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An Interview With...Michael McAuliffe

How did you get started in theater?
As far back as I can remember I have always loved to perform.  I was always singing and dancing, especially when there was parties or get togethers at my house.  I clearly remember doing imitations of Elvis.  My first "professional" acting experience came when I was in the fourth grade and I was cast in Oliver Twist.  I remember them telling me I was a bit to young to learn all of Oliver's lines, but they desperately wanted to use me in a featured role.  So they made the part of "Bet" into a guy's part and renamed it "Lucky" - I was to be the Artful Dodger's sidekick.  From that point on I haven't looked back.

What hooked you? What inspired you to be where you are today?
If I had to point out one single event that hooked me it was watching The Wizard of Oz.  The role of the Scarecrow just jumped out at me (maybe it was b/c I was in love with Dorothy and I knew she would "miss him the most of all.")  Today the role of the Scarecrow is my favorite to play and I feel it was almost made for my style of performing.

What was the first play you ever saw?
The first play I clearly remember seeing was a production of Oklahoma! when I lived in, well, Oklahoma.

Did you study acting? 
I was a Theatre/English major at SUNY Geneseo. I took all the standard classes, with an emphasis on musical theatre and directing.


What was your first audition?
When I auditioned for Oliver Twist as a fourth grader.  I remember they made me do pantomime... something about washing clothes. 

How do you choose what play you will audition for?  The piece itself, the director, theater, you were pre-cast, etc.
I normally decide to audition because the show itself and a specific role.  Sometimes I will audition b/c I know the director and I feel I have a good shot.

Speaking of pre-casting, tell us how you really feel about the subject. happens unfortunately.  People who direct can't help but have people in mind for certain roles.  I believe a director should hold open auditions just to see what is out there...they might be surprised.  They should always have those people they have in mind audition - just to be fair.  As a director I have had people in mind for certain roles, but I always had the individuals audition.  A few times I changed my mind and went with someone I didn't know b/c they were just a better fit.  I know I have been cast in roles b/c the director just knew I would be a "safe-bet."

What types of parts do you normally play?  Do you feel typecast?
I usually play the youthful, energetic character roles.  I have a young look that makes me able to play roles much younger than myself.  I like to think of myself as a character actor, though some may beg to differ b/c I really don't have a "character actor" singing voice.  I usually get cast in comedies due to my frenetic energy onstage, but I have enjoyed playing in dramas immensely.  I don't think I'm typecast - especially if the director really knows me and my range. I have played roles ranging from the innocent to the sociopathic.

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 "Michael McAuliffe" type?
I have been lucky b/c I have been able to play lots of different roles on the Island, but if I auditioned in NYC, where directors don't know me, I feel I would definitely be cast in youthful roles - the younger brother, the innocent, the quirky sidekick.


What is your approach to developing your character?
I like to get most of my information from the script.  I also think about how the character may or may not be like myself, and if there is anything I can bring from my own personality into the role.  I always seem to find some side of my personality that can fit into the character...that helps me make my characters seem believable.  For those times that I have played characters so different from myself, I look to see what it is exactly about myself that has to change in order to make this part believable, and then I try to "go there".  Since I am an acting teacher by trade I am prone to use the magic "If" now and then, especially when I'm thinking about a specific moment that I want to make believable, but am not finding inside myself.  I really can say that I have NEVER played a role that was 100% different from myself.  There is always something I can find, however deeply buried within myself, that I can use as a starting off point.  I feel this approach helps your portrayal seem real and not forced.

Of all the characters you have portrayed, who is your favorite?
My favorite roles have been The Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz, Georg in She Loves Me, Brandon in Rope, Hysterium in Forum, and Guiteau in Assassins, Edward in Skylight and Peachy in The Last Night of Ballyhoo.

What do you think were your best roles?  your worst?
My best roles were Guiteau in Assassins, Hysterium in Forum and Brandon in Rope. I really enjoy playing evil characters b/c people don't expect it from me.  My worst role has been Elliot in Alone Together b/c I just don't think people bought me playing a married 30 year old who is a complete womanizer.

What roles offered you the greatest challenge and why?  How well do you think you met the challenge?
My greatest challenge was Malcolm in Macbeth b/c I was so afraid that people would say "Why is this musical comedy actor doing Shakespeare"?  I didn't think my style of performing would be at all useful with this role - and it wasn't...for the first time in a long time I spent a lot of time trying to get the character right.  I was also afraid of the language and how well I could memorize it.  From what I heard back from people I think I did okay.  Steve Parks never did point me out as being weak so I guess I was successful - not that he is the end all be all of acting...but at the time I was afraid.

What role do you wish you could have a second shot at and get it right this time?
Well, that role in Alone Together. Now that I am married maybe I can make the part more believable.

