Interview: Brooklyn-born John Guerrasio embraces his inner monster

John Guerrasio as Armitage Shanks in Love Birds at the Pleasance Courtyard © Steve Ullathorne
John Guerrasio as Armitage Shanks in Love Birds at the Pleasance Courtyard © Steve Ullathorne

John Guerrasio as Armitage Shanks in Love Birds at the Pleasance Courtyard © Steve Ullathorne

Continuing our cast interview series, we catch up with Brooklyn native John Guerrasio, who plays Love Birds‘ resident impresario Armitage Shanks (who also happens to be a certain plesiosaur well known to Scots). Read more about John’s previous credits on the Love Birds cast page.

Have you ever played non-human characters before? Is it any different from playing a human character?

I’ve played crickets, snakes, chickens and chimps in various plays. And I’ve voiced many animals, insects and aliens for cartoons and computer games. I’m also the voice of Vinnie “The Mafia Panda” for Fox’s Biscuits.

I’ve never done a play that involved serious animal impersonations. My animal experience has been in children’s theatre or sketch shows where, if you say you are a buffalo with a hernia, you are. I grew up watching Looney Tunes so I try for the sort of human-in-animal-disguise style they had. After all, Bugs Bunny was just a wiseguy from Brooklyn, like me.

Nessy knows: an uncanny resemblance?

Nessy knows: an uncanny resemblance?

How do you feel about playing the Loch Ness Monster (a.k.a. Armitage Shanks)?

I’ve been fascinated by the Loch Ness Monster since childhood – who hasn’t been? And, I was thrilled to learn that he is from my hometown. It’s an honour and a challenge to live up to his fearsome reputation.

Tell us more about Armitage – apart from being the Loch Ness Monster.

He is a classically crusty but benign boss and old showbusiness pro. I’ve met and worked with many of those, both in and outside of showbusiness. He really loves his cast and has a paternal feeling for them. And he knows that the oldies (songs and jokes) are the best. Ironically, I’ve always wanted to be a baggy pants comic in burlesque. But, Armitage would be horrified. He comes from the kinder-gentler world of vaudeville.

One of Armitage’s songs in the show is An Old-Fashioned Guy, and writer Robbie Sherman has spoken of the show really being about ‘future shock’ as encapsulated in this song. How do you think audiences relate to this sentiment in our own world, never mind 1920s vaudeville?

Future shock is a constant for humanity. You can find quotes about it in the Ancient Greek and Roman texts. There never was a Golden Age, but I’m old enough to know that, in some ways, life or the world or society are not as good as they were in my past.

Do you have a favourite lyric from Love Birds?

“Life passes in a blur in an instant as it were” from the song Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow. Such a simple yet profound thought.

Any anecdotes from the rehearsal?

It’s been so intense and crowded, we almost didn’t have time to create anything worthy of anecdotes. The show is a blast to perform, but getting it to that place took several weeks of nose to the musical grindstone.

Armitage showing his paternal side with Veronica (played by Joanna Sawyer). © Steve Ullathorne

Armitage showing his paternal side with Veronica (played by Joanna Sawyer). © Steve Ullathorne

Playing at the Edinburgh Fringe presents all sorts of challenges – not least the very quick changeover period between shows. How would you describe the half-hour before curtain-up at the Pleasance? What are you doing during that time?

I arrive early so I can get changed in an empty room. Otherwise, I’d end up putting my leg in someone else’s trouser leg. It’s that cramped. Then I use the time when we’re putting up the set and placing the props to continue with my vocal and physical warm-up. Doing a musical early in the day takes extra preparation. I actually enjoy the activity of getting the set up because it keeps me moving right up to curtain. Sometimes, if a performer has too much time to spare, they can get nervous or stale or distracted. No time for any of that here. Same with the get-out. It’s curtain down and immediately we get the set down, get out of costume and get out of way of the next cast.

How have you been using your time in Edinburgh when not working on Love Birds? Any city discoveries you’ve made?

I’ve found an excellent jazz guitar teacher so I spend time practicing. I know Edinburgh well, and it is one of my favourite cities in the world. I enjoy wandering around the neighborhoods and poking around bookstores and junk shops. I also enjoy walking through the old cemeteries.

Any other festival shows you’d recommend?

I haven’t seen anything that has knocked me out, but that’s rare in New York and London so…

There are two shows I’d recommend. Cornermen at the Pleasance Bunker Two – a well acted, tough tale of boxing in which an East End kid gets a one-way ticket to Palookaville. And Whiskey Tango Foxtrot at Underbelly – a clever and engaging one-woman show by an actress (Rebecca Crookshank) who spent time in the RAF.

Love Birds runs 12.35pm daily 5-31 August (except 19 August) at the Pleasance Courtyard during the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe. BOOK TICKETS HERE.