Director Danny Mollise
Interviewer: Joshua Nicholson
NICHOLSON: All right, why don't you start by telling everybody
who you are and what you do.
MOLLISE: Well, I'm the director of the Playhouse in the Park,
and I've been there for 17 years. It is a community theatre for
young people. Our ages are somewhat flexible, but we start at
about six, and we go through, I guess, mid-twenties. Our mission
is to educate youth in the arts, on stage, backstage, and in the
audience, too. And, to facilitate that, we offer four main stage
productions a year, classes in acting, drama, scene design, dance,
puppetry, and some instructions in scene craft.
Being a director, what is it you look for first when people audition
Well, I think it depends, somewhat, on the vehicle of whatever
it is you're trying to do…what show it may be. I do appreciate
good cold reading skills; I think most directors do. I think that
the audition process, by its nature, is sometimes a little unfair.
But, that ability to be able to pick up a script, scan it, grab
an intention, and go for it in an intelligent and fluid way is
an important thing. I think it shows that the person is at ease,
experienced, has some dramatic flair. And, of course, that's sort
of what you're looking for. Then, other things enter into it,
too, you know…how does the person look?…do they fit the role…do
they fit the style of production you're doing? Then, of course,
you reach into other areas. If it's a musical…can they sing?…can
Do you have any tips on what people could do to improve, to be
Well, one of the biggest mistakes I see in auditions are people
who are so intent that they won't ask questions. I think it's
fine to ask questions. I think that when someone gives you an
opportunity to look over a piece of material, you look it over,
and if you don't understand something, then you ask a question.
I think that it's probably also worthwhile to have a couple of
pieces ready for an audition, so that you give the director the
option (and, of course, giving yourself some added advantage)
by saying, "Look, I do have a piece prepared. Would you like to
hear that?" Because, more often than not, I think I would always
say, "Yeah, sure. Show me see what you can do," because, ultimately,
of course, that is the idea. We're just trying to see what someone
can really do.
Does this go for both monologues and musical pieces?
Well, certainly, I think that actors need to have some songs.
When they're considering auditioning for musical theatre, they
should have some songs ready, for sure. But, also, they should
have some monologues ready. You know, a couple of good contrasting
pieces…a nice comedy piece and a nice dramatic piece that shows
a little bit of your range and maybe some of your special abilities.
I think it's always impressive when a director sees that an actor
has read some plays and done some work.
You started out as an actor, right?
Yeah, I started acting when I was seven years old. I was a puppeteer,
a ventriloquist; that was, really, the first things I did. Then,
I started auditioning for plays. I performed as a ventriloquist
for a number of years; I performed at talent shows, fairs, civic
events, and all of those type things. It was just a great Vaudeville
kind of way of getting some real experience working an audience
and learning about timing and how to get a laugh and how to hold
for a laugh and how to make an audience listen to you.
What was your first puppet's name?
The ventriloquist dummy that I first started using in kind of
a professional way when I was being paid to do things was named
Harry O'Grady. Ventriloquists try to look for names that don't
have consonants that can't be used without moving your lips. So,
Harry O'Grady has no difficult consonants in it.
How long did you do the ventriloquist thing?
Oh, probably about six or seven years. When my voice started to,
I sort of moved from that because it became sort of difficult
to do at that point in my life. So, I moved from that a little
deeper into music. I've been playing the guitar since I was about
nine and got really seriously into it when I was about 13 and
played for years and years; I played in bands, taught, studied
in college some, and studied music quite bit, and I still use
that a lot, too.
Do you have any tips for budding actors who are just beginning?
Well, I think that first thing is to just get out there and get
experience. In the city we live in [NOTE: We live in Mobile,
AL.], there is an opportunity for young actors to work all
of the time in our theatre. And, of course, there's a lot of competition,
too. But, someone with a modicum of talent can kind of get a foothold
and start learning and working. And, I'm sure that a number of
other cities have similar opportunities, maybe not quite on the
scale that our theatre is, but they can still do school plays
and audition for roles in community theatres so forth.
And, even if they don't get a role, it's still good to even work
in the background as a tech person?
Oh, well, I think the thing is that some people are attracted
to theatre, and they want to be involved no matter what. I think
I've always felt that way. I was, really, always involved as an
actor, but as I got older, I became very interested in lighting
and in scene work and sound reinforcement. So, there are a lot
of opportunities to do a lot of different things in the theatre
that are compelling and challenging and very creative other than
just being on stage.
Do you ever think about going back to acting?
Well, my plan has always been, when I retire from doing what I
do now, to turn into being a professional repertory actor. Being
an old guy at that point, I could play a lot of roles that I've
always fancied but been way too young to play. So, I sort of see
that a possibility. It's still very much in my blood, I think.
