Up Next: Live & Unlocked

Looking for a fun way to share a Monday evening together while imagining what society’s technological future holds?

Me, too!

You’re in luck because on Monday, July 25th at 7PM, upstairs at the Waldmann Brewery in Saint Paul, Bad Mouth Theatre Company’s Live & Unlocked Series is reading Deborah Yarchun’s latest work: Atlas, The Lonely Gibbon.

(This spring and early summer Bad Mouth and I attempted to collaborate on two different scripts, but our schedules wouldn’t align. So now I’m extra excited to (finally) be collaborating with them and I hope YOU come!)

Curious about the show? Here’s a synopsis:

ATLAS, THE LONELY GIBBON is a dark comedic thriller set in the future.

Irene, a 28-year-old journalist, has recently had her job downgraded to editing AI (Artificial Intelligence)-generated articles. Her husband, David, is a cybercrime journalist, a niche that has kept him employed in a dying journalism field.

Irene becomes alienated by technologies he introduces into their home for work that possess a sometimes comforting, but creepy and increasingly dangerous presence. Because of David’s job, their apartment is targeted by hackers and their everyday household appliances (all connected to the internet) have been turning on them. This is particularly challenging for Irene, because she now works from home.

To cope with her challenging marriage and increasingly threatening space, Irene fixates on a VR (virtual reality) show about an isolated ape at a monkey sanctuary. David introduces a set of lifelike bionic arms into their home and Irene’s world is shaken when the arms take on a life of their own; instead of calling her husband, she begins a new type of relationship.

ATLAS, THE LONELY GIBBON explores where we’re heading as a society and the complex benefits and destructive possibilities of a fully wired world.

New Play Exchange

While reading the show, there are a handful of moments I gasped at what was happening… This award-winning script pulled me in and I imagine it’ll do the same for you.

Readings are free with a $10 recommended donation. Space is limited to 25 guaranteed seats per reading, so I suggest an early RSVP. In addition to supporting the artistic company, consider grabbing a pint or two from Waldmann (they have tasty bites).

If you want to be there, but aren’t able to make it work? One of the neat things Bad Mouth Theatre Company does with each presentation is record it to be shared online later. They have a podcast and everything! (You can subscribe via Apple Podcasts or Spotify.)

Hope to see you there!


WHO: Bad Mouth Theatre Company

WHAT: Live & Unlocked Series: Atlas, The Lonely Gibbon

WHERE: Waldmann Brewery (upstairs) @ 445 Smith Ave N, St Paul, MN 55102

WHEN: 7PM on Monday, July 25

COST: FREE – $10 Suggested Donation

RSVP TODAY

Up Next: Chicken Hat Plays

Perhaps you don’t know this about me, but one of my absolute favorite creative endeavors is Rubber Chicken Theater’s Chicken Hat Plays!

What are the Chicken Hat Plays?

Tonight (Friday, June 10) a bunch of community-sourced prompts are put into the hats: a who, a what, and a where. A handful of writers randomly pull prompts and then go off to write a ten-minute script incorporating those prompts.

Tomorrow (Saturday, June 11) a bunch of actors and directors meet at 8AM. Then the director’s names are pulled out of hats to direct each piece and then the cast is created the same by — pulling names out of a hat.

It’s the most random fantastic collaboration explosion of awesome. Please come. Join us. Witness all the zany fun!

Eight writers.

Eight directors.

A whole bunch of actors.

Eight world-premiere plays in 24 hours.

These plays don’t exist now, but you can be in the room when they’re born on June 11!

When are the Chicken Hat Plays?

Tomorrow night — Saturday, June 11, at 7:30PM at The Undergroundwear a face mask.

Cost? $20.

Get Tickets Here

Up Next: Regional Premiere of All American Boys

I’m excited to announce being cast in the regional premiere of All American Boys presented by Stages Theatre Company and the Capri Theatre.

The show follows the lives of two high-school boys, one black and one white, that powerfully intersect after a violent act of racially motivated police brutality.

Unfolding through the boys’ alternating perspectives, the story follows their journey as they grapple with the devastating impact of racism as it reverberates through their families, school and town. Stages Theatre Company and Capri Theater are proud to bring this important play, based on the award-winning book by Brendan Kiely and National Book Award winner and Ambassador of Children’s Literature, Jason Reynolds, to Twin Cities audiences.

This will be my third collaboration with Stages Theatre Company. I am honored to be working with this amazingly talented cast, crew, and creative team.

CONTENT WARNING: Strong Language & Violence will be depicted.
RUN DATES: April 29 – May 22, 2022

LOCATION: The Capri Theater- 2027 West Broadway, Minneapolis, MN 55411

APPROPRIATE AGES: Ages 10+

DURATION: Approx. 80 Minutes.

Buy Tickets to All American Boys

PAY WHAT YOU CAN PERFORMANCE (PWYC): SUN, 5/1/2022 1PM

ASL INTERPRETED PERFORMANCE (ASL) : SAT, 5/7/2022 7PM

AUDIO DESCRIBED PERFORMANCE (AD) : SAT, 5/7/2022 7PM

SENSORY FRIENDLY PERFORMANCE (SF) : SUN, 5/8/2022 1PM

A Regret I Learned From

In the spring of 2016 I was booked with The Theater of Public Policy to perform for a few days in Grand Marais. Not only would T2P2 be performing, but we’d also be teaching improv workshops for high schoolers.

I was pumped! I’d get to perform … I’d get to hang out on the north shore … I’d get to teach … There were so many things I was excited about with this gig.

Then my agent called.

