Mark is a Digital Marketing Professional, Actor & Playwright
Mark Violi been in over 25 plays also movies and TV. He is a member of SAG-AFTRA. Mark also writes screenplays and has optioned several scripts to Hollywood as well as being a 7-time produced playwright, including his upcoming production of ROEBLING: The Story of the Brooklyn Bridge.
Mark talks about getting into acting and how he found the confidence to start writing his own plays. He also talks about how important it is to bring your full self into whatever it is that you do!
• Getting into acting
• Notable roles as an actor
• Why dramatic roles are challenging for Mark
• Getting into play writing
• Talking about acting with coworkers and clients
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Welcome to Episode 263 of What’s Your “And”? This is John Garrett. Each Wednesday, I interview a professional who, just like me, is known for a hobby or a passion or an interest outside of work. And to put it in another way, it’s encouraging people to find their “and,” those things above and beyond your technical skills and the things that actually differentiate you when you’re in the office.
I’m so excited to let everyone know that my book’s being published in just a few months. It’ll be available on Amazon and a few other websites. So check out whatsyourand.com for all the details. I can’t say how much it means that everyone’s listening to the show and changing the cultures where they work because of it. And the book will really help to spread this message.
Please don’t forget to hit subscribe to the podcast so you don’t miss any of the future episodes. I love sharing such interesting stories each and every week. This week is no different with my guest, Mark Violi. He’s the owner and founder of Web Hound Studios. Now, he’s with me here today. Mark, thanks so much for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”?
Mark: Hi, John. It’s great to be here. Thanks.
John: Oh, absolutely, man. This is going to be so much fun, but you know the drill. It’s 17 rapid-fire questions right out of the gate. All right, buckle up. Here we go. All right. I’ll start you out with one. Star Wars or Star Trek?
Mark: Star Wars.
John: Okay. All right. How about your computer, more of a PC or a Mac?
Mark: Oh, Mac 100%.
John: Oh, wow. Fancy. All right. Yeah, way cooler than me. How about a favorite ice cream flavor?
Mark: Ben and Jerry’s New York Super Chunk Fudge.
John: Oh man, that sounds delicious.
Mark: I got like a little bit of everything in it. It’s like rocky road on steroids. It’s great.
John: Yeah. Anything which chunks, I’m all good for. How about a favorite animal? Any animal at all?
Mark: Oh, wow, favorite animal. The kangaroo’s an interesting animal, isn’t it? There’s really not much like them.
John: Yeah, very good pick. How about a favorite place you’ve been on vacation?
Mark: Vegas. Vegas is a lot of fun. We’re thinking about going back with the family soon. So let’s see what it’s like from a family perspective instead of a getaway perspective.
John: Right. Exactly. Exactly. I think that they’ve done a lot to clean it up so, yeah, totally. There’s all the amusement park rides and stuff at New York, New York and Stratosphere and stuff. How about jeans or khakis?
Mark: Oh, jeans. Yeah.
John: Jeans. Okay. How about a favorite number?
John: Eleven? Is there a reason?
Mark: I just adopted it as my lucky number. I used to wear that when I played baseball as a kid. And I’ve just hung around 11.
John: That pops up as well on here. It’s been interesting.
Mark: That’s my roulette number in Vegas.
John: Oh, there we go. It’s all coming back. I see. I see. How about a least favorite vegetable?
Mark: Oh, Brussel sprouts.
John: Yes. I agree 100%. Totally. How about pens or pencils?
Mark: I like them both. They both have utilitarian usage, John. So I can’t pick between them.
John: Maybe one of those where one side’s a pencil and the other side’s a pen where you just flip it upside down and then —
Mark: Yeah. We’ve got to get more of them out into the marketplace, I think.
John: Right. They’re just for you.
Mark: They’re not accessible enough.
John: Right. How about puzzles, Sudoku or crossword?
Mark: I like them both, but crossword’s a little more challenging. There’s a little bit of math involved there, but there’s also your vocabulary and general knowledge. It’s the jeopardy of word games, isn’t it?
John: Totally. Yeah. I see what you’re talking about. How about a favorite color?
John: Red? Okay. How about a least favorite color?
Mark: Not really brown but like a drab, greenish, brownish blob?
John: Oh, yeah. That sounds disgusting. That’s not good. How about oceans or mountains?
