If you’ve attended any of the Ohio Valley Cloak and Dagger Company performances, particularly those involving the tales of Sherlock Holmes, you’ve seen Robert Gaudio performing a pitch-perfect Dr. Watson. But acting is not Bob’s only talent. He is also a highly respected musician, who performs throughout the Ohio Valley. SoulFireWV caught up with Bob during this busy holiday season to learn more about his background and creative work in the region. If you’d like to see Bob on stage, be sure to attend Ohio Valley Cloak and Dagger’s live radio adaptations, collectively titled 3 Miracles for Christmas, this coming Saturday, December 21, at the Bell Tower Theatre, located at 99 Market Street in New Cumberland. Bob will be performing the role of Santa Claus beside other members of the acting group, the Wayward Saints.
SoulFireWV: Did you grow up in Wheeling, and if not, where did grow up? And what is one of your favorite memories from childhood?
Robert Gaudio: I am a proud native of Follansbee, West Virginia, a small town with a herculean heart. Being raised by the folks in that wonderful town taught me many things, including the primary importance of family, a strength of character and a fierce loyalty to those who love and care for you. So many strong childhood memories persist. A favorite one is waking blearily on Christmas morning after being an altar server during Midnight Mass at St. Anthony Church. Hearing my parents, five siblings and a niece scurrying about our home, I would hurriedly descend the stairs to see the myriad, festively-wrapped gifts under the beautifully-decorated tree. We would always celebrate the birth of Jesus first and the secular traditions of the holiday second. The morning would consist of eating a quick breakfast, then sitting around the tree with Christmas music playing on the stereo while we opened gifts one-person-at-a-time as the others oooed and ahhhed when each gift was revealed. Since all nine of us would gift each other, several hours would pass before we had completed the gift-opening tradition. Now that both parents and two siblings have passed into the Light, I truly miss those hours together.
SF: I know that you were in the Peace Corp and spent time in Yemen. How long were you there, what did you do while there, and what impact do you feel this had on your life?
RG: My first wife, Patricia Hillberry, who is a native of Beech Bottom, and I were volunteers in the U.S. Peace Corps from 1977 till 1979, serving America in the Yemen Arab Republic, which is now simply called Yemen after reunification with her southern neighbor in 1990. Pat is a registered nurse and worked in that capacity at Al-Olifi Hospital in Hodeidah, a large port city on the Red Sea coast, and also at the hospital-clinic in Saadah, a walled city in the northern reaches of Yemen near the southern border of Saudi Arabia. I taught English as a second language at the National Institute of Public Administration and elsewhere, as well as acting as a maintenance supervisor at the Hodeidah hospital. In Saadah, I was the head of maintenance at the hospital-clinic. I also assisted a diagnostic-equipment technician – one Sebastianello Lombardo, a Sicilian-born/Eritrean-raised friend – when he traveled around the Deserted Quarter repairing various kinds of equipment in rural clinics. The impact of my Peace Corps experience on my life force is profound and cannot be understated. Living rough in a conservative, Arab culture while learning and functioning in the Arabic language was a stretch for a young man from Follansbee. I relished my time there, however, and my life was enhanced through my study of Islam and daily interactions with the wonderful Yemeni people. I could never be the same, small-town person upon my return to America, and I have daily called upon my Yemeni experiences in dealing with the good and the bad of everyday life.
SF: Not only are you a terrific actor and are often featured in Ohio Valley Cloak & Dagger programs, but you’re also singer and musician, whose stage name is R.J. Gaudio, Troubadour. What initially drew you to music? Was it a family interest?
RG: I appreciate the compliments. I have loved and worked in theater and music since early childhood. I wrote and produced my first play in sixth grade, a drama about Abraham Lincoln. And I sang in church choirs from an early age. My older sisters were very involved with piano and church choir, but piano lessons and I never got along well. Singing has always been a solace to me.
SF: When did you first learn to play guitar? Did you have a teacher, or did you learn on your own?
RG: The guitar entered my life at age 15, but I have never taken formal lessons and cannot read music. I have played in groups and performed solo work off and on over the decades. My greatest teachers have been those fabulous musicians I have been blessed to know. It’s been kind of a learn-as-you-watch-and-try-it program, noting closely how gifted musicians manipulate the instrument and then asking them a lot of questions.