I got booked as a model for a national brand for an out-of-town shoot happening during the same time.

I shook a proverbial fist toward the heavens, “You think you’re so funny, don’t you Universe!”

The shoot was for the Timberland Pro Series.

I took the gig and I’ve regretted it since.

At the time my head was swimming with the idea of increased exposure naturally leading to more national work and bigger pay checks.

But. That. Didn’t. Happen.

These are the only images I appeared in:

Timberland PRO #Workwear. Comfort, Durability and Performance.

A post shared by Timberland PRO (@timberlandpro) on

Perhaps this is why my ‘star stock’ didn’t skyrocket.

The worst part of the entire experience wasn’t that more national brands weren’t calling. No, that’s silly.

The worst part of the experience was backing out of the gig with T2P2. This put them in a bind and they didn’t need that. If I had a time machine I’d go back to right a lot of wrongs. This is one of them.

Hindsight being what it is though I’m glad I know now what I should’ve known then.

Claas Jaguar Forage Harvester

In early September* I worked on this video for Claas’ new Jaguar Forage Harvester. The video was shown at the product’s unveiling in Germany sometime in October 2016.

THIS SHOOT WAS A BLAST! MY ABSOLUTE FAVORITE SHOOT EVER**!

Scroll through some of the tweets and pictures below to learn why. Enjoy!


 

How many crew fit in the tractor’s cab?

At least four. Probably six.

 

Me After Driving Tractor

Thanks to Dominik Grothe at CLAAS for making it happen!


* = I would’ve posted all of this sooner, but I’ve been dealing with some personal issues. What issues, you ask? Stay tuned. At the end of next week in my annual year-end letter I’ll reveal more.

** = Aside from whatever projects with Matt, Alex, Ryan, & Dom. I love you, gentlemen.

Fort Wilson Riot’s “City of Eyes”

This spring I worked on a music video for Minneapolis-based avant pop duo Fort Wilson Riot.

When I got the call I was pumped!

Not only would I get to work with a group of musicians I’ve admired for years, but I’d be partnering up with my friends* at Bromide Films.

I couldn’t say no!

Then I learned I’d be playing a cat/man. Meow we’re talking!

Here’s some of what happened on set:

The shoot only took a few days, but those days were spread out over a handful of months due to competing schedules.

You can learn more about the new video and Fort Wilson Riot’s new album in this conversation with 96.3’s Barb Abney. Listen to the entire conversation, jump to 13:02 for specifics, or read below for the kind words FWR’s Jacob Mullis shared about working together…

“The guy that played the cat was hilarious. I wish there was a whole outtakes thing of him where you could hear what he was saying because he’s just hilarious. It was impossible to keep a straight face!” –Jacob Mullis, Fort Wilson Riot

*blush*

I love you, too, Jacob! Click here to watch the video.

Then take a listen to Fort Wilson Riot’s new album below. Click here to buy.


* = It was 2008 when I met Dom & Alex. Our friendship/professional relationship started when I lost my “real job.” What a blessing!

Losing Job Led To First Film

Eight years ago I lived a real cubicle lifestyle.

It was a real job. I had a real boss. I was making real money and had real paid-time-off.

So I bought a real condo, took on real debt, and was a real adult.

Then in the fall of 2008 the mortgage industry — my industry — started hemorrhaging employees. Hundreds of thousands of people were out of work through no fault of their own. I was laid off along with all of my other co-workers. Our office building became a graveyard.

I did exactly what I thought Society demanded and was caught in the crossfire. Rightfully, I was angry.

Getting laid-off did teach me, however, that there are no safe jobs. Everyone is disposable and replaceable. (That’s a lot of black/white thinking, I know!)

That’s when I decided to pursue acting. I knew the statistics. I knew it’d be tough. But really, at that point in my life: how could pursuing a dream be any more risky than not pursuing a dream to work a 9-to-5?

It was two weeks after my last day in corporate America when I started working in front of the camera.

Not only did I not know how to act on camera (you’ll see), I also didn’t know how pursuing acting could bring so many talented amazing people into my life…

Like the students at MCTC who directed/shot/edited this first film in November 2008.

MCTC film, To Rest In Peace Our last shot together

In the many years since, I’ve worked with these folks repeatedly. From independent shorts, full lengths, music videos, and commercials — we keep running into each other and working together.

I love these guys. Especially Alex, Biruk, Matt, Muluken, and Ryan. They make everything fun. The conversations and experiences we’ve shared over the years have shaped me into the man I am today. I am forever grateful to them…

And it all started with this short film.

Why We Must Understand Before We Judge

mental-health-disorders
This is what my head looks like during training.

Today I’m in Hinkley, Minnesota, at Grand Casino with the Barbara Schneider Foundation’s Mental Health Crisis Response Institute for the Mid-America Regional Conference of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators performing in verbal de-escalation (CIT) training scenarios.

Yeah, it’s a mouthful so I’ll keep this short appropriately-long.

However, if you want to learn more about what CIT training is click here to read a very dry explanation.

Or simply read on: it’ll be more interesting.

Okay, so one component of CIT training is live role-playing exercises.

You guessed it, that’s where I come in.

Actors receive a real* scenario of an individual. And the scenario is just that: a general outline stating what’s happening with the character.

For instance, today I’m playing a bipolar character who’s creating a disturbance on a city street. That’s my scenario.

In the past I’ve portrayed individuals experiencing:

  • hyper-vigilance
  • delusions
  • hallucinations
  • aggression

  • irritability
  • anger
  • anxiety
  • paranoia

  • depression
  • suicidal ideation
  • PTSD
  • drug withdrawal

  • drug dependency
  • med withdrawal
  • alcoholism
  • self-mutilation

hello my name is mental illness
Because mental health crises are exhausting, so too is portraying an individual in crisis.