Mark: Oh, that’s a good one. Oceans or mountains? I’ll take oceans because sometimes you can see the mountains from the ocean.
John: Right. Or just mountains that go right into the ocean.
John: Yeah. Just do it that way.
Mark: The Palisades, yeah.
John: Yeah. There you go. How about a favorite sports team?
Mark: Oh, Philadelphia Phillies.
John: Okay. All right. Yeah. And then early bird or night owl?
Mark: I think I used to be more of a night owl. But I think I’m turning into an early bird. I’d like to try to get as big of a jump on the day as I can. As my workload gets bigger, it’s become more important to stay ahead as much as I can.
John: Okay. There’s two more two more. Would you say developing websites, more WordPress or Drupal?
Mark: Oh, I’m a WordPress guy.
John: All right. Yeah. I did my website. It looks awesome, man. Yeah, absolutely. I had to Google Drupal because I didn’t even know what it was. And the last one, the favorite thing you own or the favorite thing you have?
Mark: Oh, my dad in his later years took a trip to Italy. I asked him to bring me something cool back. He brought me back this old map that has the town that his father grew up in.
John: Oh, that’s fantastic. That’s very cool. Yeah. It means a lot as well. And yeah, I mean that is something really cool. That’s awesome. It’s not a Leaning Tower of Pisa in little model.
Mark: I think I got that too.
John: Yeah. Right. It was a buy one, get one. Let’s talk about acting. Is this something that you’ve been doing since you were younger? Or did you get into it later on in life?
Mark: I got into it in high school really. I think maybe the same way, a lot of people do. I remember going to see a high school play as a sophomore. I was sitting in the audience. I think it was Oliver. I’m looking at these classmates of mine and I’m looking up at the stage. I’m saying, “Wow, I could do that so much better than these guys. They’re doing everything wrong.”
John: You can beg better than that Oliver. Come on.
Mark: No, Ollie, come on. So the next year, I went out for the play and I got a nice part. The year after that, I got a lead part. I guess I got the acting bug, as they say. And I’ve been pretty much acting ever since.
John: That’s fantastic man. And even through college?
Mark: I only did one show when I was in college. I learned so much from that show. It was The Comedy of Errors. It was the only Shakespeare play that I’ve been in to date. I was a freshman or sophomore. And I was not a theater major. I was an art major. So the director hated me just for that.
I had the smallest part. I don’t remember the girl who’s my scene partner. After we did it, she said to me backstage — and she’s a theater major. She’s a year older than me. She was cute in the kind of ‘90s way. She said to me, “Mark, why are you doing this that way? Because in Dr. Blah, blah, blah’s class, he teaches us that we should do this, this, this and this.” And I was amazed. I was like — I thought she was pulling back the curtain and giving me these gems that I never would have gotten.
When we did the scene again, I took her advice and I did it the way she said. The director, I swear this is the only time he spoke to me. He said, “Stop. Mark, what are you doing?” Without throwing her under the bus, I said, “I just thought I’d try something different.” And he said, “No. Do it the way you were doing it.” And that was it. So I learned a lot from that experience to just trust myself.
John: No, that’s fantastic. Yeah, because you can get bogged down in all the theory all up in your head. That can mess you up in acting especially. Yeah. But you didn’t want to throw her under the bus because, yeah, I mean she’s cute and a year older and all this. And we got to do the scene together. And it’s, “Well, she said.” Too many other variables involved too.
Mark: It was her fault.
John: Right. Exactly. Exactly. Then once you started working and after college, where have you been acting mostly?
Mark: I had an opportunity after college before I had kids to explore it a little more deeply. I got an agent locally, who was able to facilitate some work for me. I did commercials for the Philadelphia 76ers, for the Philadelphia Inquirer. I was actually on a billboard for the Philadelphia Inquirer.
John: That’s awesome.
Mark: That’s like the only thing I’ve ever been recognized for where people would stop me and say, “Hey, are you the guy in our billboard on 995?”
John: Right. You’re like, “Maybe. Do you want to punch his face?” No, it’s not me. It’s my twin brother.” Yeah. That’s great, man. That’s really cool though.
John: I was able to get my SAG card around that time. That was my own camera work. Then I’ve done a lot of stage work. I’ve been in almost 25 or 30 shows. I work mostly at a local theater close to me called Kelsey Theatre. I’ve done a ton of work there. I’ve been able to do some roles that are really bucket list type roles. So I’m happy to have been able to do that.
