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An Interview With...Craig Mitchell
STARTING OUT

How did you get started in theater?
In 1981, I joined a Lantern Theatre Workshop in Merrick with Jack Katz. I played the sales- man in a small scene from Tennessee William's "Summer and Smoke." I was forever hooked after that...

What hooked you? Was it your first school play-movie-first time seeing a Broadway Show? What inspired you to be where you are today?
Hmm...well..the initial hooking occurred in 5th grade actually now that I think about it. We recorded a play into a tape recorder. I remember the teacher saying how natural I sounded. I was so charged up!! It was something that maybe I could be really good at. Unfortunately...I then got pneumonia...and never heard the tape.....but...I still remember it to this day...

What was the first play you ever saw? Ever performed in?
The first play I ever saw...MMMmmmm...I believe it was "The Music Man." My dad was the head custodian of East Meadow High School and got me in to see the show. It was a High School show...so it was a big deal. My earliest memory of doing theater, was my epic (not) portrayal of the planet JUPITER in a 6th grade play. I remember my teacher thought I was a terrific Jupiter cause I was such a ham!!

Did you study acting? If not, how did you get into it?
I studied a little bit a college. Took several other courses...But mostly the stages and people on Long Island were my training grounds and teachers.


GETTING IN

What was your first audition?
My first audition was for the role of Murray in "The Odd Couple." The director told me I got the part 'cause she liked my laugh...

How do you choose what play you will audition for? The piece itself, the director, theater, you were pre-cast, etc.
I have a good friend by the name of Tom Frey, maybe some of Deb's Web's people will recognize his name. He long ago moved to Maine, but one thing he taught me was to know what type of roles I'm good for. I choose to audition for plays that has a character that fits me basically. And I particularly like one that forces me stretch my abilities.

Speaking of pre-casting, tell us how you really feel about the subject.
Precasting...I see nothing wrong with it. But I do have a problem with theatre companies or directors that don't mention precast roles in casting calls. One time I drove a considerable distance to audition for a small character role and that was the only part precast (and the director was playing it to boot). That's annoying.

What types of parts do you normally play? Do you feel typecast?
I play heavies <rimshot> kidding!  I find that normally I get to play parts with a lot of diversity. I love smaller, but interesting parts, charactery parts. I don't feel typecast at all. I guess that's one of the perks of being a character actor.

Looking back on the roles you've been cast in, do you think there's a certain kind of role you get cast in repeatedly? When directors look at a certain role, what do you think they see as a "Craig Mitchell" type?
My past definitely has a comedy ring to it. And that's pretty much by design. I have done heavier dramatic parts and I love doing them. But I'm a comedy guy. I love being funny. I love comedy, period. That's a tough question for me...but I can say...when I auditioned for Broadhollow's "Guys and Dolls," I read for Nathan Detroit and Big Jule. I felt I may have had that certain Nathan Lane quality for Nathan...but the director saw me as Big Jule...and ultimately it was a better fit and I loved doing it. I guess...If I had to narrow it down to one choice...I would suppose directors might lean towards me for some of the bigger than life characters...


CHARACTERIZATION

What is your approach to developing your character?
Well...it's totally organic. Each character speaks though me. I know there's a part of me in every character I play (or at least play well). I just try to bring that out...and let the character take over.

Of all the characters you have portrayed, who is your favorite?
Wow...had to come back to this one...I have to answer it this way...The most fun I ever had was playing Earthquake McGoon at Broadhollow. My favorite character was Krojack in "Don't Drink the Water" I had a ball being a nasty KGB agent.

What do you think were your best roles? your worst?
Mmm best...well defining best as one's that I felt fit me...were Barney Cashman in "Last of the Red Hot Lovers," Ivan in "Art," the aforementioned Earthquake McGoon, and Krojack , Big Jule in "Guys and Dolls," and Hershal in "Gemini." The worst fits...Paul Miller in "Murder at the Howard Johnsons," Herbert the Monk/Angel from an off-broadway outting in 1986 called "Rabbit Stew," THE WORST by miles was my portrayal of Christopher Wren in "The Mousetrap."

What roles offered you the greatest challenge and why? How well do you think you met the challenge?
The role of Owen in "Losing Weight" a dramatic original at Arena was BRUTAL. I pretty much had to cry for the entire second act. Fred Defeis worked wonders with me...and really helped me get a grip on the role. I learned a lot. It was definitely the hardest I ever worked on a role. I think I did ok. I was never fully comfortable with the role, but my mother and several of my closest friends say that was their favorite role of mine.

What role do you wish you could have a second shot at and get it right this time?
Paul Miller in "Murder at the Howard Johnsons."

What roles or types of roles would you most like to play in the future?
As for type of roles. I will forever be a character actor. I have always wanted to play the part of Marty in "Marty" but it has to be quick...I'm getting too old..LOL

MOTIVATION

How do you feel when you perform?
I never really know how I'm feeling when I'm performing. But I can tell you. Every night when the lights go up and you have to make that entrance...it's feels like diving off the high board...and not knowing till the last second if there's water in the pool.

What motivates you to keep on doing what you're doing?
It's what I feel I do best. I love it. And I will do it till the day I die.

During opening night jitters each one of us has said, "Why do I do this to myself?" Why do you do it?
The moment the year 2000 rang in on New Years Eve 1999. I was onstage. There's no where else in the world I would have rather have been. That's why I do it. Years from now...when people ask me where I was when the year 2000 rung in...I'll remember the exact moment in clarity.