SF: I believe I’ve heard one of your original songs. Are you still writing music? And will there ever be (or has there been) a Troubadour CD or iTunes album?
RG: I continue to write songs when the inspiration hits me. In March of this year at a St. Patrick’s Day gig, I premiered one entitled “Justice Can Be Kind”, a Celtic inspiration which I penned on the back of a napkin in a local restaurant! I have never aspired to be a serious songwriter but have written several dozen tunes in the past five-plus decades. Some of my songs are recorded but have never found their way onto a CD or an online collection. As a busy attorney, I must schedule every moment carefully for efficiency and life balance. Sometimes, the music life must be sacrificed for family or work. Some who attend my performances ask me about a CD, and I truly appreciate their interest. It may be a while until it happens, but this Troubadour never says never! 😊
SF: Who are some of your favorite musicians, and are there any who have particularly influenced your style?
RG: Too many to mention. My influences cover myriad genres, and I find someone and something in every age of music to love and admire. Everything from symphonic, classical, roots and country to blues, jazz, rock and rap hold some sway with me and my love of beautiful, meaningful noise. Note after lush note, phrase after melodic phrase. Poetic lyrics and moving tempos. Incredible musicians and great composers. I am a sucker for sound. My style could best be described as folk-rocky and country-bluesy. I am just a guitar player, not a musician. My strong suit, if I have one, is my singing voice. It covers all the guitar mistakes!
SF: How about actors: are there any actors whom you especially admire and have influenced your own approach to performing?
RG: In short, yes. There are notable stage actors, notable musical actors and notable film actors. And I do not disrespect excellent voice-over actors either! The very rare actor is talented enough to perform well in all of those media. Having worked in all of them, I have my favorites whom I love to watch or listen to. And they are not all famous. Some are men and women whom I’ve watched and/or worked with locally. The Upper Ohio Valley, including Weirton’s own Striplight Theatre, is blessed with incredibly talented, powerful actors who could succeed on any big-city stage or in the movies. You notice I didn’t name anyone? That was on purpose. 😊
SF: Is there a location where people can regularly catch your musical performances? And when is your next stage performance?
RG: For most of the year, my music gigs are in really cool bars and restaurants in the Wheeling-St. Clairsville area. I sometimes perform at Undo’s Ristorante in Weirton, a favorite spot of mine, but that only books once or twice per year. I play at outdoor events and fairs in the warm-weather months. Private parties are a particular love of mine due to the intimacy and the elbow room such a venue gives me for creativity in a set. If your readers are on Facebook, my musician page is R.J. Gaudio – Troubadour and has all the information for my upcoming appearances. Apart from my voice-actor work with the Wayward Saints and our regular live-radio productions with Cloak & Dagger On The Air, I am not cast in any plays at the moment. I have my eye on a role in an upcoming production at Wheeling’s Towngate Theatre, however. The play is called “The Book of Will” and it takes place in London a few years after William Shakespeare’s death. Stay tuned!
SF: Is there anything else that you’d like readers to know?
RG: I am a longtime public defender in Ohio County, West Virginia, and love my work as a criminal-defense attorney. My two oldest children, Nathan and Elizabeth, are married and have given us three grandchildren – Lucas Michael Dunn (4), Izabelle Rain Gaudio (2) and Arianna Rose Dunn (20 months). Nathan and his wife, Amanda, will bring us another granddaughter in a few weeks who shall be named Adeline Snow Gaudio [Editor’s note: Adeline has arrived! Congratulations to the Gaudio family!]. My wife, Clare McDonald, is an English artist who paints, draws and acts in local theater productions, including the Cloak & Dagger On The Air shows. She is an occupational therapist at Wheeling Hospital. Our son, David Gaudio, is an actor and singer who also takes part in the Cloak & Dagger radio plays. David is studying for an education degree to teach English and Theater in secondary school. All in all, I am blessed with good health, a loving family, an important job and talent enough to entertain the people with music and theater. If that isn’t great, what is?