John: That’s really fantastic, man. I mean 25 to 30 shows? I mean that’s quite a bit because I mean these aren’t just like one-offs. These are you’ve got to rehearse and train and all that stuff and then do the shows. And they run for a bit. So that’s a lot of time and commitment to make that happen. I mean that’s a true passion. That’s for sure. Pretty awesome. Have there been any roles that are more of your favorite or more rewarding, if you will?
Mark: Some of my favorite roles are I got to play Lieutenant Kaffee in A Few Good Men. That was a really challenging role for me. I enjoyed that quite a bit. My most recent role was in Glengarry Glen Ross, where I played Dave. He’s the guy who facilitates the office robbery. That was a great role too.
I find dramatic roles are much more challenging for me, which goes counter to what I hear from a lot of other actors who say comedy gives them so much trouble. For me, comedy has always been easy. I can always find the joke. And I think I have a pretty good comedic timing. I’m able to do comedy pretty well. In more recent years, I’ve been seeking out more dramatic roles where I find them a little more challenging.
John: Oh, okay. That’s interesting. So it’s more of rather than go with your wheelhouse, it’s, “No no. I want to push myself to learn and develop more.” That way then, you can go back to that college director and be like, “Take this buddy.”
John: I had a funny experience like that. This was at a different community theater that I won’t name. I signed up to be the assistant director of this show. And the guy they had cast in the lead couldn’t do it. He broke his leg. He got pneumonia, whatever it was. And they asked me to do the role. So I abandoned my assistant directing position and took over the lead role. And I wanted to do a couple of the scenes ways that I knew they should be done.
John: But as the assistant director, you couldn’t say.
Mark: And the director said to me, “No, no, no. I’ve directed this show three times and this is how we do it. This is how it’s done. This is how the audience is going to like it and laugh.” And I knew he was wrong. When I got up on stage, you can feel how the audience is reacting to you. And I just knew they were waiting for me to do what I know needed to be done. So rather than listen to him and do it the wrong way, I did it the way I knew it would be done. And to his credit, after the show ran, he came up to me and he said, “Mark, you know what? You were right about all that.”
John: Wow. Okay.
Mark: I couldn’t believe it because ego is really big in the community theater world, right?
John: That’s hilarious because, yeah, I mean when you’re up there doing it, you can’t undo it. The audience can’t unsee what just happened. So it’s like, “Well, I’m just going to let it rip and see what happens.”
Mark: That’s what it was. Yeah.
John: Good for you. And I know also that there’s playwriting as well that you’ve done. How did you get into that? Was it just like, “This Shakespeare guy doesn’t know what he’s doing, so I’m going to write better ones.”
Mark: No. I wasn’t that bold. I wish I could say that were the case. I had always wanted to write. I think through my involvement as an actor, I become involved in the stories. And I was always interested in how the stories were assembled. But I have to tell you, I didn’t know how to write and I didn’t have anything I wanted to write about. And even through high school and through college, nobody ever explained to me what a story was. A story has structure to it. No one ever explained that to me. So I had to seek out that information on my own. I read a bunch of books, one book in particular called The Hero’s Journey by Christopher Vogler.
John: Oh yeah.
Mark: Have you read that, John?
John: I have.
Mark: Fantastic volume for any kind of storytelling. That was a very comprehensive and communicated very well. It gave me enough information and enough confidence that I thought I could write something. So having done a lot of stage acting, I figured, “Well, I could probably write a play.” So I became attached to a local story about the Brooklyn Bridge, the family that built the Brooklyn Bridge. The Roebling family is from Trenton, New Jersey where I’m from. Their name is on the streets and the banks. There’s even a town called Roebling not far from Trenton. And I had heard about this amazing story about how the Brooklyn Bridge was built. And I thought, “Wow. This would really translate well to the stage.”
So I took it upon myself to do a ton of research and to adapt this true story to the stage in a play I call Roebling: The Story of the Brooklyn Bridge. And that was the first thing I wrote. It sat doing nothing for six or eight years. Then I got a couple readings of it at local theaters. Then I had a premiere of it at a small theater in Pennsylvania. And since then, it’s been produced five times. It’s going to be produced again, Friday, March 27th in Bordentown, New Jersey. It runs for two weekends.
