When William Shakespeare wrote “All the world’s a stage,” as part of the monologue for As You Like It, actor Bobby Cannavale clearly took this sentiment to heart dating back to his days attending St. Michael’s Catholic School in Union City, NJ.
Since appearing as a gangster in a production of Guys and Dolls as an 11-year-old, Cannavale has racked up quite the canon, securing notable roles on television (Boardwalk Empire, Oz, Will & Grace, Nurse Jackie) and on the silver screen (The Station Agent, Blue Jasmine, Chef, Ant-Man). But it’s live theater and the stage that remains closest to the actor’s heart.
“I pretty much did a play a year through my teens and then started out auditioning in the city when I was about 20 years old,” Cannavale explained. “I was a backstage kid and just auditioned for open calls, non-Equity jobs and showcases. I just did those until I got in with a theater company Circle Repertory Company and then LAByrinth. I made those my creative homes and learned a lot there. I very much wanted to work on stage in New York especially from a young age.”
To that end, his latest project will be taking part in a special benefit for Playing on Air that will be held on Monday, Dec. 7 at Brooklyn’s BRIC Arts/Media House. Playing on Air is the only public radio show and podcast featuring live recordings of the finest contemporary 10 to 20-minute American plays. Each play is then followed by conversation with its playwright, cast and director.
Founded in 2012 by artistic producer Claudia Catania, Playing on Air has produced and recorded 60 plays that have aired on 43 public radio stations and affiliates in 14 states across the country. For this live presentation, Cannavale will be sharing the stage with Tony Shalhoub is a production of David Auburn’s 2 Dads that will be directed by Claudia Weill. Having already done a reading of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Crazy Eights with Kevin Hogan and friends Rosie Perez and John Leguizamo, Cannavale was more than happy to take the plunge again and be part of this benefit performance.
“It was a pretty easy sell for me. It’s about having fun. This thing I’m doing on Dec. 7 was really an opportunity to work with Tony Shalhoub, because I’m such a huge fan of his and I know him socially a little bit,” Cannavale said. “That’s one of those things where actors who like each other’s work, you tell them you’re a big fan of their work and you hope to work together some day. Here is Claudia offering us a great opportunity to do just that. Plus, I love reading plays out loud. It really does fit my temperament really well.”
Still a very much in-demand actor, Cannavale’s next role will be as lead Richie Finestra in the upcoming 2016 HBO drama Vinyl, whose producers include Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger and was inspired by New York City’s late 1970s music scene. That said, the specialized stage work he does while participating in Playing on Air poses its own special set of thrills and creative curve balls that he heartily embraces.
“Gelling with the actors in a very short amount of time [can be a challenge]. When you rehearse a play, you don’t worry about results because you’re going to be rehearsing for a month. When you get thrown together in a situation like this, it’s usually on the afternoon that you’re going to do it,” he said. “There’s a little bit of pressure there hoping that we all get on the same page and that we all understand it the same way. Sometimes you don’t and sometimes when you have a really playwright there to guide you along, as was the case with David Lindsay-Abaire, it works out. That’s probably the biggest challenge. Other than that, I love it.”