By Darlene Donloe
Michael Michetti didn’t plan it, but as fate would have it he is currently in the midst of a whirlwind directorial convoy that has him helming three consecutive theatrical productions in Pasadena.
The venerable co-artistic director at The Theatre @ Boston Court recently opened Mrs. Warren’s Profession at A Noise Within, is readying the opening of King Charles III at the Pasadena Playhouse on November 8, and is in pre-production for The Theatre @ Boston Court production of A Streetcar Named Desire, set to open in February 2018.
With all of that on his plate, Michetti, who hails from San Diego, but has been in Los Angeles for 40 years, shows no signs of fatigue.
@THIS STAGE recently caught up with Michetti to talk about how he’s managed to balance three shows and what it’s like to burn the candle at both ends.
MICHAEL MICHETTI: The way it came about was this, – at Boston Court, I’m a co-artistic director. I do one play a year. Streetcar had been in the works for a year. We weren’t sure it was going to come through. In the meantime, at A Noise Within – this is my ninth show. They had offered me Mrs. Warren’s Profession. I really wanted to do the show. Then I got an offer from Danny Feldman at Pasadena to do King Charles. It overlapped a week with Mrs. Warren’s Profession. The timing wasn’t ideal, but the play was one that I love so much. To work at the Pasadena Playhouse during Danny’s first season was an opportunity I didn’t want to turn down. All of those things led to an accidental three consecutive plays in Pasadena project.
@THIS STAGE: Are you a workaholic?
MM: I sort of am. I will say this. It’s hard work and I take my work seriously and put a tremendous amount of work into it. I feel fortunate to do work I love. I’m inspired. This isn’t piece-work in a factory. It fuels my soul. I’m perpetually under-slept. I don’t want to complain about something that is fortunate.
@THIS STAGE: How do you juggle three productions?
MM: They all had different amounts of lead time. I don’t start rehearsal for A Streetcar Named Desire until January. I have assembled my team. It’s already in process. I had a fairly good lead-time for Mrs. Warren’s Profession. By the time I was offered King Charles, I was in good shape with pre-production on that. The cast was in place. The pre-production with King Charles III happened fairly quickly. I was having to assemble my design team while in rehearsal for Mrs. Warren’s Profession. At A Noise Within, the rehearsals are at night and weekends. So during the day, I was free to do designing and things. We were opening With Love and A Major Organ, which opened on a Saturday night. The next day I had the first preview for Mrs. Warren’s Profession. Then that Monday I had rehearsal for King Charles and previews at A Noise Within. Tuesday I was doing King Charles during the day and Mrs. Warren in the evenings.
@THIS STAGE: That’s a lot.
MM: Yes, it’s a lot. These are creative projects. They are all interesting. Different stages require different energies. Sometimes it’s about refining and making adjustments. It’s about using different parts of the creative brain. It’s about time management. If you look at the big picture – it’s overwhelming. I just look at the task that is most urgent.
@THIS STAGE: And you keep all of that straight?
MM: A trick I do – I have my scripts and research material that each show needs. For each production, I have a separate canvas book bag. I keep all of them in the car. I have everything I need. … Every theatre is a little different in the way they work and the support structure they have. The rehearsal time varies from theater to theater. I sort of know each theater. I know what to expect as I walk through each door. I don’t get them confused. I know how each works.
@THIS STAGE: What does a production have to have in order for you to want to direct?
MM: I will tell you in terms of the material itself, there are plays I read and my heart starts racing. The case can vary – a thematic idea I love or a theatrical language of vocabulary used. It can be a theatrical approach that I find exciting or characters I relate to. It can really vary. These three plays are all smartly written. They are clever and smart. I find a commonality in these plays. There are other factors, as well like – is it a theater you want to work at? I know the people who operate them and love what they stand for. Other factors – like how well it pays or whether you’re going to get a health care contribution that helps you meet your threshold.
@THIS STAGE: What does each one say to you?
MM: King Charles III – It’s incredibly smart and beautifully crafted. Mike [Bartlett] has written a new Shakespeare play. I admire the craft of it. When Danny [Feldman, the Pasadena Playhouse artistic director] offered it to me – I realized there are a lot of things it deals with thematically – like subjects we look at all the time. Things like friction between branches the branches of government, the difficulty of the transition of government, limiting the press. All of this is relevant to our current time.