John: That’s so cool to have the story that you created in your head and put down on paper to see it come to life several times. I mean that’s really awesome.
Mark: It’s a pretty amazing experience, especially my first couple of productions. It was almost an out of body experience really, like I was a ghost in the room watching all of this happen.
John: Yeah, because you had seen it play out in your head, I’m sure, thousands of times. Then all of a sudden, it’s like, “Am I still visioning this or is this actually happening with my eyes typically?”
John: Now, that’s really cool. I have to imagine that some of that translates over to your work. Do you feel like acting and playwriting gives you a skill set that you bring?
Mark: I think acting has contributed to a confidence I have when I’m talking with clients, when I’m presenting in a room. I can be generally relaxed and take my time to communicate what I need to communicate. Certainly as a writer, I mean who doesn’t need good writing skills, right?
John: Right. Everybody. Yeah.
Mark: So as a writer, it certainly helps me communicate a written word much more effectively. I think both in just communication, traversing between clients and myself, but also when I’m writing copy and that sort of thing. It certainly — it plays a big part in storytelling too. I mean if I’m writing a blog post, it’s a small story and it needs at least a little structure to it.
John: Yeah. I mean everything’s storytelling. Absolutely. Even Donald Miller with the StoryBrand stuff, I mean, when it comes to marketing and all that. It’s the same as comedy. Communication and acting is — the only way you get good is to do it. And it hurts and it’s painful and you’re terrible at it. I mean you’re not good. But against all odds, you still tell yourself, “No, no. Keep going,” type of thing.
Mark: Right. There’s something inert, something inside you that just makes you keep going. Yeah,
John: Yeah. No, I think that’s fantastic, man. And is this something that you’ve shared all throughout your career, that side of you, with clients and co-workers?
Mark: I have to say that wasn’t always the case. I think when you work in a lot of creative areas, there’s this sense of doubt, “Am I really doing this? Is what I’m saying as an actor? Is what I’m saying as a writer? Is anybody even interested? Am I doing it completely wrong? Am I being boastful because, ‘Oh, hey, I’m going to be on stage next week. Come and see me.’”
When I’ve had office jobs, I’ve been a little reluctant to speak out too much about it. But now, I’m more comfortable with what I’m doing. I have a lot more confidence in my work. I’m happy to share it with people who are interested. And some people are more interested than others of course.
John: But I mean that’s the way it is. But no one’s ever dropped you being like, “I’m not your client anymore,” or, “You’re fired,” I mean, because they find out that you’re an actor or a playwright.
Mark: Not that I’m aware of.
John: Right. And if they did, then forget about it. I mean who cares? That’s insane. But I totally hear you on the boastful thing because it does feel like if no one else is sharing anything, then if you even share whatever you do, then it sounds like you’re bragging because, “Well, I have something,” but deep down inside, like — I’m sure people found out that maybe they worked around you or some people knew and maybe even came to some shows, but they never viewed it that way. And it’s always in our own head that we think that.
Mark: Absolutely. That’s why I think what you’re doing with What’s Your “And”? it’s so important. It gives people like myself more confidence to say, “Hey, we are real people outside of the office.” And everybody knows that, but it takes just a little bit of confidence, I think, to get people to talk about it a little more.
John: Yeah. No, I appreciate that because if everyone has something, then no one’s bragging now. Then everything’s cool. I mean all the 200 plus people that have been on the podcast, they’re all such amazing stories and such cool things. And to be an actor and write your own play, I mean like, “What?” I mean that’s just fantastic and so cool.
Mark: Sometimes, you think, “Well, I haven’t sold a screenplay to Hollywood yet and made my million dollars. I’m probably wasting my time.” Sometimes, I get in my head like that. But then I think, “Wait a minute. I’ve written ten screenplays that I know have been good. And I’ve optioned some of those to Hollywood. So they must be good if people are optioning them anyway. And I’ve had seven productions of plays that I’ve written. Sure, they’ve been local. Who even finishes a play? Almost nobody.”
