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Joanna Gleason’s award-winning feature "The Grotto" to premiere in Connecticut

Chris Kanarick

Joanna Gleason is an award-winning actress, known for her performances on the stage and screen. Now, she is also a writer and director. Her film “The Grotto” will be shown at the SHU Community Theater in Fairfield, Connecticut this Sunday, Aug. 6. It will be followed by a live Q&A with Gleason and the other filmmakers.

Chris Kanarick

WSHU’s Sabrina Garone spoke with Joanna Gleason about her transition from on screen to behind the camera.

WSHU: I had the opportunity actually to watch the film last night. It was a super fun watch, I really enjoyed it! Without giving too much away, of course, what do you want our listeners to know about the film before they go see it?

JG: Well, you know, there's a lot of different takeaways from the people who've been seeing it in festivals. We've made a bit of a festival circuit and done really, really well, won some prizes. And it's depends, you know, a lot of women have one response to it because it's about a woman in her late 40s, who has to start her life over and doesn't know how and doesn't know, who to believe, and things like that.

And a lot of men have been coming up to me and saying, I really never thought of life this way. It's the kind of movie that hopefully is on a human enough scale, about real, credible people that it can reach a lot of different kinds of people. So it's a drama, it's a comedy, it's got songs, it's got live music in it, it's funny, but it's also emotional, because sometimes all of those things have to live at the same time in life.

WSHU: This is your writing and directorial debut. How did this all come to be, and why now at this point in your life and career was this the right time to take on a project like this?

JG: The right time to create it was over 12 years ago, when I realized there was a time in my life, a critical time in my life when everything fell apart. And I thought the best and most therapeutic use of that kind of trauma and stuff — because I've been in the world of theater and storytelling for so long — was to write about it. And I did, and it took the form of a screenplay. And people responded to it. And I put it in a drawer because of lack of faith in myself that I could direct this, you know, it was kind of like that, 'who do you think you are' voice in your head.

I took it out again, and started to show friends who were actually producers, my producing team Tea for Two. They are friends. And they made a short film with me that I wrote and directed. And they all said, 'you know, you can do this, and we're here for you.' And then I was lucky enough to meet Laura Sudro, who became our lead producer. And suddenly I thought, you know, you better do this now, because enough people are saying you can, and you've waited long enough to do it. And it came together.

WSHU: How different was it being on the opposite side of the camera? And maybe, do you feel like you have a preference now one way or the other?

JG: Being on the directorial side, uses everything you know, and everything you've experienced. I've been in the business for 50 years, I've worked with some of the most stunning directors and writers, you know, at the top of their game, and I've learned a great deal by watching them. But this cast is made up of actors, many of whom come from the theater. And I know what it's like to be them, have been for a long time. And somehow we came together as an acting company, we just felt like part of an acting company. And it was a great, great learning experience for me that I know what to say I know how to direct because I know how I was well directed.

WSHU: Like I said before, the film is being shown here in Connecticut at the Sacred Heart Community Theatre, which has recently been revived after being closed for a number of years. So you know, these kinds of events are something that's been missing in the community for a long time. Can you speak to maybe why it's important to bring the arts and culture into smaller communities like this one?

Chris Sarandon and Joanna Gleason attend The 2016 Lucille Lortel Awards for Outstanding Achievement Off-Broadway at the NYU Skirball Center.
Christopher Smith
Chris Sarandon and Joanna Gleason attend The 2016 Lucille Lortel Awards for Outstanding Achievement Off-Broadway at the NYU Skirball Center.

JG: Oh, the arts thrive in small communities like this. And this is not such a small community. There's the you know, the Arts Council has broad outreach for for the visual arts and painting and, not only storytelling, but every kind of possible media. This theater the renovation is stunning, and they have live shows there and they have live music there right now. They're showing Barbie they got the Barbie movie, which is...

WSHU: I was there!

JG: Oh, my God, I can't wait! And it's gorgeous. And, you know, I thought this is where we live. My husband Chris Sarandon does occasionally his live podcasts from that same place. And they're very successful. The audiences really want this kind of interaction. There's a sense of pride in these communities that they can put forward artists. This theater is beautiful. We are allowed to do a screening right now during the strike, because this one is free of charge. The tickets are free, but we are encouraging everybody to make a donation to Connecticut Food Share. And they'll be represented in the lobby that day.

WSHU: So what's next for you? Is there anything coming up?

JG: There's a next film very different from The Grotto. It's a bit stalled right now because certain protocols have to be in place during time of this this shake up and reorganizing time in our unions. So there is and there's an also another one I'm writing on my own, which is a comedy about the possibility that our mother was inadvertently an asset for the CIA...Never mind, I don't want to go into that. But it's a comedy and, and it's good comes from my life with my mother. There's that. There's always the opportunity to do some more acting when the right project comes along. You know, I do love it. And I have my solo show that I love to do and I've been asked to bring that actually to the SHU Theatre.

The SHU Community Theater is owned and operated by Sacred Heart University, which is also the licensee of WSHU.

Sabrina is host and producer of WSHU’s daily podcast After All Things. She also produces the climate podcast Higher Ground and other long-form news and music programs at the station. Sabrina spent two years as a WSHU fellow, working as a reporter and assisting with production of The Full Story.