did however fairly recently read Ivana Chubbuck’s book on acting and technique which I found fascinating. One day I hope to take some more classes at College of the Sequoias to hopefully gain some more knowledge and understanding of the craft of acting.
What would you like to see more of on Valley stages?
A: More of the unexpected and smaller, less known shows. Being from a more conservative and some would say rural area you see a lot of big well-known shows. Those are great and I love so many of them, but I love when I get to see something or be a part of something that you’re not really going to see around here. I think we try to do that at the Ice House. We work hard to give a really good mix that will appeal to variety of audiences and not be afraid to throw in something that you wouldn’t usually see around here and maybe won’t appeal to huge audience, but will hopefully open up people to new ideas and thoughts.
What have you found to be the most common misconception surrounding theater in Visalia?
A: That we exist. The Visalia Community Players have been a fixture here for over 60 years and yet, you will still find so many that have never heard of us or are attending a show for the very first time. We are actively trying to be more of a presence so we do become more recognizable. and know.
A: Once this show ends I will be jumping into Grey Gardens which is set to open next year in February. I am currently helping with costumes, but may also be taking a role. After that hopefully a bit of a break. I say that, but they generally don’t last very long for me. So we shall see.
Anything you’d like to add?
Just thank you so much for thinking of me. I love being a part of the theatre community here in the valley, but after all these years still feel like I am struggling to find my place in it sometimes. Even though the Ice House feels like my second home. I truly hope I continue to get to learn and grow and have chances to branch out with other theatre companies here. I love the Ice House, but know that there are so many more places out there that I can be a part of and would love to do so.
Dixie Swim Club plays at the Ice House Theater in Visalia from September 21 – October 7th. Visit the Visalia Players’ website for information and tickets.
The Drive-Thru interview is my easy and satisfying Q&A for your busy theatrical life. I choose a handful of preformed questions and I get pithy answers in return. Perhaps not the most nuanced or clever interview technique in the world, but in the drive-thru getting in and out is key!