We had the good fortune of connecting with Markis Gallashaw and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Markis, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Risk is danger’s wingman and danger is thirsty as hell. Danger surrounds us. At any given moment our decisions could combine into the Voltron of failure, injury, heartbreak, loss, or any number of other unpleasant outcomes. In the creative field, most things we artists create are unfairly appraised through subjective scrutiny by people with nearly zero expertise in our fields; The “court of the comments”. The “chat-tisment” [just made those up]. Ungrounded feedback, out of our control, but critically influential to our success… It’s all very scary. But to me, this is freeing thing about taking risks in our work. It’s a two sided coin, because whether you choose to please others, or choose authenticity in your work, there’s risk in both! So, you might as well make the authentic one. As the saying goes, “Better to fail as yourself, then succeed as someone else”. I think facing risk is about embracing failure as good thing. Improv taught me this. I’m an actor & writer that heavily uses improvisation to do both. And in all creative pursuits, I’ve learned and grown the most through falling flat on my face, in great embarrassment from risky choices. Choices that have cost me money, relationships, reputation, pride, even literal blood sometimes. I’ve learned meeting a goal or hitting a milestone is always bundled with surprises and perceived “failures”. It’s unavoidable. Why? Because we suck knowing the future. Knowing this, I now see risk as the cost for entry to everything worthwhile. You exchange your risk coins for things that are meaningful and long-lasting. And when we aren’t spending our risk coins, we rarely get anything back. For me, risk is directly connected to fear, and fear plays the role of a compass in my life & career. If I’m afraid of it, it’s probably the best thing for me. An acting teacher taught me that our bodies don’t lie — they’re always more honest than our minds, and smarter than our hearts. Our gut can tell us everything we need to know, “SO FOLLOW IT!” [her volume, not mine]. Del Close, arguably the most influential figure in modern comedy, famously said “Follow the fear” [and then he did drugs. lots of hard drugs]. But the adage reigns true! That fear/discomfort has always been a beeline out of my comfort zone, into a better life, when I’ve been brave enough to follow it. Every time I’ve followed that gangly sherpa known as fear, and committed whole-heartedly to my choices, things [eventually] worked out, and made me a better artist and stronger person.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
LAUGH AT ME OR WITH ME I DON’T CARE, JUST GIVE ME YOUR ATTENTION WHILE I ABSORB IT INTO MY FACE PORES AND STARVE MY LOW SELF-ESTEEM FOR ONE MORE DAY, LEST HE GROW FAT AND LOUNGE ON MY HOPES… that’s pretty much the essence of my art. Naw. I’m not “that” insecure. But I do embrace the darkness [and dumbness] within. Beyond our genetic human similarities, that inner darkness [and dumbness] and need for light connects us all. “My work” has a lot of those themes. A story or a character can be about anything. Just make me care. Often the characters I play, and stories I write, or improvise are dumb, or silly. The dumber the better. Just make me care [Pro tip: that’s called “doubling down” on your point]. Making the audience care is always the goal. I’m sad. A lot. But that’s okay. Life taught me sadness, but it makes me want to grow laughter out of that sadness. I am mostly an actor and a writer [hold for scattered, awkward applause]. That’s as of 6 years ago. Before that and still, for money, I would also be your: graphic designer, animator, photographer, video editor, illus-painter-sculptor— yada yada— the list goes on. I’ve learned many marketable skills in my pursuit of wanting to make movies & tv shows and generally survive. Pre-Covid, you’d often find me at the “Village Theater” as a MainStage performer, or in a “Shakespeare on Draught” production [look it up], saying the n-word on stage, making white people uncomfortable [the good work]. A proud moment [they asked, I’m not bragging— you can’t brag about improv] while I was at Village was pitching & producing a duo sketch show staring myself & a friend, Tom Rhoads. Written through improv, and directed by Second City’s Ryan Archibald. I’m proud of that because it marked a turn in my focus, to finally start investing as much in myself as I’ve invested in others over the years. I love comedy and I love storytelling. They both helped raise me, through TV & movies. Here’s a true story: Baby Markis started off wanting to make cool things. Robots & Movies. Adult Markis still wants to make baby Markis happy. Born & raised in Charleston, SC [Yes, the one with the standing slave markets], I started off as a charismatic failed child model. Never got a gig. So, I turned to making things. Taking toys apart, then building my own. Later I saw Shrek and wanted to make things like Shrek. Went to a trade high school for “Graphic Communications”. Learned many skills from that braggy list I wrote earlier, but not how to make Shrek. They lied to me. So I had a decision to make; Go to college for Robots, or Shrek? Applied for both. Got into GA Tech [flex], but decided to go for the over priced private art college [dumbass]. Learned animation. Realized I hated animating [but loved acting – had my first acting class]. Dropped out. Homeless. Went back to school [more debt, yay]. Then pursed motion graphics my senior year, just so they would let me out. Additionally with several filmmaking electives. Thankfully, finished “Best in show”. After that I worked in TV doing motion graphics for a few years, taught myself some film making, only to realize I had nothing to shoot. I needed a script. But my own script, please. A good friend pushed me to sign up for improv classes, “like Amy Poehler did”. Exactly like Amy Poehler [I went to the same school – iO Chicago]. Learned long-form improv comedy to help with writing. Learned I loved performing. Fast forward over a thousand improv & sketch shows later, on top of plays, additional acting classes, and my full attention & commitment to trying not to suck, here I am. No longer a baby [Markis]. Life was easy for, like, 5 min. I left Charleston 14 years ago. Lost my dad, been penniless [repeatedly], lived in my car [stinky], and at one point watched said car, like my life, go up in literal flames [it made the news]. I’m grateful for all of it. I want everyone to know that to live a life pursuing your dreams is always a privilege. We’re not war torn, waking up eating scraps, dodging bullets from our government [well..I might be. I’m black. But you get it]. I just mean I think we should all take joy in our pursuit, no matter how hard it is. Because it could always be harder, and for someone it probably is. Over the years and my many, many mistakes, here’s a few things I’ve learned: Our imperfections are not liabilities, but assets. All can be leveraged for your good, and those things make you unique. It’s judo — Redirecting energy that would hurt you, to serve you [I don’t know Judo. don’t ask]. Often times, it’s as simple as acknowledging the “weird” thing that you are, or that happened. In comedy, people often laugh when you call things out, because they were already thinking it, but you had the courage to say it out loud. Laughter is a release. Like a fart. Give more farts. I’d also tell baby Markis, to “go straight”. Not sexually. Do what you want sexually. I mean to aim for exactly what you want and head straight there, without shame or reservation. I learned this very late. It’s still hard to execute. But every arrow’s path curves with the wind, and rocket’s trajectory bends in its pursuit, but if you don’t aim straight you’ll never hit your target. Spent a lot of time working around my goals, out of fear. Like, if you wanted to make burgers, so you got a job building grills… “just go make the [curse word] burgers, Markis.” That wasn’t always clear. I’ve wandered a painful amount continuing to try to find myself. Today’s Markis puts his craft first. He wants to be undeniably excellent at what he does. And he aims to make content that he’d want to see. Stuff that will hopefully resonate with many other: let me feel seen, and less alone, like other people’s content has done for me. If anything sets me apart, it might be my ability to embrace imperfection with optimism, proudly looking stupid, and listening. Listening, with all my senses, to understand the other person, then respond. It’s the key to great improv & acting, and I believe that kind of listening can also save the world. And ultimately that’s my goal: to leave this place [earf] at least a little better than I found it. Hopefully, through my art. We’ll see.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
In a pre COVID time I’d say we have to check out a few improv shows – lame, I know, but I don’t care. “Improvised Vagina Monologues” created & hosted by my friend Sara Breese, is damn good time at The Village Theater. Any comedy show Mark Kendall [@markkendallcomedy] has running is a guaranteed good time. Don’t tell him I said this, but Dedrick Flynn [@deddyfatstacks] is funny as hell and is my favorite local stand-up but again don’t tell him because we won’t hear the end of it. Hopefully Vernal & Sere Theater co. would have show running. Everything they create is different than anything you’ll find in Atlanta, by a long shot, and in my opinion they produce the best theater in the state. Daring, toothy, often f’ing weird, but always poignant thought-provoking, and produced with a level of excellence and quality on par with National Theater & broad-way/off-broadway productions. Go see them, before you can’t afford them. When it comes to food and restaurants, I’m basic, and mostly eat from chains but a few noteworthy local gems are Delias Chicken, Tap Room Coffee’s Vanilla latte w/Oat Milk, iced or hot, is always perfect, Inman Perk’s blueberry muffin hits different. pizza from Triple J’s in Midtown [ @triplejayspizza ], and please please do your whole life a favor and hit up Rudy at Teppista Atlanta [ @teppista_atl ] and order yourself the best small batch pasta in the city. If you want something fancier, I suggest finding my close friend, and fellow actor Adam Levinthal. The man knows good acting, and knows good food. He introduced me to “Bo Bo Garden”, probably best asian food I’ve had in Atlanta, and a ton of fancy places in the city. Lastly, I’m a fan of chilling any place with a low-key vibe where you can have a conversation – especially in EAV [East Atlanta Village] at Argosy, sometimes dancing at the Basement, and on Edgewood at Church [Sister Louisa’s Church of the Living Room & Ping Pong Emporium] with homies.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I want to Shoutout my good friend & acting teacher Rob Mello, of the The Robert Mello Studios. Rob, Kate Brown, and many others I’ve learned from, students & teachers alike, have helped guide me to the realest version of myself to date. And that realness & authenticity is worth everything to me, as a human, and as a fellow artist in a saturated market. When I met him I’d recently made some major life & career shifts. I was trying to find myself. He and many dear people along the way at RMS, through tough love & tough love, have help me see myself clearer than I ever have. I was able to strip away a lot of baggage and expectations I accumulated in my bumpy life. I grew an appreciation for the craft of acting, story telling, and myself. Any level i reach moving forward will always be connected to Rob, and I’m so grateful for his honesty, instruction, and friendship. Thank you, Rib. [I call him Rib sometimes] Also, my close friends Ronnie Bolar of Vital Life Chiropractic, and fellow actor/writer Adam Levinthal. Without Ronnie I might not have had the courage to start performing. With Adam I found a friend, a like-minded artist who gets: Excellence in your craft & truth over all of the fluff. Thank you both for being real friends, who are willing to tell the hard stuff to my face, and celebrate me in streets. Love y’all.
Other: TikTok @mgallashaw
©Lola Scott Art ©Dan Almasy Photography ©Shakespeare On Draught