The Mile Square Theatre has been a Hoboken staple for arts and culture since 2003, when it was first founded as a non-profit professional theater. It offers up year-round programming and, most famously, puts on the 7th Inning Stretch festival every year, which showcases plays about baseball to honor Hoboken’s history as the birthplace of baseball.
This year, due to the pandemic, the festivities were held virtually from June 19th-21st, with local playwright Joseph Gallo presenting a 10-minute play that is close to his heart. Gallo himself was particularly busy this season, as he both wrote and performed one of the short plays and co-produced the festival, complete with pandemic-related challenges. Hoboken Girl got the chance to sit down with Gallo to learn more about his career as a playwright, his Hoboken roots, and more.
“When I was growing up, I really liked reading. I liked going to the movies. I was always inside my head and writing was a way for me to get my thoughts down. I thought it was a romantic thing, to be a writer,” Gallo says. “And then when I was 19, my father died. He was a fireman, and he died on the job. And it made me realize the importance of what you leave behind. The things that you leave behind have a weight to them. And it was the things my father wrote down, his words on paper that had the most impact on me. The things he wrote down I found powerful. And that has always driven me. The idea of leaving behind a written record.”
Gallo grew up in Linden, New Jersey, just about 20 minutes from the Mile Square. He graduated from Rowan University with a BFA in journalism and a minor in theatre, finding a home in Hoboken for what now seems like a foreign reason. “I moved to Hoboken with a good friend of mine from college – Mike O’Brien. This was back in 1986, when we were both about to start jobs in New York. But after looking at a couple of places in the city, it became obvious that we were not able to keep our cars,” Gallo shared. “We were Jersey boys, after all. We had to keep our cars! We looked in Hoboken next and, at the time, there were not yet parking meters on every block, and we thought…we can keep our cars! There’s parking! I think about a month after we moved in parking meters went up everywhere.”
Eventually, he found his way to the Mile Square Theater. “I met Chris O’Connor, the Mile Square Theater’s artistic director, at the Hoboken Arts & Music Festival back in 2007. I had just received my MFA in playwriting from Ohio University, and he asked me to come on board. I’ve since written, produced, directed, acted, designed sound, painted and built scenery, worked the box office, wrote grants, done fundraising, vacuumed and mopped the floors, sold t-shirts…I think I’ve done just about everything,” Gallo says. “Even my wife, Sarah, works at MST as the company’s in-house choreographer. She’s also the director of the MST Dance Academy, which she founded in 2015. Before the pandemic, the academy had 175 students, and we had recently opened a second space – the MST Annex.”
Gallo’s wife isn’t the only family member to help shape young creatives at MST. “I helped create the internship program at Hudson County Community College, where I work as the Coordinator of Theatre and Film, and one slot has always gone to MST. The internship is paid, which is rare. And MST’s staff is now filled with former students who came through that program,” Gallo says proudly.
Gallo’s Writing + COVID-19
“We began to re-imagine the [7th Inning Stretch] as more of a variety show that we would tape and then stream, for what turned out to be four performances — SAG/AFTRA rules for New Media did not permit a longer run,” Gallo shared about this year’s virtual production.
“Our production team started meeting once a week in the beginning of April, and we began by reaching out to writers, actors, directors, and singer/songwriters we knew to gauge their interest in contributing. And, over the next two months, pieces started to slowly trickle in,” he says.
But, his work didn’t stop there. “ I personally wrote and performed a story called AJ’s Book, I produced the story told by Yankee relief pitcher Adam Ottavino, and I tracked down the rights from the supergroup The Baseball Project to use their version of ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ for our end credits.”
Sadly, the pandemic has deeply affected Joseph Gallo’s writing process. “It’s hard to write for the theatre when you have no idea what the future of theatre will be,” he says.
AJ’s Book is a particularly touching story, and a real life experience of Gallo’s. It’s a story of his friend AJ, who gave him a baseball-related book a month prior to his death. It’s a story of letting go of the book just to find it again, of sentimentality, and of tragedy.
He’s not stopping with the festival, though. For the last two years, he’s been working on a play called Yuppies Invade My House at Dinnertime, based on the book of the same name. The book is a collection of letters to the editor printed in the Hoboken Reporter from 1983 to 1987. The letters, written in the ‘70s and ‘80s, were the city’s reaction to a series of suspicious fires, or “arsons-for-profit,” as they were called, which displaced thousands of Hoboken residents and killed more than 55 people, most of whom were children.
“I structured the play so that Act I is written documentary-style. I interviewed more than 30 people who lived through that era — firemen, policemen, paramedics, survivors, witnesses, politicians, artists, and more — and I set the play in 1981, with two major fires as a backdrop. Act II, a dramatization of the letters from the book, deals with the aftermath from those fires, and the reaction to the on-going gentrification between the born and raised Hoboken-ites — known as B&Rs — and the young urban professionals who were moving in. The play also includes an epilogue that was set in Hoboken today, pre-pandemic,” he says. “Unfortunately, that Hoboken no longer exists. I need to see what the new Hoboken will look like before I can get back to re-writing.”
Gallo also finds his inspiration in music, particularly in his love for a fellow Jersey boy, Bruce Springsteen. He even gave his daughter Olivia the middle name Rosie as an homage to The Boss. “I’ve seen him in concert 55 times. And there have been many, many shows that stand out — at the Philadelphia Spectrum the night after John Lennon was killed, onstage at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, the epic rain delay concert at MetLife Stadium in 2012,” he says. He even wrote a book detailing some actual stories. Gallo published Two Plays: My Italy Story and Long Gone Daddy, which you can find at Little City Books. Long Gone Daddy, he notes, begins and ends at Springsteen concerts.
The story he wants to tell most in the future, though, came from Jersey City’s Dineen Hull Gallery. In February, he held a show there that, “consisted of hundreds of Playbills that I had collected and saved from the too-many-to-count Broadway plays I’ve seen. I’ve since written a one-man show that tells the story of those playbills,” he says. “My dream is to mount that show in New York when theaters are close to, but not yet open. It would be a great way to remind people of their love for theatre in the first place, a way to ease them back in.”
You can pick up Joseph Gallo’s book at Little City Books.