How do I prepare? Plenty of water, a big breakfast, and more details to be shared for another day.

Regardless of how exhausting playing someone with mental illness is, the job is still Acting 101:

  • Develop a backstory/flesh the character out
  • Present signs & symptoms (emotional/psychological/behavioral) accurately
  • Be as realistic as possible.

Oftentimes “realistically as possible” involves saying mean things at whomever is trying de-escalate the situation. Which, periodically, leads the participants in the room to comment on what an asshole I am…

…and this mindset occasionally leads the participant to “poke the bear” and do something like this:

And when the participants say or do things that make the situation worse: things escalate. Any trust or rapport is washed away and the character reacts accordingly. It’s not** pleasant to sting the participants, but it’s what I’m trained to do.

What got me thinking about this was last week’s training with the Minneapolis Police Department. In the scenario my character was hyper-vigilant with no prior mental health diagnosis and for no apparent reason.

When the coach asked participants what they thought was going on with the character a number of them responded, “Nothing. He’s just an asshole. He’s a prick who hates cops.”

Now during the first few years part of me took those comments personally, the other half took them as compliments. As I’ve gotten more experienced as a crisis actor/teacher/trainer, it doesn’t bother me if they call my character an asshole.

What bothers me is if they’re not asking why the character is behaving like an asshole. What’s really going on with this person? And in order for that process to happen participants need to defer judgement.

Unfortunately, deferring judgement is hard and judging is easy. Heck, judging can even be fun! That’s why Katie and I watch The Bachelor! (You were so enjoyable to judge, Olivia!)


via GIPHY

For a small number of participants the judgement process happens long before they even enter the classroom! They’ve already decided crisis intervention team/de-escalation training is a joke. Or that CIT training takes away the ability for them to do their job.

What I wish those officers realize is that CIT training adds another tool to their belt. If that’s their mindset they’re able to participate in the process instead of judge*** it.

I’d be lying if I said I don’t get it though.

In high school I thought Mr. Rosholt’s**** Algebra II class was a complete waste of time. Because I decided imaginary numbers were useless and not relevant to actors, I didn’t learn anything.

Hence: why I don’t understand algebra.

It’s a negative self-fulfilling prophecy. Thanks to a poor attitude learning and skill building are next to impossible. But I digress…

a-empathy-words

All the clues and hints my character was dropping for the MPD weren’t picked up on because the officers passed judgement. In 60 seconds they decided I’m not a threat to myself or others, but I am an asshole.

And I don’t blame police officers for rushing to judgement; cops got a lot on their plate! Police officers work in a high-stress life-threatening environment everyday. Now add public scrutiny to the mix and thrust them into no-win scenarios*****. How do you think you’d do as a police officer?

With that said, I do expect more from law enforcement. Police officers are Society’s guardians. They have great power and a responsibility to use that power appropriately.

Yes, they’re human and make mistakes; but it’s also why this training is so imperative. To reduce those mistakes and connect on a compassionate a human level******.

As an actor in the scenario, I know how the character is behaving like an asshole. However, I know something the participants don’t know…yet. (Most actors already know the following.)

Each of my characters has either: some thing that incited the incident causing the character pain OR a very clear, relatable, human quality participants (and myself) will be compelled to empathize with.

It’s the payoff in the scene.

Usually — and especially last week with the Minneapolis PD — the “reveal” changes everyone’s perspective on the character.

And it happened last week. You could feel the energy in the room change. The character wasn’t just some asshole anymore.

It only happened though after the trust was built and a rapport was established. That’s when the character opened up. The officer(s) in the scene was quiet. He listened. He gave space for the character to speak.

We learned why the character was doing what he was doing. Why he was hyper-vigilant. Why he felt shame. Why he was taking it out on himself.

That’s when “the asshole” became a human being again. That’s why we must understand before we judge.

The character was de-escalated. The scenario was over.

And I was exhausted.


At the end of particularly difficult scenarios I like to say two things: “I’m sorry. And. Thank you.”

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry for all the swearing and yelling my character did. I’m sorry for the horrible things my character said and that you had to listen to. I’m sorry if something the character said upset you. I’m sorry if things got too real. I’m sorry you have to regularly see the worst of society.

And.

Thank you.

Thank you for being here. Thank you for actively participating in the process. Thank you for trying something new and difficult and different. Thank you for being vulnerable. Thank you for taking all you’ve learned and applying it in the field. Thank you for taking care of the people who cross your path. Thank you for potentially one day helping one of my friends or family in crisis. Thank you for your strength and courage. Thank you for the work you do.

From the bottom of my heart.

Michael


* = I’m not sure what kind of scenarios other CIT training companies provide their actors. With exception given to clients requesting customized scenarios, all of the scenarios the Barbara Schneider Foundation’s Mental Health Crisis Response Institute employs are based on actual events and real people.

** = Okay, sometimes it’s pleasant.

*** = Judging is easier than allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

**** = Mr. Rosholt, if you’re reading this, I still believe imaginary numbers are completely useless to me professionally. However, as I’m using imaginary numbers in the example above, let’s call it a draw. Thanks for arguing with me in class and your passion for mathematics. If neither of us were so passionate in our beliefs, I doubt I would’ve remembered the exchange. Thanks again, Mr. Rosholt.