And, owning a puppet company as I do, I still do a lot of performing…a
lot of voice work. Right now, I'm getting ready to work on a new
CD-ROM for the University of South Alabama. I do voice work for
them and puppet work on their educational CD-ROMs. So, certainly,
I still keep my hand in the performing aspect of the business.
How long have you been doing the CD-ROMs?
I think the first one we did was a couple years ago. And, they're
interesting. They're educational, but they're exceptionally well
put together. There's a lot of money spent on them. They get a
lot of major grants from corporations. So, they look really good.
We do all of the video live. I get to do the voices of the puppets
live when I need to, working the puppets at the same time with
television monitors and so forth. And, it's good quality. I'm
very proud of the first one we did, and I think that this one
will be even better.
Nice. What's this one about?
I don't know yet.
We're just getting to the point where we're going to start recording
in about two weeks.
Are there any more tips you'd like for everyone to know?
Well, I think that it's really easy to get discouraged in this
hobby or business or however you want to approach it because,
of course, the competition can be extremely fierce, even on a
local level. If I do a show like The Wizard of Oz or Oliver!,
I mean, people really want those roles. And, of course, there
are only so many roles to go around. So, ultimately, you have
more people that are more unhappy than happy, and I think that
it's important to have a perspective on the value just in auditioning,
getting up, trying to get better at what you do. Take some classes;
learn from that. Don't give up if it really means something, if
your heart is really in it; continue to work at it. Some people
may never achieve what they want to, but ultimately, I think,
talent sort of wins out. So, if you have some talent, some desire,
I think it'll eventually work for you. I directed my first show
24 years ago, and that's a lot of shows to do in those years.
And, for 17 years I've done full seasons of shows. So, I see a
lot of people come and go, and one of the most important things
to me is that you hope that you're never going to crush someone's
love for performing or the theatre. But, I think that, when you
go into this, you have to have an understanding that there will
be times when you're not used, and there will be some disappointments
involved with it. And, you just have to learn to pick yourself
up and go on and understand that it's not a personal call. Sometimes,
certain roles require certain attributes, and the mix of a cast
might need to be a certain way. And, ultimately, you have to accept
that, sometimes, there is someone better for the role than you
are. So, you take all of those things into account and proceed;
try to find your way as best you can. And, if you really love
it and believe in yourself, then you have to hope that it will
happen for you.
What was the first show you directed?
The first show that I ever directed was called Piccolo and
Piccolo, which was an English fairytale. Then, right after
that, I did the straight version of Oliver Twist [NOTE:
"straight version" means the non-musical version of a play].
Where was this?
This was at the Playhouse. I was 19.
I directed a full season of shows there when I was 19. Of course,
it was a much different place then. I was the guest director for
that year, and then they had some other guest directors to come
in after that. I went back to school. And, a few years later,
when I got back to Mobile, I had an opportunity to do a summer
show there, and we did Annie. And, it was super popular.
And, I sort of really fell in love with the concept and had had
some years to be away from it because I grew up at the theatre
and had some ideas that I could, maybe, put into practice and
take a theatre that was a recreational, fun thing and turn it
into something that was more legitimate and educational. So, that
was my aim. Seventeen years later, we've done a huge renovation
to the theatre. We've got the third largest budget in the state
for a community theatre…all digital lighting and sound, and I
have a number of employees, and we reach a lot of people. So,
my basic premise for making the theatre an educational, conservatory-style
training program, I think, has come to fruition. And, we continue
to try to refine it and work it in the hopes that we can continue
to build it. I've still got bigger and better plans along the
Who are your favorite actors, and who do you think other actors
should study after?
Well, that's a very personal thing, and certainly there are a
number of exceptionally talented actors working today, but I think
that my personal favorites, the ones who I look to and whose films
I watch over and over and over again, would have to be Charlie
Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel & Hardy…and, moving away from that
style of comedy, the actors that I watch closely are Spencer Tracy,
Fredrick March, Orson Wells, whose work has always been really
important to me. I think that those people are the cornerstone
of what I've always look at as the genius in the craft of acting
I've seen your collection of these older films, and it's huge.
Don't you have a complete collection of some of these people's
Well, my silent collection is pretty vast. I have most all of
Buster Keaton's films…most all of Harold Lloyd's…Chaplin's…Laurel
& Hardy's…and I'm a collector of the silent films, too. So, there
are just different films that I find really important, that I
really like. I have a lot of Douglas Fairbanks's work…a lot of
the more important, serious silent films, like The Wind
with Lillian Gish, which, in fact, in April, we'll be running
that at the theatre as part of the film festival. So, we'll have
a comedy night and a night of The Wind with live accompaniment.
Nice! Well, thank you very much for taking the time out to be
interviewed and everything.
[I first saw Danny and his wife Pam when I was in early elementary
school. They did their version of Rumplestilskin with marionettes.
And, I thought that it was the coolest thing in the world. They
still perform that same show to this day, and having seen it a
few months back for the first time since, I still think it's pretty