2016-06-01 / Features

Local Express

Jack Gilliat

Jack Gilliat is a British-born actor who was raised in France and is now living in Queens. He is the co-Artistic Director and co-star of the Off- Broadway play, “Echoes of Ebola,” showing at the Playwrights Horizons Theater previewing June 8 and 9, opening on June 10 through June 18. His own theater group, Whistleblower New York (whistleblowernewyork.com) is producing the play. The drama fictionalizes the potential threat to all humanity, not only from killer viruses, but also the subsequent race to find a vaccine. The outbreak of a potential pandemic in Africa is the backdrop to this tale of greed and politics among “Big Pharma” and NGOs. Gilliat plays freelance journalist Ned Jacobs who exposes a sinister depopulation agenda. Like his character in the play, which he co-wrote, Gilliat is the son of two international journalists. He has traveled the world since he was born and has a keen interest in politics and world affairs.

Gilliat has been acting in public theater performances since he was 15 and a student at the Webb Schools in California. He is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and was a member of the 2015/2016 New York Academy Company. A coast-to-coast move and acceptance into the American Academy with a scholarship cemented his determination to be an actor. Leading roles in “The Seagull,” “Antigone,” “Into the Woods,” and “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” among others, confirmed to Gilliat that he wanted to spend his career exploring the many and varied opportunities of theatrical acting.

QG: Why have you based your production company in Queens?

JG: I based it here because it is such a vibrant community to live and do business in. It is more of a village than a city, yet it is right on the doorstep of Manhattan which makes going back and forth so easy and efficient. Almost everything one needs in terms of business services and supplies is a step around the corner. And given I spend so much of my time in Manhattan, and I have a home office, it is lovely to come home to Astoria at the end of the day and see the familiar faces, and feel like one has left the city behind – even though I can still see it.

I also want to expand my photography and video business away from purely entertainment and into the corporate path and I think there are a huge number of local businesses which need a multimedia production facility for websites, podcasts, local advertising etc. but don’t want to pay big city prices. By being based in Astoria, Eye of a Fly Productions can offer low prices but the same high quality product.

QG: What about Queens venues for your productions?

JG: I wrangled for a long time about where to stage our debut production. I was not sure whether to go the small venue route or to go all out with an Off-Broadway production. In the end I decided that the subject matter of this first production, “Echoes of Ebola” – about a killer virus in Africa, the resulting vaccine race and all the moral dilemmas of depopulation – demanded as wide an audience as possible. The cachet of an Off-Broadway theater would solve a lot of the audience draw problems immediately, because it would be in all the Off-Broadway section listings. So in the end, even though it was vastly more expensive, we opted for the Peter Jay Sharp Theatre on “Theatre Row,” 42nd Street. It is rather a dream come true to me to be able to produce my own show in such prestigious surroundings. But many of my cast have already performed Off Broadway, so I think this has helped me attract such good actors. Once the Whistleblower name is known, I think it will be much easier to convert those theater-goers into our followers, and entice them to come over to Queens for a production if they do not live here. I have four more productions in the pipeline, and two of those would work very well for a Queens audience, given the population here is so multicultural and drawn from all over the world. I feel very much at home here, even in just two years.

QG: What is your criteria for choosing “top news stories and turning them into thought-provoking entertainment”?

JG: There are so many things going on in the world right now – so many dramatic developments and injustices – that there really is a good story to develop wherever one looks. I want Eye of a Fly Productions to have a huge social conscience and focus attention on stories which are simmering away under the mainstream news radar but are hugely important, even life-changing. We have a play in development about the radicalization of youth, but focusing on how it is not the churches or the mosques which are radicalizing people, but the politicians and their policies which lead to social injustice which are causing massive social upheaval.

“Upheaval.” This is one of the plays which I think will work well in a Queens venue. I think many young people like myself are burning with a desire to see dramatic change in our society, and that can lead to dramatic individual action. I think the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have also caused schisms and heartbreak which provides a wealth of material for the arts in general too. Another of my plays will deal with that. I love writing. Once I start I can’t stop and I created Eye of a Fly to have an outlet for my own plays and other original works by local playwrights. We are interested in reading new material and if it fits with our aims and ambitions we have the financial backers to put it on the stage.

QG: How do you compare Astoria to other places where you have lived (England, France, the West Coast)?

JG: Astoria has truly become my home. I moved to New York in 2013 and then to Astoria in the summer of 2014 and have been here ever since. It’s a complete melting pot of cultures. You can walk down the street and pass 4 different stores from 4 completely different parts of the world in the span of 1 block! I touched on this earlier but it’s wonderful to leave Manhattan with its oppressively tall skyscrapers and come home to a village in many ways and take a deep breath and feel you’ve entered a different world, but you’re still only 15 minutes away from the big city. Astoria is the first place I’ve lived on my own. It’s where I’ve started my career and made my base for my future. I’ve traveled a great deal and lived in many places, but it’s interesting that so far Astoria is the only place I kind of feel like I have ownership of. It’s a place where I feel like I’m a genuine part of the community, and I take huge comfort in that. In other places I’ve felt like an outsider, assimilating into the culture and that has been humbling and wonderful as well. But here I am at home and at peace, and in many ways I think of Astoria as my hometown. I now realize that I’m essentially calling Astoria the American Dream! Many people from different backgrounds and cultures, building a community together that only gets stronger.

QG: Where do you like to go in Queens to relax, spend your free time? Where do you like to dine out in Queens?

JG: I’m an avid cyclist, so cycling over the RFK/Triborough Bridge, or cycling down Vernon Blvd. to the Queensboro-Ed Koch Bridge is how I usually take a breather. What I love about Astoria as much as anything else is the architecture. There’s no calmer feeling for me than cycling down a tree-accented street, looking at the red brick, low-rise houses and imagining what Astoria must have been like 100 years ago. I also love Oliver’s on Broadway and 38th. I don’t know if it’s the only place in Astoria with such a wide variety of local beers but it’s a wonderful, laid-back place to sit and breathe and watch baseball or basketball or football on TV. Finally, I love going to the movies. As a filmmaker I try to watch as much film as I can. So very frequently I’ll walk to the local movie theatre to watch a new release; or go to the Museum of the Moving Image to check out an old movie that they’re screening. Other than that, sitting on my stoop in the summer, just watching the world go by, really takes the edge off!

This column was originated in July 2013 by Nicollette Barsamian.

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