***** = More on why this is true next week.

****** = If there are any officers or skeptics reading, please know the number one concern in CIT training is officer safety. Don’t allow flowery language to dilute the importance of this training. (I also know that the longer you’re on the job the more likely you’ll encounter the worst of humanity. Thank you for the work you do, the things you’re brave enough to encounter and endure, and the burdens you bear. I mean no disrespect when I remind you: mental health crises and mental illness aren’t crimes. Individuals in crisis and those living with mental illness deserve and need the compassionate help of Society’s guardians. We put our faith in you.)

38 Insights I Learned Touring with NTC

NTC OfficesIn September 2011 I left on my first tour with the National Theater for Children. At the time I was writing a blog post about all the things I was learning on the road. For some reason I never got around to publishing it.

Late’s better than never, right?

Special shoutout to rockstar tour partners John Potter and Tony Milder for their support, patience, understanding, trust, and love. Additionally, much love and respect to Rebecca and Andy for the adventures we shared collectively!

Here’s what I learned on the road for future NTC touring actors.


  1. Pace yourself.
  2. http://michaelvenske.tumblr.com/post/10037379996/tour-destinations-88-schools-135-performances


  3. Kids are everywhere, Behave.
  4. Compliments come in many forms.
  5. But remember: Haters Gotta Hate.
  6. …So Review your script.
  7. Stay loose.
  8. Elementary school bathrooms are disasters. Pee-pare to be disgusted.
  9. http://michaelvenske.tumblr.com/post/9479000647/do-you-have-problems-with-odor-then-consider-this

  10. You’ll usually park next to a dumpster leaking spoiled milk.
  11. You’ll fight with your tour partner.
  12. Take risks.
  13. http://michaelvenske.tumblr.com/post/18190714361/remember-to-play-hard-leads-to-great-stories

  14. Buy postcards. Then send ’em.
  15. http://michaelvenske.tumblr.com/post/16534800962/oh-the-places-youll-go

  16. Stay active.
  17. http://michaelvenske.tumblr.com/post/16978316312/no-membership-fee-or-hidden-costs

  18. Stay hydrated.
  19. Sightsee.
  20. IMG_4193-001

  21. Earn & thank the fans.
  22. Learn something new everyday.
  23. Get your hotel lined-up early.
  24. Everything is negotiable.
  25. Tour under-budget & negotiate a higher contract next time.
  26. Bring business cards. If a staff member at the school is taking pictures easily request a copy & you could even get yourself a new agent…
  27. IMG_0989_NTC

  28. Meet up with other tours.
  29. IMG_0374_NTC_Rebecca_Andy


    IMG_4826-001

  30. Bring your own supplies.
  31. Share duties.
  32. Know car basics.
  33. 405413958

  34. Take lots of pictures.
  35. Be yourself.
  36. Support your tour partner.
  37. Eat healthy.
  38. http://michaelvenske.tumblr.com/post/19204913091/the-most-difficult-decision-of-my-day-taken-with

  39. Discover local gems…
  40. http://michaelvenske.tumblr.com/post/10777123112/seriously-the-best-in-town-im-on-my-way

  41. …including the locals!
  42. IMG_9781_Friends_NTC

  43. Try new things…
  44. http://michaelvenske.tumblr.com/post/12100425241/perhaps-youve-been-doing-it-wrong

  45. …including: dating the locals!
  46. http://michaelvenske.tumblr.com/post/18518207094/an-example-of-my-past-relationships-taken-with

  47. Patience: learn & practice.
  48. http://michaelvenske.tumblr.com/post/18191572825/quiz-if-the-wait-at-starbucks-is-9-minutes-and

  49. Costumes need to be washed more often than you think.
  50. http://michaelvenske.tumblr.com/post/11841964446/washland-taken-with-instagram

  51. Love the clothes you bring.
  52. My favorite sweater is a hand-me-down from my old man.
    My favorite sweater is a hand-me-down from my old man.

  53. Stay in touch with loved ones.
  54. http://michaelvenske.tumblr.com/post/19128121022/cheers-to-friends-family-both-here-hereafter

  55. Be grateful.
  56. THANK YOU CARD 2

    THANK YOU CARD 4

    THANK YOU CARD 6

    THANK YOU CARD 10

    THANK YOU CARD 11

  57. Rejoice! You’re living the dream!
  58. http://michaelvenske.tumblr.com/post/16925504288/hi-from-gumby-2-ntcactorsontour-taken-with

What have you learned while touring? Please leave a comment!

Reflecting on The (Alzheimer’s) Remember Project

The Remember ProjectIn late November The Remember Project, a series of three one-acts touring through the St. Croix Valley, came to end.

At the table-read in early August I was excited, but terribly afraid of this project! Combine a lack of understanding about Alzheimer’s disease, the general fear of communicating with people suffering from memory issues and you have a pretty good picture of where I was coming from.

However, I knew that by using theatre to educate audiences about memory loss we could reduce the stigma associated with Alzheimer’s disease and help communities be more dementia friendly. In short: make the world a better place.

The Remember Project was a transformative experience, unlike any other show I’d ever been involved. Not only were these one-acts relevant to the communities we toured through, but after every performance the cast and audience engaged in a facilitated conversation to more deeply understand dementia.

The audience — otherwise complete strangers — shared beautifully heartbreaking stories about caregiving for loved ones and the struggles accompanying this terrible disease.

Conversations weren’t always easy because society sees vulnerability as weakness. The stoic men in the audience experienced the toughest time. We did our best to create a safe space to share openly. Soon big tough guys started talking about their fathers/brothers/mothers/sisters/wives — perhaps for the first time — and cried. This project offered some catharsis.

I think the project also shifted the audience’s preconceived notions about what theatre is.

