Gary Grundei, jack-of-all-musical-theater trades.Kellie Coughlin
#9: Gary Grundei
If it has to do with sound and music, Gary Grundei’s done it. As a performer, composer, music director, sound designer, pianist and teacher, he’s stitched together a creative career in stage and theater, right up front and behind the scenes — when he's not performing his own songs as part of the duo High Fiction. Grundei’s no stranger to celebrities, either, having worked with actors Bill Pullman and Caitlin FitzGerald, the Tectonic Theater Project’s Leigh Fondakowski, and musician and performance pioneer Meredith Monk and others. We asked the master collaborationist to take a break from juggling projects to tackle the 100CC questionnaire. His answers follow.
Gary Grundei performing at the Fucking Fabulous Fiction Fest.
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Gary Grundei: I want Stanley Kubrick to direct a music video for High Fiction. Kubrick had a way of working with visual abstraction to highly emotional effect. I've always admired folks who could do that well. And his unique perspective caused us to see old things in new ways.
Also, as long as we're dreaming, I wish Nina Simone would record one of my songs. No one was better than her at making a song her own. And that presence — my word.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
I'll go and see any damn thing those Buntport Theater kids put together. They're just so smart and creative, and if the show doesn't punch you in the heart at some point, I will personally buy you a frozen yogurt to thank you for your time.
Playwright Will Eno is pretty great. I still love “Lemonade,” and I can't wait for the upcoming National record. And I am really into the work my students are making. They so often make the creative process seem so easy. Which it can be.
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
The use of the term "immersive" to describe a genre of theater. Shouldn't any theater that's worth its salt actually be immersive? The term now just means that you better wear decent shoes because you're not going to get to sit down.
What's your day job?
People ask me if I have hobbies, and I have to answer them that I don't have so many hobbies, not only because I'm doing what I love as my day job, but also because the economics of being a full-time musician in Colorado are such that I end up working an inordinate number of hours in a given week. My model rockets are really taking a back seat.
So, yes, I wear many hats — too many to list here, but a few: I conduct the Mosaic Gospel Choir in Boulder and, occasionally, Bar Choir in Denver. I write commissions for theater and choirs. I teach at my home studio and at Naropa University, and I sometimes help people record their own projects. I MD for theater and the Monday!Monday!Monday! Cabaret with Sheryl McCallum and Source Theatre. And I play jazz and rock gigs around town with various groups, my favorite being High Fiction with Amy Shelley.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
Well, you know I never got in this game for the money, but I've been fortunate to make a good living at it and to work with some really amazing people. So I don't know that my life would change all that much, honestly. I would definitely take more time for family and self-care. And I wouldn't have to choose the commission projects I work on based in part on how much they paid; I could choose them solely on other merits. But I would still continue to make my own work, and I would also help other folks realize their artistic dreams through teaching and collaboration. I love doing both.
Gary Grundei as Hrothgar in the Catamounts' Beowulf.
Denver, love it or leave it? What keeps you here — or makes you want to leave?
Denver's all right. I've got no beef with Denver. Boulder keeps buying the wrong size pants, though, God love ’em. And the wrong color.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
Folks could turn off their TVs.
Who is your favorite Colorado Creative?
Well, that's an easy one. You already featured my wife, Meridith Crosley Grundei, in the 100CC earlier this year, and I completely agree with your choice. Her vision is exciting and fresh and direct, and I'm always interested in what she's going to do next, artistically speaking. And she's a blast to work with. And she's just so damned attractive.... Yeah, okay, she's my favorite.
Gary Grundei playing a toy piano with guitarist Janet Feder.
What's on your agenda in the coming year?
High Fiction is hosting the third annual Fucking Fabulous Fiction Fest on July 21 at the Oriental Theater, in collaboration with Nicole Sullivan of BookBar. The event is always such a blast, in which authors and poets read short excerpts of their work and then have to perform with the band. So the event ends up being this very irreverent rock-and-roll/literary variety show.
And I've been asked to make a production at Naropa in the fall in collaboration with my wife and my dear friend and colleague Ethie Friend that I can't yet say much about, but it should prove to be a very surprising set of performance elements.
Beyond that, I expect there will be some more travel (I'm working on a show in Walla Walla, Washington, in January) and some more new songs from High Fiction.
Who do you think will get noticed in the local arts community in the coming year?
That aforementioned Ethie Friend has been a multi-talented star of the theater community here for quite some time, but this year, she's written an opera, "_____________," an Opera, whose libretto is memorized but whose music is fully improvised. That completely unique community art event goes into production at the end of May, beginning of June in Lafayette, and I'm so honored to work on that with her.
Gary Grundei performs in the world premiere of Ethelyn Friend’s "____________," An Opera, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, May 25, and running Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays through June 10 at the Singing House, 507 West Baseline Road, in Lafayette. Purchase tickets, $25, in advance at brownpapertickets.com; space is limited, and reservations are required. Gary Grundei hosts the Fucking Fabulous Fiction Fest on July 21 at the Oriental Theater; watch the FFFF Facebook page for coming details. Learn more about Gary Grundei online.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE...
Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Susan Froyd started writing for Westword as the "Thrills" editor in 1992 and never quite left the fold. These days she still freelances for the paper in addition to walking her dogs, enjoying cheap ethnic food and reading voraciously. Sometimes she writes poetry.