An Open Letter to 2011

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Dear 2011,

WHAT THE FUCK?!

Did you really need to share so much disappointment, frustration, sadness, shame, loneliness, and embarrassment this year? At least you kept things real and raw.

Congrats on making all the other months seem less terrible by making just this one month — July — so much worse than the rest!

Tom Poole’s accident and subsequent death remains to be the low point, 2011. I miss him. We all do. There’s no way to get around it and not much more to say. Let that be the mark of a life well-lived.

Another relationship that ended unexpectedly in July was the one I was in with my girlfriend, Sarah.

But you weren’t done yet. July just kept getting better…

Like when my home went into foreclosure. Well-played, 2011!

Oh, and special thanks goes out to Wells Fargo. I couldn’t have gone into foreclose without you!

Thanks for taking 7+ months to review the necessary loan documentation to qualify me for the Making Home Affordable program in an attempt to save my home. Thanks for misplacing the files I sent in November 2010 and then waiting until the files were all expired in February 2011 to contact me. Your expeditious handling of my account really helped fuck me. Well done.

However, there are the five things that got me through such a shit year.

  • The love and support of family and friends
  • A new bike that took me over 1,300 miles
  • Getting over my fear of the Unified Theatre Auditions and auditioning!
  • Teaching at Young Actors Theater Company,Harmony Theatre Co. & School, and Public Art St. Paul
  • Touring with the National Theatre for Children

Thank you for the difficult road 99% of us have been traveling on, because this year has certainly made us stronger.

Here’s to never reliving you again.

Michael

2012HNY

Do You Belong Here?

IMG_5018I was raised in Watertown, Minnesota, a small conservative bedroom community 40 minutes west of Minneapolis. I didn’t feel like I fit in. Watertown wasn’t “home.” On my 16th birthday though I received my driver’s license and ventured into “the big city,” Minneapolis.

Minneapolis was my Mecca. There was art and culture! People of different colors and creeds! The city had a pulse and I wanted to be apart of it. When I turned 18 I moved to Minneapolis.

Ten years ago Minneapolis owned my heart.

But that was ten years ago.

After touring things feel different. Weird. Like I have no business being back in Minneapolis. It’s a great city with a lot of awesome people, places, and things, but I can’t wait to leave.

Minneapolis doesn’t feel like home anymore. But neither did Nashville, Memphis, or Louisville.

So. Where am I headed next? Who knows. As far as the Twin Cities are concerned, I’m not sure if I’ll be here a year from now. I don’t know where I’m going, but I know I have nothing keeping me in Minneapolis.

In May, five months before leaving on tour, I wrote a (currently unpublished) blog about the “5 Things I Love About MPLS.” The list: friends & family, Lake of the Isles, art & culture, First Universalist Church, and all the indie bike & coffeeshops.

When I examine the list now I realize friends and family will always be friends and family — regardless of where you happen to be. And sure, Lake of the Isles is fun to walk around, but it’s a man-made lake and if I had to bet, I’d assume there are other — better — natural lakes that produce the same feelings of elation and peace. First Universalist puts sermons online so those come with me wherever. And all it takes for a city to become a “bike city” is for friendly people to get on bikes. Lastly, other places have art and culture too!

I’ll make the best of being here now. I’ve been busy these past few weeks acting in training scenarios for the Barbara Schneider Foundation, teaching at Young Actors Theater Company, helping around the office at NTC, and even doing a bit of dating. In the next two weeks I’ll be teaching at Harmony Theatre Company and then it’s back on the road!

So I’m not “home,” but I’m back holding my breath waiting to leave. One day I look forward to writing about finding “home,” what it feels like, where it is, and encouraging you to visit.

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.

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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?