We performed on chancels in churches, nursing homes, libraries, a barn, and hospitals. We didn’t have a stage, curtains, light cues, or any other kind of barrier separating the audience from actors. Everyone shared the space.

Denise & Jim
Denise & Jim

Each venue offered a new set of challenges for the business of entering, exiting, and blocking. I think this helped add spontaneity and upped the risk factor or raised the stakes, somehow.

There’s immediacy with theatre. Somehow The Remember Project carried more. It was gritty and answered questions in ways the audience hadn’t seen before. These shows affected them. And me.

Participating in The Remember Project was an honor.

Of course, the amazing thing about live theatre is that things go wrong! The Remember Project wasn’t without it’s hiccups…

 

But…

 

I do have three wishes.

  1. Younger* audience members. Because those are the future caregivers for a society which is seeing exponential increases in new Alzheimer’s diagnoses.
  2. More social media involvement to further engage with audience members to direct them toward resources and support groups.
  3. To keep doing this work.

The Remember Project — and all the people it touched — spoke to my heart, lifted me up, and took away the fear I had about dementia and for that I am so very grateful.

Kris, Jim, Andrew, Heidi, & Michael
Kris, Jim, Andrew, Heidi, & Michael

Our director, Matt, helped bring the best out of each actor in every show. Our tour manager, Kris, kept everyone sane even as the schedule became more insane. The acting company — Jim, Andrew, Heidi, Denise, and Charles — were patient and fun and kept things light when they were heavy. Everyone listened to me vent about the wacky goings-on in my personal life and without their love or support the project wouldn’t have worked. I’m so grateful to have worked with these kind, talented individuals. I’m grateful they’re now part of my stage family.

The Remember Project had a bittersweet end. The day after the last performance I accompanied my ex-wife and her family to the internment and memorial service for her aunt, Mary, who suffered with Alzheimer’s and died because of Alzheimer’s.

There is no medical cure for Alzheimer’s, but I learned compassionate caregiving comes close.

Thank you for the experience, St. Croix Valley Foundation!


* = During the entire run of the show I’d been praying for younger audience members. Suddenly — as often happens with prayer — it was answered!

 

 

Best Buy – Help Center – 7 Spots

These spots were a follow up to the #WinTheHolidays spots shot in mid-October 2015.

Another cool fact about them?

All of these spots were improvised. No script!

Then the clips were edited and uploaded same-day to Best Buy’s Twitter account for their #WinTheHolidays campaign.

Pretty sweet… It’s like living in the future!





Thanks for watching!

Up Next: The Remember Project

ON THE ROAD AGAIN

Remember-Logo-Final-300x300I’m excited to announce I’ll be touring this fall throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin with The Remember Project!

The Remember Project is a pilot program from the St. Croix Valley Foundation intended to stimulate a community conversation around Alzheimer’s disease by presenting The MemoryCare Plays.

The MemoryCare Plays consist of three one-acts: Steering Into the Skid, by Arnold Johnston and Deborah Ann Percy; Riding the Waves, by L.E. Grabowski-Cotton; and Matthew Widman’s In the Garden.

Matt Sciple is directing the three shows. Stage management by Kristin Detailleur. Denise Baker, Heidi Fellner, Charles Numrich, Jim Pounds, Andrew E Wheeler and I comprise the acting company.

In addition to performing in In The Garden and understudying Riding the Waves, I’ll be facilitating conversations about how our communities can become more dementia-friendly.

Check out the events page for performance locations, dates, and times. More information will be added as it becomes available.

Taken on 8/7 before the company read-thru for The Remember Project.
Taken on 8/7 before the company read-thru for The Remember Project. @michaelvenske via Instagram

Below you can learn more about The Remember Project & The MemoryCare Plays.

The rehearsal process starts this week and I can’t wait!

More info as it happens!

Thanks for reading, friends!

(If you’re a member of my email newsletter, you’ve known this since early July. If you’re not, sign-up now!)

6 Things That Happen When You Do What You Love

BACKSTORY


Something Something Juliet
In November I was asked to help with the school’s Christmas pageant on December 24th. Each grade, sixth through eighth, would present two 10-minute plays: one in Chinese, the other in English.

Sixth graders were doing a scene from Pride and Prejudice, seventh graders were rocking Hamlet, and eighth grade wanted to do a comedy. They also wanted the comedy to be Romeo and Juliet.

Huh.

As you may have guessed I was unable to find comedy gold in Shakespeare’s tragedy. Instead I wrote a short about a group of eighth graders rehearsing R & J for the first time, specifically the balcony scene. The short featured a Romeo completely unfamiliar with the play, a Juliet uninterested in Romeo, miscast understudies, an overbearing director, and a stage manager close to a nervous breakdown.

Maybe a week or two before the performance the eighth grader playing the director decided the play wasn’t for him. This happened the same day our play needed to be previewed for the leaders of the school. With no student familiar with the part I jumped at the opportunity to be an over-the-top overbearing director!

The reason I’m telling you this so late after the fact is because last week I was trolling the school’s website and found this article about the Christmas pageant performances. (You can use Google Chrome to translate their site for free.)

Unbeknownst to me the short play I wrote, “Something Something Juliet,” won two awards: best performance and most creative. Three of the students in the play won awards for being the best and outstanding actors. I won a “best actor” award too!

Teacher Michael personally appeared in “Something Something Juliet,” winning the scene bursts of applause.

Throughout the rehearsal process an increase in hours were spent at school working on each play. The casts would meet over lunch and we’d run their show. We’d meet before dinner and run their show. We’d walk through it, run it, and run it again. The students worked really hard!

