Joseph Gallo has been living in Hoboken since he graduated from Rowan University in the late 1980s. He and his roommate chose Hoboken over New York City because they were Jersey boys with cars.
“There were no parking meters here,” he says. “You could park anywhere.”
If you’re thinking valet, think again. He always had his eye on a stage career, minoring in theater at college and getting an MFA at Ohio University.
It was seeing Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman on Broadway that sealed his fate. Gallo grew up in a blue-collar house in Linden. His father, who was a firefighter, died when Gallo was 19. The play’s father/son dynamic hit home. “I was devastated,” Gallo recalls. “I was sitting with my face in my hands sobbing until an usher tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to leave. If I could spend my life writing something that could make people feel the way Arthur Miller made me feel…”
Before he could get to that, Gallo went to acting school. After class one night, he walked into a restaurant on Prince Street, responding to a “Help Wanted” sign in the window. He spent a dozen years there, a gig that put him in the same orbit as the Performing Garage on Wooster Street, where Spalding Grey staged his famous one-man shows.
Meanwhile, he was performing with the Renegade Theater Company, which did readings in the back room at the old Lady Jane’s on 14th Street, where the Hudson Tavern now is. “It wasn’t a dive bar. It was a cool place and not far from Maxwell’s,” Gallo says. “One of the members said I was a great storyteller and should do solo work.”
Throughout the 1990s Gallo was also working with the Waterfront Ensemble Company. In 1997, his solo show, My Italy Story, debuted off Broadway and was later performed here at the Mile Square Theatre. He sold the screen rights to the show and for a while was bicoastal, flying to L.A. on a regular basis. “Having rent control in Hoboken really helped,” he says. “Keeping overhead low is the only way to survive.”
He spent six years in film and TV development in L.A., where he fell victim to Hollywood’s storied “paid-but-not-made” syndrome: He was paid for writing scripts but none of them made it to the screen. The good news? He no longer had to hold down the quintessential Hollywood-actor job: waiter.
During that time, he also married a dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet. “While we were engaged, she became a Rockette,” Gallo says. “I always wanted to say that I married a Rockette.”
When he’d had enough, he came back to Hoboken for good. Around 2003, in a moment of random good fortune, Gallo ran into Chris O’Connor on Washington Street. O’Connor, founder and artistic director of Mile Square Theatre, asked Gallo to help him launch the theater project.
In 2007, he took a job as an adjunct at Hudson County Community College, where he taught creative writing. “Almost immediately I started to build the theater arts major, which took six years,” he says. “I became full-time tenure track in 2013 and am now theatre arts coordinator.” Along the way, he became a father. “I opened a notebook and began taking notes right after my wife became pregnant,” he says. That notebook eventually became the solo show Long Gone Daddy, which chronicles the alienation, adventures, and anxieties of being a stay-at-home dad. His daughter, Olivia, is now 6. He has been doing salon performances in people’s homes around town as a fundraising vehicle for the Mile Square, which is set to occupy brand new digs at 1408 Clinton St. in early 2016. In January, he is slated to perform an Equity production of the show at the Mile Square, directed by Chris O’Connor. “When I sat down to write Long Gone, I realized it was the same character as My Italy Story,” Gallo says.
Gallo honed his one-character solo technique on public radio’s “Moth Radio Hour,” which features captivating performers—usually amateurs—telling their own personal stories. In 2013, he won a grand slam championship for a story on the theme of fathers.
Gallo has an interesting connection to the Hudson Reporter organization. He bought the rights to Yuppies Invade My House at Dinnertime, a 1987 compilation of letters to The Hoboken Reporter, lamenting the gentrification of the town, which, Gallo says, “reached full steam with the closing of the Maxwell plant.” (He is also a Hoboken history buff.)
Gallo has eyes to produce some form of it at the Mile Square.
His wife, Sarah Weber Gallo, opened the Hoboken Dance Academy this fall for kids. In fact, kids play an important role in Hoboken’s burgeoning live-theater scene, with the Hoboken Children’s Theater joining forces with Mile Square.
“The playground in Church Square Park is a publicity dream,” Gallo says.
Spoken like a true show-biz dad.—07030