(This interview was previously featured in the September issue of Prologue, a newsletter produced by the WSU Theatres for subscribers to the Hilberry and Bonstelle. By Alex Goodman (featuring the assistance of Kerianne Furgerson).
Alex Goodman is a first-year MFA manager and a graduate of Western Michigan University who spent the last five years in Chicago, among other things, founding and running a theatre company.
Brian P. Sage is a third-year actor who is also a graduate of Western Michigan University. Brian directed the second show that Alex’s company produced in 2006, Patrick Marber’s Closer at the Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theatre in Chicago.
Alex: Why Wayne State? Why the Hilberry?
Brian: It was one of the only programs that offered a practical onstage experience without the necessity to teach. The rep model is something that keeps me engaged – the fact that you have to keep 3-4 shows in your head at a time on top of class work really intrigued me. I’ve found that it’s a great preparation tool. On top of that Wayne State offers a great financial package, health insurance and great classes. Here you go from a morning class to a rehearsal and you can immediately apply what you’ve learned in the class. You get a better sense then of how to apply things. I’m a firm believer in continuing education and the necessity of keeping your skills honed.
A: Do you think there’s more room to try and fail?
B: Absolutely. Here we also have the pleasure of having a lengthy rehearsal process. In an equity show it’s just a three-week rehearsal process. Granted, you’re working three hours a day, but we have two months to ruminate on a role and then on top of that, we don’t do it every week. So, you may run a show for two or three months as well … with Midsummer it’ll be six months. You really have time to focus on what it is you’re doing as opposed to try and crank out a product.
A: Do you have any other connections to Detroit or Michigan that brought you back?
B: Yeah, but I grew up in Canton, Michigan, my wife grew up in Alpena. So our families are still here, which made the decision easier. My wife is getting her MFA at Eastern Michigan. We were able to hammer them out at the same time, which most people think is crazy, but we’re doing it and it’s working. We’ll be happy to both have our degrees at the same time as opposed to taking seven years to do it.
A: Tell me a bit about this season at the Hilberry.
B: There are exciting things this season, I mean the Hilberry’s doing a musical – which is my cup of tea – and the cool thing about that is being able to put the classwork and the things that I’ve learned about classical acting and put those same tools to use in a musical. It’s exciting! And, it’s what all musical theatre should be. As an actor, I think you should look at a role in the same way. You should look at Chekhov the same way you look at West Side Story. But people don’t, because in the acting world there’s a sort of stigma that surrounds musical theatre, ya know? “Why do people bust out in song and dance?” Well, why do people give soliloquies in Shakespeare? Why in Jacobean theatre did they break the fourth wall and directly address the audience? It’s the same thing.
A: So tell me about your experience as an Equity actor working in Chicago and then deciding to go back to get your MFA.
B: To set the record straight, I was an equity actor when I was in Chicago and I actually left the union about eight months before I decided to come back to school. I was kind of at a crossroads where I was just not sure whether I wanted to continue acting professionally. It’s a difficult profession. I realized quickly, “What else do I do?” My skill set is limited in terms of the real world because I’ve done theatre since I was right out of high school. I worked professionally then I went to undergrad and continued to work professionally in the summers. I did some directing and producing. So, I was thinking, “Well maybe I’ll just do the directing thing,” but in Chicago it’s a very tight-knit circle. I didn’t think it’d be a very interesting thing to break into. Unless you start your own company.
A: Right! So, you knew that you didn’t want to do what you were doing, and then grad school became an option as you started figuring out what you could do?
B: Since I was in undergrad I have had the desire to teach, which is something that an MFA provides as an option – once you’re done you can teach at a university level. So that interested me, and once I got here I started to realize that I was just kind of out of shape in terms of what I was bringing to the table at an audition. I’d get the audition, but I wouldn’t necessarily get the job. I think a lot of that had to do with the fact that I wasn’t taking classes. I wasn’t keeping my tools sharp. So, going back to school was the perfect option at that point. I’m sure at some point I will find my way back into the union. I have no doubt about that.