Every week, The Mac Weekly interviews one senior majoring in an artistic field at Macalester. This week, we spoke with Rob Gelberg, a creative writing major who specializes in theater.
Where are you from?
North Caldwell, NJ.
What is your major?
I’m an English major on a creative writing path with a Religious Studies minor. People usually think I’m a theater major because I do a lot with the theater department. I decided to be a creative writing major because I wanted to focus more on writing.
Why did you come to Mac?
I had one of those books with 100 colleges. I’d never thought twice about Minnesota, but the more I researched the Minneosta and Twin Cities theater scene, the more I liked it. I visited other colleges in the Midwest and Macalester stuck out to me. It was smack in the middle of the Twin Cities with its own campus and access to cities as a whole. There’s a good theater department and options for focusing on creative writing. I guess that trifecta that brought me here. Also the statistic that MN St. Paul has second most theater seats per capita in the country.
How has Mac lived up to your expectations?
I knew it would be an entirely different experience, so I was really open to anything. There was so much about theater I didn’t know about before coming to Macalester. Coming to Mac has exposed me to so many different forms—devised theater, community based projects—of theater. My knowledge has been expanded.
Did you do theater in high school?
I had the same involvement I have at Macalester, I was mainly focused in writing but would audition and perform in all the plays. The theater professor at my high school would take a couple of students and perform with them in an off off-Broadway theater festival, so I had the opportunity to perform in Greenwich village.
For you, how does writing plays differ from acting?
They all sort of go hand in hand. I prefer writing more but I don’t know if I’d be able to do one without the other. A big part of that came with my high school theater director, who saw some plays that I produced in high school and told me I had to do both.
What has the progression been in your writing?
I was an actor first but I’ve always been writing, it’s something I do in my spare time. My writing has evolved since coming here, especially in conjunction with my religious studies minor. When it comes to my writing I’m much more structured, I take a lot more time before I start putting things on the page. There’s a much more academic approach.
What is your honors project and how is it influenced by religious studies?
It’s going to be a full-length play called “A Den of Thieves.” It’s a reworking of the gospels as told from the point of view of the two thieves who were crucified along with Jesus. It’s a construction of the historical Jesus, not what you would see in the gospels but as a person in history instead of a religious figure. There’s no way I could have written the play without coming to Mac and doing religious studies.
How do you balance both acting and writing?
I don’t sleep. It’s more subconscious – they’re two very different things. Acting is being an extrovert; writing is something I do in a room by myself. They feed off of two different sides of my personality. They’re separate but they’re still part of me and inform each other in ways I am not conscious of.
What has been your favorite production and why?
It always comes down to two. I did the Zoo Story with John Bennett, we just met every night and rehearsed. I love the play so it was really fun. The most important play was the spring of 2012, The Laramie Project. The subject matter of the play was so difficult and the cast was composed of 12-13 people, who were on stage for the entire three hours. I’d never had that experience of collaboration before and didn’t realize 13 people could become so close. For me, that was the most important moment not just in theater, but at Macalester in general.
What are you working on now?
It’s called the “The Government Inspector” and set in the 1830’s in a small provincial town in Russia. I play the mayor of the town who is informed that a government inspector is coming. We’re put on our toes because we’re used to running things in such an immoral and selfish manner. It’s a satire of bureaucracy.
What is your opinion of The Government Inspector?
I love the play. I’ve been studying Russian for the past two years, it’s so rich and beautiful. The play is hilarious – Gogol is such a funny writer. I think it’s going to be really kind of fantastic, it’s the funniest play I can remember Macalester doing in the last four years. It’s part farce, part satire; it’s a very physical comedy. I feel very excited to open on November 7.
What are your plans after Macalester?
I’ve done everything I can to milk Mac for all its worth. Now I’m applying to MFA programs but whether I get in is not up to me. I worked in fundraising for theater companies over the past two summers and I’m interested in that. Whether it’s a job in theater development, writing and acting, or serving tables, we’ll see what happens. I’m trying to enjoy my last couple months here.
Why do you think theater is important?
I don’t know if I can answer that with any definitive statement—if we’ve been doing performing arts for our entire human history, then it can’t be wrong. If the first humans were drawing pictures on the walls and we have these amazing plays from thousands of years ago, it must be important. It’s something we obviously want and have to do.
For me, it’s just fun. I could make up an answer, but it’s a fun thing to do. And if I could make a living doing a fun thing I would like to do that.
Any final thoughts?
Support the arts! It’s important, they’re important. You should support them!