Catching up with… Michael Markham

New York Madness, New Head of Acting

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Photo by Beau Allulli

 Michael Markham

What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you either in rehearsal, at an audition, or onstage?

I don’t know about embarrassing. I only get embarrassed when I make a complete ass of myself and have hurt someone in the process. That happens so much more in my personal life than on stage. But I did a play called “Giants” by the fabulous Laura Von Holt my first year out of drama school. I was playing Giant and in a moment of anger I was supposed to punch my pregnant sister (Button played by Autumn Hurlbert) in the stomach. Autumn had a basketball under her shirt to maker her look pregnant. Once in rehearsal I was really “into it” and took my eyes off of the basketball in all my acting rage and missed. My hand slipped upthe top of the ball and caught her right in the solar plexus. Now I’m a big guy and Autumn is easily described as petite. She was on the floor for several mins. And I felt quite the ass.

Juilliard is

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Photo by Joel Webber

a coveted training program and having worked with you for many years now I can understand why their actors continue to work in the industry. Although talent is a big part of it, it’s more than that… Can you tell us a little bit about the work ethic and discipline instilled at Juilliard? 

Oh, goodness. This will be hard to describe. I’ve never liked the tear down an actor and build them back up from scratch idea. Richard Feldman, one of the acting faculty at Juilliard, uses the metaphor of a crucible for the training there. And it was that. It was a refining fire. It was intense and hard. Your classmates become a mirror for your work, your attitude, you person. And that’s a lot to face. I was thankful that I went to college before going to drama school because I could not have handled it when I was 18. And I couldn’t’ have handled the work. You have to work. Like anything and anywhere in life, yes, you can coast at moments but in general I felt I was consistently called out when I was coasting. In addition to the crucible, Michael Khan had a metaphor of a Tool Bag that he shared with the first years every year. All the things we learn are tools. Some times they work for one thing but not another. Some may never work for you. But learn how to use them and then keep then in your bag. You might get 5 or 10 years down the road and realize that you need it because the stuff you usually do is no longer working in some show. So between the trial by fire and the full arsenal of tools, you’ve got actors that are very adaptable and have the confidence to sit down at virtually any table and do their work.
This question often gets asked of women, but I think it’s important to know that men are fathers too and they also have to balance work and home life. How has becoming a father changed your work as an artist?
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Photo by Jeff Sokolowski

I saw a video of Francis Ford Coppola talking about starting out. He said he had kids much early than most of his colleagues, so while he was struggling to make it as an artist he was also struggling to feed a family. He said that made him work harder. He said that was a key ingredient in his eventual success. I think about that often since my daughter, Claire, was born. Am I working harder? Have I changed? How? I’m not exactly sure how to define it. I don’t think I ever work hard enough. So that hasn’t changed. But I have felt a change in my desires. I want to “succeed” (whatever that means) less for my own . . . glory, and more for her benefit. It’s taken me at least a step away from myself and my selfish desires. That feels like a good thing. And on a simple level, there are some emotions I just have access to now in ways that I didn’t before. My love for has opened and made bigger parts of me that were . . . lesser . . . before.

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Photo credit by Kent Meister

What projects or collaborations have come out of NYMadness for you personally?
I made a short film out of a Madness piece that Judith Leora wrote for 007 Madness. It’s currently getting rejected by every festival imaginable. And we’re screening it at the MadLab in early July. And though it didn’t come directly out of a Madness, I’m working with Mac Rogers on another film project for the fall.
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Photo credit by Dan Teixeira
Who are some of your favorite playwrights/plays and why? 
I’m boring at times. I’m a fan of lots of the great white men, cause . . . well . . . they wrote for me. Williams, Miller, Sam Shepard. I’m a big fan of Shakespeare. I wish I could do lots of August Wilson, but I can’t. I like stories that are about broken people desperately clawing for some way to fix themselves. I think when an artist (in this case a playwright) is striving to present or engage with a human being in a story then they are forced to reject answers and agenda. Obviously we can’t divorce from our perspective, (culturally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, etc) and that’s what makes diversity interesting and wonderful. But I like plays that are striving to see or understand something above our world, not just complaining from within it. Some less old white and dead people I see doing that are Mac Rogers, David Ian Lee, Ari Laura Kreith (a director/creator, not exactly a playwright), Brian Tucker, and Daniel Talbott. But I don’t read or see enough theater to give a good list. That’s one of the things I love about Madness, I am exposed to new playwrights and new plays all the time. For instance, Jan Rosenberg. I got to work with her at Werewolf Madness this year. She’s awesome and I felt she had a unique take on the theme that night. And before that night she had never crossed my radar.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing actors living in NYC?
Eating. Having a place to sleep. The economics of our business are appalling. If you are not a talent or face that is snatched up early by the industry, it seems to me the people that endup “making it” are the ones who have been Graced with a financial situation that has carried them through the “dark” times when they aren’t getting work. Now that can look a lot of different ways. As simple as a trust fund or as intricate as a web of couches on which you can crash. A lot of people work hard. I feel like Grace is the differentiator. That’s part of the reason I love Madness. I can be a part of that Grace for someone else. That chance to do work when, nothing else is coming. The connection with a collaborator who exponentially adds to your work.

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Photo credit by Dan Teixeira

After a show or a madness (cuz they are intense) how do you come back to earth? 

Whiskey.  It really depends on the kind of intense. In the aforementioned “Giants” I was playing a character who was very intense in every way. One afternoon during run my wife, Karen, and I were going out to Shea to watch the Mets. I was so weird on the train, she turned to me and said, will you do some Alexander and clear that out, cause you are a mess right now. I had been carrying Giant around with me in an un-healthy way. So I flopped over in my seat on the train, put my hands on top of my feet, cause i’m not touching that floor, and started breathing and going through an Alexander self lesson right there.
What’s a favorite or dream role you would love to play someday? 
I remember the moment when it sunk in that I would never get to play Romeo. That train had sailed so to speak.
I’d kill for Sweeney Todd.
Henry V.
I want to do an Iago and Othello where we swap the roles every other night.
Chance Wayne, but I think I missed that one too.
Brick.
Lee, and Austin.
Lt. Ehrenberg in David Ian Lee’s The Curing Room.
I’ve always wanted to sing “Bill” from Showboat while sitting on a baby grand piano in a red velvet dress. (Don’t try to read to much into that, it doesn’t really go any deeper than it’s an awesome song and that’s really the only appropriate way to sing it.)
Lopakhin.
Vanya or the Doctor.
Malvolio.
Should I go on?
Jamie in both Long Day’s and Moon.
Platonov was a dream role that I was lucky enough to play.
The Baker in “Into the Woods”.
Archibald Craven.
Petruchio….
I’m gonna stop now and spare us all.