“Tossed Salad” Director Mary Dimino on Collaborating vs. Flying Solo
Q: How did you get involved in this production?
A: Playwright Fred Rohan-Vargas was in the audience scouting talent for his new comedy short “Tossed Salad” when he saw me performing my stand-up set.
Next thing you know, I’m getting an email asking me to be his new director. It said he believed my comedic timing would be a good fit for his script, that I was his first choice, and that I can’t say no. Then he added a sad emoji face just in case I rejected the offer. Come on, how can you reject the sad emoji face? So, I told him I’d read the script. We talked about what I saw when I read it. He said that what I saw was what he saw when he wrote it. We’ve been collaborating on his new comedy project ever since.
Q: You’re an actress on television and in theatre, what do you find to be the main difference between acting and directing?
A: As a director, you can look at the piece from afar, objectively. You can see the whole and how each character works with the rest. Directing is about the big picture while still looking at the details, it’s about holding to your vision and respecting the words of the playwright. It’s a collaborative effort. Acting is more your character’s piece of the puzzle.
As the director of a comedy, I am constantly listening for what’s working and what’s not working. You need to be laser-focused and organized. I think the main difference is that as a director, you need to connect with the cast on more than one level. Responsibility ends with you in almost all areas. That really gives a director an opportunity to mark their stamp onto a production.
Q: Do you think being an actor helps when directing?
A: I think being an actor is important when directing because you can speak the actor’s language, know how to talk to them. Understanding what they
are going through in the rehearsal process and how to get what you need out of them.
Q: So there is common ground?
A: Yes, I find it’s really all about listening, as it is in acting also.
As an actor you are listening to your partner. As a director, you are listening to your actors. You’re listening for pacing, for moments, and for your actor’s impulses. Constantly finding the truth in each moment, discovering genuine moments within the text.
Q: Where do you start in the directorial process of a piece?
A: First is casting. That’s probably the most important. Getting the right person for the right role can make or break your production. Next come rehearsals. In our first meeting, I try not to impose my vision on the actors immediately. I like for them explore and see what their instincts give me in those first couple of rehearsals. Then from there we start reigning in and honing in on the vision. It’s a layered process. It’s a blending of instincts, both the actor’s and the director’s. It’s quite a beautiful process, really, the unfolding of it all.
Q: Tell me something unique about the show and the show’s playwright.
A: Tossed Salad takes place in a Japanese restaurant. It’s about the diversity of New York, on multiple levels. It’s a comedy. There is a twist at the end, and as we know, comedy is all about twists and turns. Fred is a fantastic playwright. He holds an MFA in dramatic writing from New York University. He is a published author and he serves on the panel of judges for the Daytime Emmy Awards. It’s a pleasure to bring his words to life.
Q: You’re also a professional stand up comedian. What’s a major difference between stand up comedy and directing?
A: Directing is extremely collaborative. Stand-up you’re flying solo. In stand-up you write your material, you perform your material, you’re alone on stage when performing that material. It’s the ultimate in solo work. Directing is as collaborative as it gets.
Also, directing is about creating an atmosphere of safety within the rehearsal room. In stand-up, there is no safety net. Directing, to me, is about joyful communication involving collaboration and exploration. Stand up is also about joyful communication, but your scene parter is your audience.
Q: What’s coming up next for you?
A: July 9th I’ll be performing my stand-up at Union Performing Arts Center with The Italian Chicks. We’re an all female comedy/improv/variety troupe that’s been together for eight years now. We’ve become so close, we’re like sisters. What’s fun and exciting is that the Chicks recently signed with new management, so there’s lots of great stuff coming up on the horizon. A Boston tour, a Florida tour later this year. Even some international dates. How lucky am I. I get to do what I love, with people I love. That’s collaboration at its best!
Mary is an award-winning comedian, actress, author, solo show writer and performer. Now she happily adds director to that list. Mary Dimino has become a strong voice in the New York solo show scene. She is a MAC Award winner for Outstanding Female Comedian and a Gracie Allen Award winning actress. Her one-woman show Scared Skinny won the Overall Excellence Award for Outstanding Solo Show in The New York International Fringe Festival. Dimino’s follow up solo show Big Dummy won the United Solo Award of Theatre Row for First Sold Out Show. Scared Skinny has been running successfully for the last two years at the Corner Office Theatre in Times Square Arts Center. Big Dummy plays regularly in colleges and theaters nationwide, coming off a recent run at the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble in PA. On TV, you can see Mary Dimino’s familiar face often as the new spokesperson for Life Reimagined, starring in both the national network and print ad campaigns. Mary Dimino’s TV appearances include NBC’s Today Show, FOX, PBS, HBO’s Chris Rock Show, VH-1’s Best Week Ever, Comedy Central’s Graham Norton Effect, NY-1, American Movie Classics Movie Moments, sketches on Late Shows with David Letterman and Conan O’Brien, and numerous national commercials. On stage she has played the Maid of Honor in Tony & Tina’s Wedding, Carmella in Surprise, and Vidalia in the off-Broadway hit My Big Gay Italian Funeral at St. Luke’s Theater. She is a regular member of the nationally touring stand-up comedy troupe The Italian Chicks.
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