SHARING

What is your favorite theater story?
I was playing Carlson in a Suffolk Y production of "Of Mice and Men." My character in a point of high drama, had to go to his locker, take out a prized "Luger" from Germany, and then proceed to shoot an elderly farmhand's dog. Every night the audience was dead quiet in this moment. I reach into my locker take out the gun, wrapped in a handkerchief, and upon unwrapping the gun, I would say, "Got a Luger...Candy...I'm gonna shoot that dawg..." Well, on the one Wednesday afternoon when the entire audience was sold out to Hofstra University literature students, my big moment came. I walked slowly to my locker...reached in with the stealth of evil executioner and was shocked to find that the handkerchief that my gun was wrapped in...was caught on a piece of metal inside the locker...I tugged once... tugged twice...then tugged...very hard...the handkerchief ripped...the gun went flying out of the locker...and smashed into pieces on the stage. I...without thinking...said..."Had a Luger" ...It was the biggest laugh I ever got. Of course...The rest of that scene and maybe the rest of the dramatic impact of that show was impossible to recapture that day.

Did you ever miss an entrance, drop enough lines for it to be noticeable, crack up on stage?
Well...back in 1981. Someone who I don't remember...cast me in the part of Christopher Wren in "The Mousetrap." I was so incredibly wrong for that part. I couldn't and still CANT do a British accent. I was terrified. Well, I had two very identical scenes in the show. In the 1st (in Act I) I talk about my character. In the second act, I pretty much expose the killer or, as memory serves, I start the ball rolling as to the solution of the play. Well...I started the wrong monologue. I was doing the 2nd act lines in the first act...and the rest of the cast...now horribly and hopelessly lost...followed suit. The play was pretty much blown in the first act. The director had to go out explain to the audience what happened...and refund the money. It was in a restaurant...and we had an open ended run. The restaurant owner fired us...so, because of my blunder, we closed after 1 show...actually 1/2 of a show.

What was your worst theater experience?
My worst theatre experience happened when a extremely paranoid fellow actor, for whatever reason, decided to threaten me and belittle me for an hour or more one night in a fit of out and out rage. I'll never understand or know why he or she was angry. But I basically agreed with them and said I was at fault and took the lumps just to shut them down... BECAUSE we had 4 more performances left to go in a run. It sickened me to perform with that person the rest of the week, but in my mind, the show came first. But...that's ancient history now.

What's the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you on stage?
Well...one time in 1990...I was heading a club in Massachusetts doing Stand Up comedy. I was much thinner then. 20 minutes into my show, 2 girls up front were DYING with laugher...only problem was...I hadn't told a joke yet. Turns out...my fly was open. And well...I wasn't wearing underwear that night...and when I looked down..out of the fly of these very tight size 36 pants...were...umm...tufts of pubic hair...very embarrassing

OTHERS

Why do you perform at the theaters you do?
I've been very lucky work at with very talented directors and at theaters that produce quality work. If and when I come back to Long Island, there are other venues I'd love to work in too but have never had the chance to.

Do you think regional theater will continue to grow on L.I.?
Grow? That's up to the theaters. I know the talent base on Long Island is incredible, so they'll always be casts for shows. And theatre can grow as along as there's quality product.

Who are some of the actors you've most admired or who have been particularly rewarding to work with?
Wow...I've worked with so many talented people, narrowing down this field is very tough. Two of my favorites, I never had the chance to work with. I love the work of Mary Ellin Kurtz and Frank Tangredi. Both are so talented...and I always wanted to share the stage with them. With those I worked, Rick Grossman blew me away when we did "Don't Drink the Water" at Arena.  He was just incredible. Kim Volpe was totally amazing as Fannie Brice in "Funny Girl."

Who is your favorite performer? favorite L.I. performer?
My favorite performer of all time,HHHHhhhhhmmm after lengthy thought...it's Sid Caesar. My favorite L.I. performer...is Frank Tangredi and that's mainly because he does the type of roles that I may also be good for...so every time I saw him in a show, it was an acting lesson. I still laugh when I think of his portrayal of the Father in "Come Blow Your Horn."


LIFE ISSUES

How do you maintain your career and do theater?
It's easy...I work around my acting. Working 5am to Noon as a telemarketer so I can be free for auditioning and rehearsing. Anyone want to buy Foreclosure or Auctioneer listings?????

Why did you spend so much time toiling in L.I. Theater?
Before I left for the left coast, L.I. Theater was the absolute best training I could have asked for!!

Do you find that your family supports your love of theater?
Some...most are still waiting for me to get a real job

How has performing enriched your life?
The #1 way it's enriched my life, whether it be in my 15 years in stand up or 20 years on stage is through hearing people laugh...that is the best sound in the world!!


FUN

What brings you the greatest joy?
Not to sound like a broken record...but performing...or better yet..being cast in a part...that's supreme joy!

What really irks you?
Mean nasty people. And selfish performers, I mean...theater (And film and TV) is prime example of teamwork...if you are selfish...then why bother??

If you won LOTTO tomorrow you would.
Buy a home for my sister and niece and Mother...as well as for my Best friend. I'd retire...and just audition and act.

Is it true that you'd really rather be rich than good looking?
Yeah...looks aren't everything...

What's your favorite word?
Friend

Assuming that there is a heaven, what do you want to hear when you get there?
The beer's cold, the steaks are ready.....and you'll NEVER GAIN WEIGHT AGAIN


FUTURE PLANS

Do you have any projects on the horizon that you want the readers to be aware of?
Just got cast in the Sci Fi comedy Satco-88 (A pilot for Sci Fi Channel) if it sells...it would be AWESOME

Given your choice of parts in plays, which play and role is your heart's desire?
Oscar in "The Odd Couple' also Marty in "Marty"