Mrs. Warren’s Profession – I’ve admired this play for years. It is smartly written. It is one of the things that continues to surprise me. It still feels so modern in its description on how women are undervalued in society and the limits of opportunities that women have. It speaks to how they navigate the world. I love its arguments about how we change things.
A Streetcar Named Desire – Always loved it as a brilliant piece of writing. I’m doing a fairly radical approach to the production. A 40s era Blanche will be dropped into a contemporary 2018 multicultural multiracial urban world that is very different from the world as she sees it. The conflict Tennessee [Williams] wrote about a woman – unable to accept the world – has moved on. Her inability to accept a changing world around her – is amplified to have her living metaphorically.
@THIS STAGE: What’s your favorite part of the directing process and what is your least favorite?
MM: My favorite, genuinely is the collaboration. I love working with artists who challenge me. I admire their work and ideas and the brilliance of what they bring makes me step up to another level. Everyone is given the opportunity to make a contribution to the final project. My least favorite – I guess – there is something magical, it’s ephemeral. It takes place in time. It’s hard to see a show go – to say goodbye to it and that it will forever be captured in memories, photographs, and relationships, but the actual piece of art has vanished into the ether.
@THIS STAGE: In the midst of all of this, you are also the co-artistic director at The Theatre @ Boston Court. What does that entail?
MM: One of the great advantages at Boston is that there are two of us. We pick up the slack when the other is busy. We discuss with each other before we accept something. Jessica [Kubzansky] has been taking on the burden of day- to-day. That’s absolutely the case. We have flexibility. We are co-artistic directors. Both of us feel it’s inappropriate to make major decisions without the other one. We like to be aligned.
@THIS STAGE: Describe your directing style.
MM: I think it’s sort of two different things. In the process of finding it, I am collaborative. Within that, I love seeing what actors’ instincts are. In the process of creating I want them to be involved and see what their understanding of the characters are. The play is set in terms of the dialogue, blocking and primary architect of the play – by the time you open it. There is not a whole lot of variation once it’s open and running.
@THIS STAGE: What led you to want to be a theatre director?
MM: I was exposed to theatre as a small kid. I was exposed to the globe. It was a language I was familiar with and loved. It was an important experience. My parents took me to see Two Gentlemen of Verona and the actors held up branches and became trees. It became a conscious point. It’s our imagination that makes it a tree. I love that the audience is a participant. The theatre is a unique medium. The experience is only completed when the audience receives it. The audience completes the story.
@THIS STAGE: Describe the Los Angeles theatre scene in three adjectives.
MM: Varied. That’s difficult to do. The L.A. theatre scene is so different depending on the scale. There are theaters that take risks and those who can’t. In general, I’d say risk-taking and artist-driven.
@THIS STAGE: What was your first directing gig? Looking back – did you do a good job?
MM: I thought I was good, yes. I thought I had something to contribute. If I were to look back now, I would be critical of it. My whole career and life have been as a lifelong learner. Each production I bring more tools, awareness and that way, I become better at it.
@THIS STAGE: What is the biggest mistake you ever made and what did you learn from it?
MM: I try to live my life not having regrets. I tend to let things go. I have some ambiguity about saying this. After graduation from school, I found that theater is a difficult way to make a living. I opened a company called Mechetti Knowles Entertainment. We did live music industrial shows for corporations. I put a hold on the exploration of my work as a theatre director. I did it for good reasons. It was the responsible thing to do. But, in doing that, I also put my creative exploration on hold for awhile. It meant I came at it a little later. There is something about the ability of the young to make mistakes and fail big. I sometimes wonder if I would have found my voice earlier.
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Mrs. Warren’s Profession, written by George Bernard Shaw and directed by Michael Michetti, runs through November 18th at A Noise Within, 3352 E. Foothill Blvd., Pasadena, 91170. For tickets, visit www.anoisewithin.org, or call 626-356-3100.
King Charles III, written by Mike Barlett and directed by Michael Michetti, opens November 8 and runs through December 3 at the Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena 91101. For tickets, visit www.pasadenaplayhouse.org, or call 626-356-7529.
A Streetcar Named Desire, The Theatre @ Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena, www.bostoncourt.com or 626-683-6883.