Though the other teachers worried I was working too hard without much rest or an increase in compensation. What I had to continually explain to my Chinese friends was:

WHEN YOU DO WHAT YOU LOVE…

  1. Money doesn’t matter
  2. Awards don’t matter
  3. It’s invigorating
  4. Time always passes quickly
  5. Excitement is contagious
  6. It never feels like work

Whenever I return to the United States I’m going to focus more on the above. Not just these six things, but continuing to work with kids on stage. The process of developing new work collaboratively with student actors rocks!

What is it that you love? What are you pretty damn great at?

How to Break Bones Acting

left hand x-rayDuring filming of “Marathon Man,” Sir Laurence Olivier noticed young Strasbergian Method actor Dustin Hoffman looking less than stellar and asked why. Hoffman said he stayed up all night because his character stays up all night.

Laurence Olivier replied in jest,

“Why not try acting? It’s much easier!”


BREAK BONES IN 2 EASY STEPS!

1) Commit to character.
2) Play the scene.

The highlight of the whole experience has been answering the same question hundreds of times: “How’d you break your hand?”

“By punching a wall in jail.”

The reactions are priceless.

BACKSTORY

Bone broken by actingAt the beginning of April, two weeks after returning from a successful tour with the National Theatre for Children, I was downtown Minneapolis at the Hennepin County Jail acting in deescalation training scenarios for the Barbara Schneider Foundation. It was the second day of training and on this particular day I was playing a bipolar man wielding a weapon (a pen) in the middle of a manic episode.

The goal of the scenario is for the participating nurses and sheriff’s deputies to use active listening skills to deescalate the situation, calm the inmate/patient, obtain a potential diagnosis to better treat the inmate/patient all while assessing safety concerns for the individual in crisis and the nurses/deputies.

If the participants in the scenario are doing well the actor will calm down and the scenario will reach it’s natural successful conclusion. However, if the participants in the scenario aren’t taking the role-play seriously and are indifferent, argumentative, confrontational, not listening and/or their body language is standoffish the actor escalates the scenario.

In this scenario the goal is to deescalate and get the inmate to relinquish the weapon. However, both deputies in the scenario escalated the scene. My character became agitated, suspicious, and felt like these two deputies were closing in on him.

The only way the character could maintain a feeling of dominance in the scene was to demonstrate how serious he was about wanting to be left alone. The character screamed at the deputies and with the adrenaline of the moment surging through his veins full-force punched a brick wall crushing the fifth metatarsal in his hand.

When the training day was over, I noticed my left hand had swollen up so incredibly I couldn’t put my bicycling gloves on. Rather than seek medical attention at an emergency room, which I should’ve done, I went to my favorite watering hole to visit Dr. McGillicuddy hoping to be prescribed a cure for what ailed me.

It wasn’t until the next day at Young Actors Theater Company when my co-worker Shelley said I had to go to the hospital. And that she was taking me. She and I spent the next five hours at HCMC’s emergency room. Because, yep — I broke my hand.

As much as breaking my hand sucked I’m proud of my commitment to character. Also, I’ve never participated in a fight or considered myself a violent person, but I can’t help feel a little “tougher” after this experience.

As dorky as this sounds, I’ve never had a cast or a broken bone, so the following are images documenting the experience. Some of these images are gross. Just FYI.

Bruised and broken Bruised and broken Bruised and broken

During my recovery I pondered: if you’re not suffering for your art, is it art? Are you an artist if you haven’t suffered? What do YOU think?

Michael

Minnesota Fringe Festival “Thumbs Up” Audience Reviews

Thumbs Up 4.5 Stars
Minnesota Fringe Festival audience reviews for “Thumbs Up” give the show an average 4.5 out of 5 stars!

Here’s what the audiences are saying…
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“…clever! Wonderful writing. Great show!” -Jane Pena

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“Funny, high energy…” -Frederick Melo

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“Fast-paced, well-rehearsed… This guy has a bright future ahead of him.” -Publius McGee

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“…inventive and funny.” -Cato Brutus

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“Polished, funny, endearing, and poignant.” -Krystal McKay

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“…ranging in tender, heartfelt moments to down right laugh out loud funny.” -John Potter

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“About two-thirds of the way through this show I realized my face hurt from laughing so much!” -Ellen Anderson

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“…well acted with dialogue that was funny and sentimental.” -Shannon Hunter

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“An entertaining script, brought to life. Transitions are wonderful and don’t miss the dancing!” -Maureen Anderson

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“…exceptionally well acted with interesting characters, a timely theme and a well constructed plot line.” -Janis Emily Peabody

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“…heartfelt, yet not too sappy, and interjected with great one-liners.” -Ashley Wurster

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DC Theatre Scene “Thumbs Up” Review

…it is Minneapolis-based Venske’s acting that anchors the piece solidly…Venske attacks with enthusiasm…left the audience in stitches…Venske is at his best, unafraid to bust a move or pull out a silly dialect. His intensity is impressive…he doesn’t disappoint…enjoyable experience from beginning to end…

-Julia Katz, DC Theatre Scene

Working With Children In Theater Matters

Chicago Avenue Project, Pillsbury House Theatre, Minneapolis, 2012.
Chicago Avenue Project, Pillsbury House Theatre, Minneapolis, 2012.

Working with children is like doing drugs. You can become addicted. Caution should be exercised. Not everyone should do it. Best to hang on loosely and enjoy the ride.

