We’ve all heard that the No. 1 no-no is dating someone you work with, but Philly artists/lovebirds Domenick Scudera and Brian Strachan have one thing to say about that: Fiddlesticks! The pair have been together for almost 18 years — the whole while teaming up on projects that run the gamut from putting on theater productions to famously performing in drag as Thunder Showers (Strachan) and Summer Clearance (Scudera) at AIDS Fund‘s monthly GayBINGO! events.
Their latest project, Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre‘s Much Ado About Nothing, kicked off last night and will run through May 19. This production of The Bard’s “merry war of the sexes” finds the couple in their typical theater roles: Scudera, who is professor of theater at Ursinus College and a regular contributor to The Huffington Post, is directing; and Strachan, the reigning Miss Mardi Gras, is designing costumes. I recently persuaded them to break away from their hectic schedules to explain to me how in the world they’ve managed to maintain that spark — and there really is one — after living and working together for all these years.
G Philly: Did you meet in the theater?
Brian Strachan: Yes. I was auditioning for a show for Domenick years ago at the Brick Playhouse. When I was working at the treehouse, doing children’s theater there, he was developing a children’s show. … So I auditioned and got a part.
Domenick Scudera: Brian and I worked together all these years but in different capacities. I’ve directed most of the shows that we’ve worked on, but Brian has been an actor, choreographer and more recently has been the costume designer on all the shows I’ve done in the last 10 years.
GP: Brian, you seem to be quite the jack of all trades. What got you into costuming?
BS: When we moved to Philadelphia, we lived above a vintage store called Penny Feathers, and all our friends would come over for parties and we would just go downstairs and play in the costumes. Eventually people started asking me to design for their shows.
DS: And eventually he went back and got his master’s degree in costume design from Temple — he graduated five years ago.
GP: Would you say working together is the secret to your relationship’s success?
DS: I think that it has helped. We’re both creative people … so it just seemed natural that that would be a big part of both of our lives. We collaborate really well together and we love to work together. We do so many projects that we trust each other that it’s going to be done on time — that it’s going to be good. We know each other’s artistic sensibilities. It’s just easy for us to work together. It feels natural.
GP: You specialize in different areas of the arts, so I guess there’s no issue with competition?
DS: Yea, that’s right … even though I lost the Miss Mardi Gras contest [which Brian won]. [laughs]
BS: I don’t feel like we compete with each other at all. In fact, I think we complement each other and work together very well. … As a matter of fact, I think it’s a positive thing, because sometimes you get busy in your life and you have so much stuff going on. If you have to pull something together at the last minute, we can always trust each other to do that.
GP: Was it your decision to do Much Ado?
DS: No. [The Shakespeare Theatre organizers] asked me to direct it. I’ve been directing there for many years. I actually directed Much Ado About Nothing about 12 …
BS: It was 1997
DS: Oh, was that when it was? So 15 years ago … I directed it for the same company, so it’s nice to return and look at it again in a new way.
GP: Have you incorporated any gay themes in the show?
DS: No. There’s no real gay undercurrent in Much Ado, and to insert that … wouldn’t serve the play. It is a work about romantic love between a number of [straight] couples and we haven’t altered that in any way.
GP: What do you like about this show?
DS: This is my favorite Shakespeare play. It’s a comedy, but it also has a more-serious undercurrent. It’s nice, because the characters are funny, but they’re real people. So the play is just like life — you laugh at parts and there are parts that are serious. It’s also a very witty and smart kind of play. The verbal wit between the main characters is a lot of fun.
GP: Brian, what inspirations did you draw from to costume the show?
BS: For this production, we decided to set it just after World War II in Italy. The costuming for the men is WWII uniform. For the women, the inspiration is from the ’40s. … For Hero, I’m making her clothes. She has three or four dresses. And Dogberry is [inspired by] an old-time, silly film-noir detective and Verges is a Keystone cop kind of guy — a guy from Philly.
GP: What’s a typical night at home like? Do you chuck the work when you walk through the door or do you keep at it right through bedtime?
DS: We’re constantly working. Between the two of us, we’re [currently] involved in six plays. I’m doing two … and Brian is costuming four. When we go home, we’re really just working on the next project. We’re constantly talking about the stuff that we’re doing, or the next GayBINGO! that’s coming up, or whatever it might be.
BS: We have two therapy dogs that Domenick takes to the Children’s Hospital and Bryn Mawr Research Center — so that keeps him busy on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
DS: Yea, we have a lot of pets — four dogs and two cats. They’re all very unique. I’ve trained two of them — one of them is a two-legged dog and the other is a three-legged dog — and I take them to different hospitals to visit patients during the week. … I’ve written a performance about one of the dogs that I have performed in different venues. It tells people about what pet therapy is.
GP: So it’s kind of like your whole household’s involved in theater. Any plans to take the whole family on the road?
DS: [laughs] No, it’s very hard to travel with all those animals!
See the fruits of their labor, Much Ado About Nothing, now through May 19, various times, $25-$35, Philadelphia Shakespeare Theater, 2111 Sansom St., firstname.lastname@example.org.