Campus Celebrity: Michael Morrison

Her Campus caught up with Michael Morrison, a graduate student who recently performed in the musical Rent.

Her Campus:  When did you first realize you wanted to be an actor?  What did you do to pursue that goal?

Michael Morrison:  I tried out for my high school’s soccer team and auditioned for the school musical, Bye Bye Birdie, in the same week. I absolutely hated the soccer try outs (and did not make the team). However, I had a blast at the musical auditions. It was fun, challenging, and the community of people was eclectic. I loved being on stage since I was a kid, played in the worship band at church, and had been in church plays; this seemed like a natural transition. I knew I could engage an audience, and I saw, even at 15, that you could positively affect people with art. A person can come in a theatre, and see a play, concert, or show of any kind and escape from all the crap they have been through that week. They can laugh, cry, remember what it was like to be in love; it truly is a place that can have a profound impact and be an instrument of inspiration or change. I wanted to be an actor because it gave me a chance to do something I loved, and truly impact people in a profound way. Also, like I said…it’s a blast.

HC:  Where did you graduate and what degrees do you have?  What degree are you working on now?

MM:  I graduated from Middle Tennessee State University with a degree in Music and Theatre Performance and a minor in Recording Industry. I almost had a minor in Dance in Movement, but that would have taken another semester, and let’s just say that every one of those dance/movement classes was a lesson in humility. Currently I am working on and Masters of Fine Arts in Theatre Performance. It is a three-year program, in which I am in my second year.

HC:  What is a typical day for you?

MM:  I wake up, usually late, and then rush to the theatre building. I teach a Theatre Appreciation class to non-theatre majors at 9 am. I spend time in the grad office going over scripts, memorizing lines, grading, rehearsing for class projects, talking (I love to talk), and like any good actor I procrastinate on everything. I go to various performance based classes, such as graduate acting studio, movement, voice, and seminar. Then, usually I have rehearsal for whatever show I am in that semester from 6:30-10:30.

HC:  As an actor, how do you prepare yourself for a production?

MM:  Read the script. Then, I do a character analysis and write out things like, what the character wants, who they are, and their relationship with every character in the show. I also do a script analysis and mark changes in perspective, intent, and motivation. I talk with other actors that play characters that my character interacts with and we discuss our relationship on stage. I talk with the director and get their perspective on the character and ask what liberties I am able to take in rehearsal. Then I define the physical, behavioral, and vocal life of the character. After that, it is rehearse, rehearse, and more rehearsing and seeing what works and what does not. I should also note that, I believe that every play has a meaning and every role has a distinct purpose. I try to find that out through organic discovery and analysis. Also, I try to figure out the message of each play and how my character plays into that, and what parts of my character can truly connect with the audience, and how I as an actor hope to portray that character in an authentic way, as believable as possible. I hope that at least part of my portrayal will truly connect with someone in the audience. Art finds its value in the reaction of the audience. I want them to connect, react, whether positively, or negatively, I want the audience to take something home, something that is more than just entertainment, or beautifully performed art.

HC:  Tell me about Rent.  Who did you play?  How do you think you did?  How do you think the entire performance went?

MM:  Rent is a play centered around the AIDS epidemic, specifically in the late 80’s/early 90’s in the Alphabet City neighborhood of New York City. How does one live, when everything about this disease they have contracted says that they should have died last year, last month, last week. In that we see that AIDS is not a disease contracted on the basis of committing acts of “immoral degradation” as certain politicians and pastors have said in history. No, it is simply a disease that is contracted, by people living their life. It is horrible, and the people who have had to live with this disease are fighting for their lives. Also, it is a play about love, and how the way in which we love people truly affects them, for better, or for worse. When we use our bitterness, wounds, differences, or circumstances as an excuse to not love people, we are not only hurting them, but ourselves.

I played Benjamin Coffin, the Third. He is the antagonist of the musical. He instigates a lot of conflict in the show. Even though he is the antagonist and does some bad things out of anger. He is an antagonist that has heart and truly loves the people he is putting himself against. He tries to reach out to them, he wants to be a part of the group he feels ostracized from, he is conflicted, he is hurting, he wants to grow up and make a living with his art, and that is what causes him to be the antagonist.

I think I did well. I wanted the audience to see that my character was not just a jerk, that he had heart. I wanted them to be conflicted, I wanted them to be able to see that even those who hurt us, or cause issues in our lives are often reacting from wounds, and do have good in them. I got that response from the audience members that talked to me, so I am guessing I was successful.

We sold out the entire run and had standing ovations each night. I am thinking that means we did ok. People seemed to be very moved by our work, even people who I knew did not like the show beforehand, or the musical was not their cup of tea.

HC:  What other productions have you performed in?

MM:  I have been musicals such as Assassins, Sweeney Todd, Anything Goes, Ragtime, and Oklahoma. I have been in straight plays such as Firebugs, A Christmas Carol, King Lear, Julius Caesar, L’histoire Du Soldat, and Man Who Came To Dinner. I have also performed for Lifeway Christian Resources, Star Wars In Concert, and Student Life Camps.

HC:  What do you hope to do after you have received your degree?

MM:  I hope to establish myself in a city and become a predominant actor in that city. After that, I would like to start my own theatre company that creates original works based on faith that are full of depth and not cheesy and actually tackle pressing issues that are often not talked about. Also I’d like to perform in a Broadway national tour and eventually teach at a college.

HC:  What advice would you give to aspiring actors and actresses?

MM:  Don’t give up! It is a hard career path to follow. There is a lot rejection and crazy things that you will have to deal with. However, it is worth it. You get to create something that makes the world a better place and enhances people’s lives. You get to be creative and play different roles every day. Keep at it. Push yourself in every aspect. Don’t give up. Also, don’t define yourself in the role you get but in how you perform that role and the type of artist you are to work with.