This spring It’s Raining Cats and Dogs, played at Pillsbury House Theatre as part of their Chicago Avenue Project. The Chicago Avenue Project — CAP — brings neighborhood kids and a bunch of professional playwrights, directors and actors together to create and perform in their own plays. All performances are free and open the public. Cookies and milk are served after the show.

My eight year-old scene partner, Gabe, was making his debut performance in CAP.

Think back to being an eight-year-old. You go to school all day to learn new things about the world, yourself, and the people around you. Then you go home and try to let your brain rest with coloring books, video games, playing outside.

Not if you’re a young actor though. After school you come to rehearsal and use your brain a whole bunch more!

You have to do things you wouldn’t normally do like read sentences aloud — loudly — from a script. You have to say the words a certain way and in a certain order. And if that’s not enough, you’ve got to use your body to move at specific times to specific places in a space that only exists on paper.

Rehearsal with young actors is an exercise in patience. At times, the rehearsal process will be frustrating and unproductive. On bad days you’ll hear phrases like “I don’t wanna,” “I hate this,” “I don’t wanna do the play!” On good days you’ll run the script a few times without a single complaint and leave thinking, “This kid’s a brilliant powerhouse!”

Remember though children and artists have a lot in common. They’re both moody and emotional and irrational and inspiring and creative and can take your breath away without trying.

During a rehearsal that was sliding from productive to difficult our director reiterated to Gabe how great the scene is when you’re acting.

Gabe replied, “I wasn’t acting. I was being.”

He’s eight and just simplified one of Sanford Meisner’s most quoted quotes!

Despite participating in Bye Bye Liver: The Twin Cities Drinking Play I’ve never performed intoxicated; yet, sometimes onstage with an inexperienced cast that’s how it feels. You’re not entirely sure where you’re at in the scene or what’s happening next.

Remember the basics: connect, project, move the story along, have fun, make the scene enjoyable.

On the night of our first performance my costar and I stood backstage seconds before the lights were set to go up.

With a contagious panic rising in his voice Gabe kept saying, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this.”

Moving him toward our entrance in the dark the fear surrounding this moment was palpable. Gabe didn’t know it, but his nightmare intertwined with mine. Will we get through it? Will Gabe say his lines? Will I say mine? None of my insecurities mattered though because I was the adult with experience and very aware that my hands were resting on the shoulders of an inexperienced boy who was scared to death to perform in front of a live audience.

Michael Venske in CAP
Like most things in life, it’s never as bad as you fear.

The lights came up and we made our entrance. The audience laughed at the playwright’s jokes. The young actor was the hero in the story. He resolved the conflict and saved the day. The lights went out. The audience cheered. We bowed and fear abated.

Sitting in the lobby together after the show enjoying milk and cookies I asked Gabe, “You know what you did?” He shook his head.

“You conquered your fear. You got over your stage fright!”

Gabe took a moment to consider this fact. Then a wave of pride and accomplishment washed across his face. He sat a bit taller with a smile so wide it looked like it was wrapping around his skull. Finally the weight of the world was off his shoulders.

And that’s the moment I realized what CAP was all about.

Cast, director & playwright for the Chicago Avenue Project, Pillsbury House Theatre, Minneapolis, 2012.
Cast, director & playwright for the Chicago Avenue Project, Pillsbury House Theatre, Minneapolis, 2012.

It wasn’t about the on-stage acting stuff or the parents in the audience. It was about the very real stuff that happens off-stage in the hearts and minds of those young participants.

The Chicago Avenue Project attempts to help kids by empowering them to realize their own potential. To appreciate themselves. To take risks. To be proud of what they’ve accomplished. To be able to stand in front of the audience with gratitude and pride and acknowledge that they’ve done great work.

And you can see it on their beaming faces thank you for accepting me as I am. Thank you for encouraging me. Thank you for holding me up. Thank you for celebrating my success.

Working with children is a transformative experience. You’re forced to be on your best behavior in thought, word, and deed to set a good example for the sponge-like minds of your cast mates. And on a grander scale, I think it helps make the world a nicer place to play pretend.

Live Event Hosting: Securian Financial Group

Securian Financial Group tapped me for their all-company meeting to appear as “Rick Clark” the host of Securian Bandstand. In addition to 2,400 Securian employees at St. Paul’s River Centre the event was also streamed around the world for employees unable to attend.

Touring with the National Theatre for Children

A month ago my first tour experience with the National Theatre for Children came to an end. In the time I’ve been back in the Twin Cities there are two questions I’m asked a lot:

How was the tour? How does it feel to be home?

To be succinct: “Good. Weird.”

As part of NTC’s tour wrap-up process the actors are asked to complete a survey. For 30 days I’ve been reflecting on the tour and how to thoughtfully answer their survey. Now that I’ve submitted the survey I feel okay blogging about the tour in more detail than merely “It was good.” Below are thoughts I’ve been thinking about the tour, how it felt to do the work, and how the tour affected me.
John Potter
First and maybe even most importantly: my tour partner, John Potter, was awesome to work with.

He’s kind, talented, fun, adventurous, and a weight-loss champion! John made the tour a blast from beginning to end!

And we’re proud that we performed every show! We didn’t have any sick days or bad weather. There wasn’t any trouble crossing state lines. And we certainly weren’t going to let a disabled tour vehicle keep us from a 9AM show!

We busted ass on the tour! We took care of our voices, bodies, minds and spirits and showed up to perform every day with passion.

Over the course of 131 performances I got to act, play, and be silly for thousands of kids! These students taught me lessons in listening and patience and kindness and acceptance.

And then there were a handful of kids that are just flat-out courageous inspirations dealing with life the only way they knew how: living.