John: Totally. Right. I mean everyone’s like, “I could write something.” “Yeah. Go ahead, Sparky. Get back to me.” It isn’t like a one-day project. Like you were saying, the eight years that you noodled on it and put it away and then come back to it. It’s a journey. Yeah. I mean we’re all in our own lane. I think that is a hard part. I found that people hesitate with the label of actor or runner or whatever it is because, “Well, I don’t do it for a living,” or, “I didn’t set a world record or whatever.” But on the flip side, the phrase that’s easy to say is, “I enjoy act because I enjoy it. I don’t do it for a living and I’m not a gazillionaire and you don’t know who I am, but so what? You don’t know anybody else’s either.”
Mark: It takes the judgment out of it, right? You can’t take that away from me. If I enjoy it, that’s my own. Whether you think I’m good at it or not, it doesn’t really matter.
John: Yeah, because I don’t even care, because I’m doing it for me. I mean, really. But I think it’s cool how it gives you a different perspective and a different skillset that you’re bringing to work. And that’s awesome, man. Congratulations. That’s really exciting, really exciting. Do you have any words of encouragement to anyone listening that has a hobby or a passion they think has nothing to do with their job?
Mark: Yeah. I think anybody who thinks that is probably wrong. I think you have to bring your whole self into whatever it is that you do. If you’re a bodybuilder, if you’re an office clerk, if you’re a vice president, if you’re a writer or an actor, these are all just pieces of who you are. We’re all multifaceted. And I think we need to embrace that. The line between who I am, between nine and five and who I am the rest of the time, I think it’s getting more blurred all the time because communication increases, work life balance and everything. I think it’s in everybody’s best interest to explore who they are as a whole person and to communicate that to others. I really do think people are interested.
John: No, I agree totally. I mean let’s face it. Nowadays, I mean talking about acting is way better than talking about the Phillies. No, I’m just teasing, man. I’m just teasing. I had to. I had to. That’s a terrible segue because I’m getting ready to let you be able to rapid-fire question me. So if you have any questions before I bring this up in for a landing, I should not have taken that shot before opening it up to you. That was poor planning on my part. You think I would learn after so many episodes but no. So since I so rudely started out the episode rapid-firing, questioning you, do you have any questions that you’d like to ask me, tell you? You’re the host.
Mark: I have one question. And I think it’s interesting to ask a lot of people. Maybe I’ll make it up 18 rapid-fire question.
John: Oh, okay. Okay.
Mark: I know you’ve traveled a lot. And I know you’ve been around a lot of people. So what is one or two things that just seemed totally out of place, whether it’s geographically or in terms of a group of personalities, something that was completely unexpected that didn’t belong there?
John: Okay. Well, it was a pleasant surprise sort of a thing?
Mark: Whether pleasant or not, I won’t judge.
John: Goodness. Yeah. That’s a tricky question. When I was in Cape Town, South Africa, I drove down to Cape of Good Hope and there are just baboons out, like just out. I mean like rabbits where it’s like — I mean you see a rabbit occasionally, but yeah, they were just out and especially where people were. So it was super hilarious because I went to see the Cape of Good Hope, which is crazy gnarly and walking back up to the parking area and I heard this family screaming. They had a minivan with the doors open and the kids are pouring out of the minivan. Then just seconds later, it’s this baboon with a backpack, with a face full of food. I mean just like sandwiches, that running with the backpack and then two or three baboons with him. They’re like little — they’re not huge. But man, they’re — you’re not catching that backpack. I mean it’s gone like, “See you.”
Mark: And they’re baboons so they’re smart. They’re working in teams. They’re intelligent. You’re screwed.
John: That’s their hit place. I mean they’re like, “Oh, here comes another one.” Yeah. I mean I guess the baboon running with the backpack probably is a little out of place.
Mark: That’s pretty surprising.
John: That’s pretty surprising. But yeah, man, I laughed so hard. I was like, “Oh, my God, that’s so good. That’s so good.” But yeah, that was awesome, man. Thank you, Mark, for taking time to be with me on What’s Your “And”? This was really, really fun.
Mark: Thank you. Likewise, I enjoyed it very much. Thanks.
John: Absolutely. Everyone listening, if you want to see some pictures of Mark on stage or connect with him on social media or even better, see the link to his new show, be sure to go to whatsyourand.com. Again, that’s roeblingplay.com just in case you’re too impatient to go to the other website. But all the links will be there. And while you’re on the page, please click that big button, do the anonymous research survey about corporate culture.
Thanks again for subscribing on iTunes or whatever app you use and for sharing this with your friends so they get the message that we’re all trying to spread that who you are is so much more than what you do.