Gabriel Ebert on saying goodbye to Bertie Carvel and Lauren Ward, joining social media, and putting the monkey “in the bucket”


Gabriel Ebert

Although he happily sings “Telly” as the lights dim at the Shubert Theatre after intermission, and swept up a Tony Award for his performance as Harry Wormwood in Matilda, Gabriel Ebert confided to Stage Door Dish that he’s more comfortable performing in a “solid play” than a stage musical that requires him to sing and dance. In the second part of his interview with Stage Door Dish, Gabriel discusses his pre-show ritual with Bertie Carvel and Lauren Ward and saying goodbye after their final performance tomorrow afternoon, his start in musical theatre and what the phrase putting “the monkey back in the bucket” means to him.

SDD: Bertie and Lauren are leaving on September 1st. What’s the atmosphere like at the theatre now?

GE: We’re all sad to see Lauren and Bertie go. We haven’t really had the moment yet where we’ve started to get emotional about it because we still have a job to eight shows a week. My particular floor is me and Lauren and Bertie so I’m starting to get rather nostalgic because we’ve created a really cool bond and a really cool vibe on the floor. We sing a song together, the three of us, each night before we go on. I play my ukulele and we all make a song up. I’m sure that that tradition will fade and they’ll go on to their glorious English lives. We haven’t really let that in yet.

SDD: I love that you mentioned the ukulele because that was my next question, about your preshow ritual. Can you talk about what the three of you guys do?

GE: I don’t really know how it developed but I brought a ukulele because I have a lot of time off-stage in the play. I brought my ukulele around just to have something to do. Bertie and me started messing around and singing songs and as he was getting into character as Agatha, I would sing him a love song as Harry. That developed into an improvisation every night. I would play some chords and sing about whatever happened. Lauren started getting in on it and sometimes we would rap, sometimes we’d try to sing harmonies. Sometimes we would totally fail and then other times, there would be little gems. At about the five-minute call, I go into the Trunchbull’s room and start playing and whatever happens, happens. When they call places, we call it and we go downstairs to do the show. It’s a nice moment for us all to connect and to be cheeky. It makes us feel like we’re part of a company together. It’s something I find to be really important. Also, the kids have this warm-up everyday and Bertie and I go down everyday and do the warm-up with the kids. It’s exciting to check in with everyone and say, ‘Hello, how was your day? Here we go. Let’s do this play together.’ It’s something beautiful that we’re all a part of and we’re all in this together.

SDD: Have you thought about how long you would like to stay with Matilda?

GE: Yeah, I guess I’ve thought about it. I have a contractual obligation so I know I’ll definitely stay that out. I don’t know where my mind will be at the end of that or where life will be so I don’t know what will happen at the end of this particular contract.

SDD: You’ve been in Brief Encounter and Matilda, which have both come from the West End. Have you ever thought about going overseas to the West End?

GE: It’s a dream of mine, for sure. For some reason, a lot of shows that I’ve done have been with English people, English directors. All of the Broadway shows that I’ve done have come from England. I’ve spent a lot of time in London, I’ve gotten to rehearse plays in London, but I’ve never gotten to do a play over there. I think that it would be a treat to go over to the West End and to work anywhere in England. The company who brought Brief Encounter to Broadway, the Kneehigh Theatre Company, do stunning work and they brought it St. Ed’s Warehouse and all sorts of things like that. I’d also love to go work with them again and go out in England with them. I’ve gotten to work in Cornwall and it’s such a treat. They’re such amazing people and have great minds. I feel a real affinity for England. I’d love to be there.

SDD: We’ve talked about this before, but your total, I don’t know if “aversion” is the word for it, but you’re into technology and you don’t have a television. Is that something intentional or is it coincidental that you didn’t have one and you still don’t have one?

GE: I grew up without one. We didn’t have one at my house growing up. I’ve always just been an old-fashioned dude, I guess. I was on Facebook while I was in college but it sort of freaked me out so I got off of it. I don’t know, I feel like it’s enough for me personally, because I’m a delicate bird or something, to try and be present with the people in front of me let alone all of the cyber people who are not actually near me. That’s why I’m not on any social media. There are ways in which I’d like to be a lot better to people and not be so adverse to the Internet. It’s just part of my make-up. Instead of a telly, I have some instruments and I try to play those. I still have a laptop and I occasionally watch a DVD on it. That’s enough for me. That’s about all I can handle.

SDD: So there’s no chance of you ever joining something like Twitter?

GE: Well, I don’t know. Times change, but at this particular moment, I shan’t join Twitter. I don’t really know what I’d say.