Michael Facebook

Moments like the above were peppered throughout the tour. Bittersweet, unexpected nuggets of humanity offering a solemn reminder that the happy work we were doing through NTC far exceeded the mission to educate and entertain. Simply, the tour changed my life.

I’m thankful to’ve had the opportunity to tour. I’m thankful to do something I love. I’m thankful for the awesome sense of worth and purpose I received at “work.” I’m thankful “work” means “play.” I’m thankful for the people met and experiences had. I’m thankful for such a wonderful tour partner. I’m thankful to work for such an awesome company. I’m thankful to be able to share these things with you.

In a few weeks I’m going back out on the road with NTC and the tour can’t come soon enough!

Artists: Being Fulfilled Is Your Responsibility

IMG_4135It’s hard to believe we’ve been on tour for two months! It’s even more difficult to believe that we’re only 17 performances/1 week away from the end!

dishBefore leaving on tour my agent Geanette and I sat down for lunch at Mickey’s Diner. I shared with her that I was afraid: maybe I wouldn’t like touring, maybe I’ll get sick of the show.

She smiled and said, “You’ve got to love doing the dishes.”

She elaborated saying cleaning the plates is as much a part of the process as preparing, serving, sharing, and eating. You’ve got to love the whole process!

And her advice helped. It shifted my mindset and got me mentally prepared for 9 weeks in a car with a stranger. With only a week left on the road I will confirm: I love “doing the dishes!”

Thoughts On Fulfillment

Last weekend John and I left mid-Tennessee and headed east to Knoxville. We met up with another NTC tour group, Andy and Rebecca, to celebrate Halloween.

IMG_4826

For two days we did what most actors do when they’re together: talk about the work. Our discussion touched on many issues, but one still stands out: fulfillment as an artist. Some of us weren’t being creatively fulfilled by our shows.

Artists: being fulfilled is your responsibility. This task rests on your shoulders. I can’t tell you what’s going to feed your soul.

The artistic fulfillment discussion reminded me of people who talk about God.

Why?

Because my relationship with God (or the Awesome Energy, Love, Holy WOW!) is extremely personal. It makes me uncomfortable when people presume to tell me what God is/isn’t/should/shouldn’t be.

Find your own definition of God. While you’re at it look for your fulfillment too.

The work we’re doing on the road is important. Maybe that sounds silly if you’ve seen our show or the promo video:

Yes, the script has important lessons on saving energy and how people waste resources.

But even more importantly NTC is presenting work to a group of individuals that have never seen a show before! Most are elementary school students.

For me this is an aspect that makes the work fulfilling. To play a part of someone’s first theatre experience is special.

Andy and Rebecca said their show was geared toward the teachers in the audience. The show was filled with pop-culture references. And that works for their troupe. But they weren’t fulfilled.

John and I approached our show differently. Our show is for the students, not the teachers. Our audience — the folks we’re really playing to — they’re between the ages of four and twelve. Our show is high energy with silly big lovable characters. And we are fulfilled.

Part of the reason John and I are fulfilled is because we understand our audience and play to them. Part of the reason Andy and Rebecca aren’t fulfilled, I presume, is because they’re playing to the adults in the back of the room and ignoring the other 99% of the audience.

“In one sentence, what is all you want to do in life?”

Part of the reason this work is so important for me has to do with my answer to the question:

All I want in life is to be a great daddy, wonderful husband & provide for family by doing what I love while helping make the world better.

I think a part of being a “great daddy” (or mommy) is being an educator. And between the laugh lines, educating is what we’re doing.

After the show we meet our audience. I always ask, “What did you learn today?” Following the student’s answer I ask: “Why is what you learned important?”

Weighty stuff!

If I can see that the student understands the question and is mentally formulating their answer I wait for their response.

I want the students to feel what they say matters. If I’m asking them a question it’s because I genuinely want to know. I want them to learn that their thoughts are important.

There’s a lot of teachers that don’t make the connection between needing to allow time for the student to ponder the question and answer. Teachers need to allow time for a student to gain the confidence to take a risk with the answer and vocalize it. A lot of students are so afraid of being wrong they can’t find the words.

(I’m certain there’s also a lot of teachers that want to take the time, however, can’t afford to do so due to the politics of teaching in the public school system.)

There’s so much more I want to say, but hotel check-out is in two minutes!

If you have 22 minutes, check out this video by Tony Robbins; perhaps it will help you understand why this tour has been so fulfilling.

What do you think?

Feedback: On-Camera Client

“Michael did a superb job, very professional. We were impressed that he could memorize such a dull and corporate content filled script. With his skills and hard work we were ahead of schedule throughout the shoot. Not to mention his performance was in front of the clients (they loved him too)”

-Elijah, Mojo Solo, to my agent, regarding a series of web shorts for Thomson Reuters

Accepted to New York Film Fest!

New York International Independent Film and Video FestivalMatt Joyer’s short film “Someone, Something,” written by Ryan Nichols, has been accepted into the New York International Independent Film and Video Festival! My first film fest!

This is particularly exciting because less than two months ago the film appeared in the Twin Cities Film Festival!

The film will be screened twice, once during the fall of 2010 in Los Angeles and then in the spring of 2011 in New York City.

On Saturday, November 13 in Los Angeles you can see the film at the Culver Plaza Theatre, located across the street from Sony Studios and the Kirk Douglas Theatre at 9919 Washington Boulevard.

If you’re in the LA-area buy tickets and check it out!

Behind-The-Scenes: Mayo Clinic Shoot

Behind-the-scenes of “In The Words of Dr. Will: The Primary Value of Mayo Clinic.”