What roles or types of roles would you most like to play in the future?
Ah yes, the question I have been waiting for...okay all you directors out there - I hope you are reading this!  Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors, Finch in H2$, Marvin in Falsettos, M.C. in Cabaret, Robert in Company, Matt in The Fantasticks, Jesus in Godspell, Cosmo in Singin' In The Rain, Harold Hill in The Music Man, and Pippin in Pippin.  I guess that is it...for now!


How do you feel when you perform?
Like no other feeling in the world.  I am truly alive!

What motivates you to keep on doing what you're doing?
I just couldn't ever see me giving up performing.  It is so much a part of who I am.  There is always that dream of being discovered that keeps you going.

During opening night jitters each one of us has said, "Why do I do this to myself?"  Why do you do it?
Because I am addicted - plain and simple.  I also truly believe I was placed on this earth to perform in some capacity.


What is your favorite theater story?
I guess it would have to be when I did Grease and I met my wife.  She was playing Rizzo and I was playing Doody.  Over the three months that we worked on the show our relationship blossomed, starting out as a simple friendship and culminating in a relationship once the show closed.

Did you ever miss an entrance, drop enough lines for it to be noticeable, crack up on stage?
I don't think I have missed an entrance and I really don't drop lines.  My "specialty" is flubbing lines...I can really get tongue tied with the best of them.  I also have been known to blank out on a lyric or two and fill the space with some interesting gibberish.

What was your worst theater experience?
Well, if it happened in the theatre it really can't be that bad in my opinion.  However, I really have not enjoyed those performances over the years where I played to 10-12 people.  It is very disheartening.

What's the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you on stage?
When I did The Pajama Game at Airport I was one of the dancers in "Steam Heat."  As you know there are a lot of moves with a hat.  Well, during one of the many flips of the hat, it tumbled down the stairs and landed on the last step.  I had to somehow retrieve it and make sure I didn't lose my place in the dance.


Why do you perform at the theaters you do?
I am a theatre nomad...I perform at lots of different theatres.  I go where the potential roles are.  That doesn't mean I don't have loyalty to certain theatres, I just like to try new things and meet new people.

Do you think regional theater will continue to grow on L.I.?
I really hope so.

Who are some of the actors you've most admired or who have been particularly rewarding to work with?
A hard question since I have worked with some great performers.  If I had to point out a few they would be: Bob Spiotto, Carolyn Popadin, Sandro Scenga and Geri Lynn Greco, Jerry Maggio...the list could go on, but I don't have all my Playbills in front of me.

Who's the best (in your opinion) that you've done a show with?
My wife Mary Ellen; I have played opposite her several times and we complement each other onstage the same way we do offstage.

Who is your favorite performer? favorite L.I. performer?
My favorite performers of all time are: Ray Bolger, John Denver, Kurt Cobain, Jim Carrey, Bobby Darin, John Popper, Robin Williams & John Malkovich.  In terms of Long Island -You all are!  Ha - that was an easy one.


How do you maintain your career and do theater?
Very easy - I'm a teacher, so I have my nights free (most of the time).  I also have the benefit of summers off.  Since I teach acting I feel that I am complete...I live and breath acting.  Many of my college friends have not performed in years.  I feel lucky that even though I have not "made it" per se, I have created a life for myself that is 100% theatrical.

Why do you spend so much time toiling in L.I. Theater?
Because it is where the work is.  I also like that I have a place I can perform without having to give up stability.

Do you find that your family supports your love of theater?
Yes, very much so.  I come from a big family (three brothers & four sisters) ... I am right in the middle.  I guess acting was a way for me to get attention growing up.

How has performing enriched your life?
It has made me who I am.  It has given me purpose, and I really feel I have found my niche in this world.


What brings you the greatest joy?
Listening to music, watching movies, spending time with good friends, and being with my wife Mary Ellen.

What really irks you?

If you won LOTTO tomorrow you would.
Clear up all my bills, get a nice house..and start up a theatre company.

Is it true that you'd really rather be rich than good looking?
I think I'd go with the being rich b/c what is "good looking" anyway?  And if I have money I can always do "work" in the looks department.

What's your favorite word?

Assuming that there is a heaven, what do you want to hear when you get there?
"Hey everybody - the entertainment is here!"


Do you have any projects on the horizon that you want the readers to be aware of?
Right now I'm directing The Last Night of Ballyhoo at St. Anthony's High School.  It runs November 13th - 15th.  You can call 631-271-2020 for ticket info.  After that I'll direct The Pajama Game (Also St. Anthony's), which will open April 30th.

Given your choice of parts in plays, which play and role is your heart's desire?
Finch in How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.