A Conversation with Joe Garcia, Academy Alum and Director of ‘Tracers’
Academy alums are sending another show to the Hollywood Fringe Festival this summer. This time, I was fortunate enough to chat with director and Academy alumnus Joe Garcia on the process of bringing Tracers to life. What a pleasure it was to hear the story from my friend and colleague.
Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you come about directing this?
It was a company show that Betty [Karlen] was directing... and when it came that she wasn't able to, it sort of just fell in my lap. There it was, you know.
This is a show that most of us back in the 80s cut our teeth on. I don't know of an actor my age who hasn't done at least one of the roles at some point. To be able to have the opportunity to direct it was like, it was like it came full circle for me, you know?
And bringing it back together today... what did this mean for you?
A group of us did it back in the day...like guerrilla theater, sort of like in a classroom. It was done in the round. A lot of us were really good friends and from The Academy. There was such camaraderie amongst us. And it was great to come here and see that same thing happen with these young guys.
What challenges came with trying to bring it together?
Getting it together a second time is a little tougher because these guys have left the school and they're starting their own lives. Getting jobs and things like that. So getting everybody together for rehearsal sometimes can be a bit of a chore. And building the camaraderie that is so important for the show is definitely a challenge when they're not living together 24/7 like they were at The Academy.
This is a Vietnam-era piece…that's difficult and often controversial territory. How do you deal with that aspect of the piece?
That's kind of deep. You give me too much credit. [Laughs]
You play the action, and that's enough!
Exactly, I just tell them where to stand. [Laughs] And I tell them to believe it... just believe it. That's really the crux of it.
But really...there’s a documentary by Ken Burns on Vietnam. It's an amazing piece. This documentary covers everything from the 40s up to the broader conflict. There are so many controversial choices that we made to be part of that, I guess we call it a "conflict" but from what I can tell it was a war. That war doesn't seem “over.” Well, the fighting is over, but the scars that remain can never be “over.” This play centers on ordinary guys being thrown into extraordinary situations and how they survived them. Because even talking to some veterans here, they still have those scars.
You keep referring to them as “guys” or “boys” with a real sense of tenderness. Is that how you view your cast?
I'm…I'm 64 and they're all in their 20s. They will forever be “guys” or “boys” to me. [Laughs]
It's when I watched them go through the same challenges we did to put it on back in the day. It's just come full circle, August. And I'm kind of humbled by it.
In terms of the broader political attitudes, what does this play mean today, what does it mean in our current world? In 2023, what does this play mean?
Well, that's...that's a great question. I haven't even considered that. And I think you'd have to ask veterans what the play means in 2023.
As actors and as storytellers, we try really hard not to take sides. We try really hard just to tell the story. And leave it up to our audience to decide what was good and what was bad and what should have been what shouldn't have been. The audience definitely has to take a role in that. War is the same as it was in 1812, as it was in 1968, and as it is in 2023. It's horrific.
And in the midst of such horror, does humor seep in? I mean, how did these guys make it through without it?
I mean, I think talking with the writers, when we were fortunate enough to have them come in and watch and give us opinions on things... you know, when this human condition gets so overwhelmed with such tragedy and triumph day after day after day, as these guys did out in the bush in Vietnam, you have to have the humor to break some of that. Are you going to go nuts or create humor? Most of the humor came through in the relationships between these guys.
This play is being brought to Hollywood Fringe. When can people see it go up?
We go up Thursday, June 1st at 6:30 PM, the 14th and 15th, and the 19th and 21st. You can find this online, by all means.
Thank you for taking time out of your schedule to chat with me. This is a really valuable piece, and I'm happy to see it gain so much traction again.
Thank you, August. Good to chat with you. We're proud to see it keep going.