SDD: Is there a piece of advice, or something that you’ve learned from someone you’ve worked with, that has stayed with you for a particular reason?

GE: Dozens. I guess one interesting one relates to what we’re talking about. There’s this guy, Tristan Sturrock, who played the lead in Brief Encounter. He is an incredible man and has had a wild life. He’s a great mind. I was talking to him about how sometimes my mind runs and I can’t shut it off and it gets in my way, and he had this great piece of advice, I think he referred to it as “the mad of the mind.” He said, ‘Well, when that happens, you’ve got to take the monkey and put him in the bucket and tell him to stay. And when he gets back out of there, take him back and put him in the bucket.’ I know it sounds ridiculous and doesn’t make sense but it’s a good image I use occasionally, to put the monkey back in the bucket. I hold that one dear.

SDD: Is there anything Bertie or Lauren discussed with you before you started Matilda?

GE: Not that I can think of. They were both very supportive and they, of course, wanted to reinvestigate their characters but also bring over what was successful in England. I was meek and blind and I had never seen the English production or what the other guy did with Wormwood. There were ways in which I wanted to ask them about what the other guy had done, what choices he had made, but there were also ways that I didn’t want to know. I wanted to invent it for myself and come up with it fresh. They were both supportive and helpful in those ways but they also let me find my own vibe with it.

SDD: I want to talk about your signature because I love it. You’re just kind of a chill guy. I’ve met you a few times now and you’re always just smiley and chill. I feel like your signature reflects that. Was it a conscious choice to choose something kind of simplistic or was it just that you were writing and that was how it came out the first time?

GE: I used to try and have a signature but it’s so bad that I’m embarrassed about my cursive. After the first week of previews where there were so many people at the stage door everyday, I just made a conscious decision that I was just going to write, in plain print, “Gabe,” basically because of the sheer volume of people that I would be dealing with. It became its own thing and people seem to like it so that’s very exciting. I thought, ‘Oh, maybe I could have a different signature for each play that I do,’ but I don’t really know. That’s become my signature for Matilda. I’d never done it before. It just happened.

Gabriel Ebert with Lauren Ward

Gabriel Ebert with Lauren Ward

SDD: If you had to choose another career, which one would you choose?

GE: If it was in my dreams, I would probably be a major league baseball player. I would hit 3.16 and play shortstop and I would bat fifth or third in the lineup. In reality, I would want to be a songwriter or a musician.

SDD: Do you have a team that’s your favorite?

GE: The Colorado Rockies are my boys, but it’s a depressing state of affairs most of the time. I’m a Denver boy true and true, so I love my Denver teams.

SDD: If you could play any role on Broadway, which one would you choose?

GE: It would be totally cheesy but Hamlet.

SDD: If you could trade places with anyone on Broadway currently, who would you choose?

GE: Maybe Zachary Quinto.

SDD: Who’s the last person to make you feel star struck?

GE: Tom Hanks.

SDD: What’s your most memorable fan experience?
Recently, at the stage door, some woman said, ‘You went to Julliard, right?’ And I said, ‘Yeah?’ Another woman said, ‘The dance division?’ which I appreciated because I’m not a dancer at all.

SDD: What’s the last really wonderful show you saw on stage?
I saw Peter and the Starcatcher a few times, which I think is a really beautiful show. I just saw Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812. I think that’s a beautiful show.

SDD: Good choices. What is your current obsession?

GE: Deadwood.

SDD: Describe yourself in five words or less.

GE: Struggling to find poignancy always.

SDD: Do you have any secret talents?

GE: Hopefully.

SDD: Hopefully?

GE: Hopefully, yeah.

SDD: You’re not going to reveal any?

GE: Hopefully several. I don’t know. I can do a few things but they wouldn’t be secret if I told you, would they?

SDD: What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?

GE: My first roles on stage were in operas.

SDD: Was that in Denver?

GE: Yeah, outside of Denver there’s a place called Central City Opera, where I did a couple shows. There’s a place up in a town called Lafayette where I did a Gian Carlo Menotti piece called Amahl and the Night Visitors.

SDD: You’ve obviously run the gamut with every kind of show that you could do. Do you have a favorite?

GE: I guess I’m most used to and comfortable in straight plays. I love doing that. I love to sing. Brief Encounter was exciting because it was sort of a mash-up of all of that. We got sing and play instruments but it was actually a play. That was a real treat for me and it was a dream come true. I got to be on Broadway and play six instruments and sing and act in a play. But I guess straight plays are my power zone. I definitely couldn’t do an opera anymore.

SDD: Never say never. You could do it. I have faith.

GE: That’s right. Thank you.

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"I found the theatre and I found my home.” ― Audra McDonald

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