Sunday, September 24, 2023

Females in Entertainment: Meet Jersey's Actor/Director Rosie Gunther McCooe - On Life, Directing, Surviving Cancer and Finding Work - Her Newest Play Now at Emerging Artists Theater NYC

Rosie Gunther McCooe has been working in the theater since she was a youngster. After earning her MFA from Rutgers University Mason Gross School of the Arts, she began her professional acting career in the “soaps'' as “Young Vicky''. 

Over the years, she appeared in several independent films, including A CASE OF BLUE, SHUTTERFLIES, THE JERSEY DEVIL, and BAD PARENTS to name a few. Speaking of BAD PARENTS, she has been involved in just about every one of her friend filmmaker/playwright Caytha Jentis projects. 

In addition she has a Broadway co-producer credit for BANDSTAND and has had the absolute pleasure of working with hundreds children, teens, and adults over the past twenty years directing musical theatre and plays in NJ, NY, and California. She most recently partnered up with Actor Technique NY to direct a production of MATILDA that was performed at the American Theatre for Actors in NYC.

Rosie Gunther McCooe: When I was 11 years old, my father took me to my first audition for a melodrama called THE ROPE DANCERS. I was cast in the show and worked with an all adult cast and a fantastic, visionary female director. My character had many flaws including "St. Vitus dance" (a form of epilepsy), she had 6 fingers on one hand (spirit gum every night) and she died on stage at the end of the play. Like I said, a real melodrama! 

Anyway, that production taught me so much about acting, discipline, and I was hooked. From that moment on, I couldn't imagine a life without theatre as a mainstay. I have been acting in or directing theatre ever since. I can't imagine my life without it. As an aside, my father was a struggling actor during the depression but never made it in the biz as times were so tough he had to move out of NYC. He loved the theatre and always encouraged me to pursue my acting dreams. I think he would be proud of my directing prowess and how I have managed to plug away at such a tough career for so many years.

Suzee: When did you want to direct? How did you start your directing career?

Rosie Gunther McCooe: I started my directing career at Somerville school, doing the school play. At the time, the principal really did not want to hire a parent as the director of the program because he was afraid of nepotism and favoritism but I proved him wrong. My kids always got the worst parts!

Also, I realized that I knew quite a lot about theatre production since I did so much of it my Freshman year at Fordham University which is where I did my undergrad. My entire freshman year I had to take a class called "theatre crafts" which I dreaded because we had to build all the sets and put in all the seats in the auditorium for each of the shows. It was what was expected of the freshmen theatre majors and even though me and my fellow "actors" loathed the class, fastforward 20 plus years and I realized I still knew so much about theatre design and how to run a show. 

Boy am I grateful for that class now! I was the parent who actually knew how to do a show from picking the material to casting, to implementing all the design aspects, I was surprised I knew so much! 
Suzee: What directors do you admire?

Rosie Gunther McCooe: I am reading Emily Mann's book right now. Wow! She is such a legend and so ahead of her time. I admire her longevity in the business and for creating so much incredible art throughout her tenure at the McCarter Theatre.

I also love the idea of Mike Nicols as a director. I had the opportunity to see two of his plays but didn't appreciate or realize at the time his brilliance. In reading his biography, however, I got to see a glimpse of his intimate and very specific work with his actors, and I try to emulate that as best I can. As far as contemporary directors, I admire Ivo van Hove and his ability to strip everything away to get to the meat of the material. I'm not that brave yet as a director.

Rosie and her biggest supporter husband Sean.

Suzee: You raised a family. You survived breast cancer. Then you went full on into getting back into your career.  Tell me what motivated you. 

Rosie Gunther McCooe: There was an old jazz dancer, Luigi, whose mantra was "never stop moving" and to some degree that has always been my mantra. I never sit around. Even when I was going through chemo, I was directing a show which looking back now may not have been the "smartest" thing but I did it and I scheduled it, and I had lots of wonderful support and just kept moving forward. I guess I don't know any better and I happen to have the most supportive, wonderful husband, Sean, who is truly a cheerleader for everything I do. My kids are amazing too and they love that I always have something up my sleeve. 
Suzee: Do you have any words of advice or inspiration for women who want to do something new, or pursue an old dream after age 50?
Rosie Gunther McCooe: Find the work! Create the work! Surround yourself with like minded folks and be the girl boss that you were intended to be! 
Suzee: Tell me about the play you are directing now, which can be seen at Emerging Artists Theater in NYC (dates).

Rosie Gunther McCooe: We opened Wednesday, September 13 and we sold out for opening night and for most of the opening weekend. Very exciting indeed! We had 4 wonderful preview performances and  we run 7 more weeks-Wednesday @ 7, Friday @7, Saturday @9, and Sunday @7. It's a modern day tale of looking for love in all the wrong places! 

Suzee: What are your future plans... professional and personal.

Rosie Gunther McCooe: Rest, be a grandma. Kidding, not kidding!