October 7, 2010

Dr. Michael Hill-Kirkland Appearing in VMT's "Man of La Mancha"

Regent Theatre’s own Professor of Theatre and Head of the MFA Acting Program, Dr. Michael Hill-Kirkland, will be appearing as Sancho Panza in Virginia Musical Theatre’s upcoming production of Man of La Mancha! According to the VMT website, Man of La Mancha is “deemed one of the all-time great musicals of the American stage. This is a brilliant theatrical adventure that looks at life not as it is but as it should be. The inspiring score features The Impossible Dream. Winner of five TONY© Awards including Best Musical."

Regent Backstage asked Dr. Kirkland to share some thoughts about the upcoming production…

Regent Backstage: How did this performance opportunity come about?

Dr. Kirkland: VMT sent me an audition notice requesting that I make our students aware of auditions for the production. I told them I would and queried them as to whether they had anyone to handle the combat in the show, if not, that I would be interested. Mark Hudgins, the managing director, responded that they did not and that Jeff Meredith, the artistic director, was interested in engaging me to do so. I had worked with them once before on The Scarlet Pimpernel. I accepted, and informed them that I had done the show six times before…sometimes in the role of Sancho, sometimes as fight director, and sometimes as both. That led to an invitation to audition for the role. I made sure they knew I was a member of AEA before accepting the invitation to audition. I thought it would be pointless unless they were ready to commit to a union contract. They responded that they had not really considered a union contract for Sancho, but that they were open to it. I auditioned…and they offered me the role.

Regent Backstage: Can you elaborate on your past experience with Man of La Mancha?

Dr. Kirkland: My experience with the show is fairly extensive. I’ve done this show more than any other over my career. I’ve performed it in a variety of venues: academic, community, and professional. I’ve played Sancho. I’ve played the Barber. Over the years I’ve staged the fights a number of times under a wide range of conditions both amateur and professional. My feelings for the show are immensely affectionate. It’s a character driven show perfectly made for actors. The plot hinges on a play-within-a-play and serves as an example of the power of theatre to change lives. And the themes. I love the themes. Belief in dreams and in one’s self. Service to the quest—a lofty goal, committing to something larger than one’s self. The belief that some things in life—some dreams--are worth fighting for even when you know that you are destined to defeat; that sometimes you must “march into hell for a heavenly cause.” These are ideas that have profound resonation for me.

Regent Backstage: What do you hope to get from the experience this time?

Dr. Kirkland: The last time I performed Sancho was about twelve years ago. At that point in time I felt that I was probably ending my relationship with the little fellow with a belly full of proverbs. In truth, I was growing a little tired of him. Now, with twelve years having passed, I realized that I had grown to miss this guy. Time has a way of changing our perspective on things. I have a feeling I will see him, and the play, through different eyes. I believe that I have changed a lot on the inside over these twelve years, and I have a feeling I am going to connect with the emotional truth in Sancho, and in the play, in a much more profound way. I think I feel things more deeply now than I did then. Because of that, I have a feeling I’m going to feel this play much more deeply. It has been eight years since I last acted. At Regent, with our sizeable MFA Acting program, it is difficult justifying faculty taking roles in our productions. This makes it a lot more difficult, especially if you are a union actor, to find local opportunities to act. It’s going to be a challenge to scrape off the rust after eight years—but one I feel is both healthy and necessary. I have spent the last eight years primarily in the role of teacher/director. It will be nice to trod the boards again--on the other side of the footlights!

Performances of Man of La Mancha are one weekend only, October 22, 23 & 24

Virginia Musical Theatre’s box office number is757-340-5446.

Break a leg, Dr. Kirkland!

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