• Natalie Wisdom

Michael Everett, Professional Actor.

[Interview Date: November 19, 2020]

Pabbie U/S and King U/S in the First National Tour of Frozen, Aladdin National Tour, Riverdance and more.

What was the week of March 12, 2020 like for you? What were your initial concerns when your tour went on an abrupt and unexpected layoff?

That week was interesting for me, because I took my first two sick days the weekend before that. Because COVID was just starting to get serious, where we were in Portland. And we had just had that meeting the week before, where (company management) said, “If you feel anything weird, take time off, in an abundance of caution,” which I did. It turned out that the Airbnb that I was staying in was just super dry.

Then, when it closed, it kind of felt anticipated, but also surreal. I remember feeling like it felt like a snow day. Because it was just that feeling of, you’re ready to do something. You’re getting up to go to school, and your parents are like, “There’s no school today,” and your entire schedule is just gone.

I stayed in Portland two weeks afterwards, to just kind of see what was happening. And I didn’t necessarily have anywhere to go back to in New York. So, I was trying to figure out where I was going to go and how to get there.

How did the shutdown initially disrupt your plans?

I stayed in Portland just so I wouldn’t have to make a rash split-second decision. When we had the meeting, it seemed like we had to make all of our decisions within the next couple hours. And with everything that was going on, I wanted to have a more reasoned decision-making process. So, I was just kind of gauging things. I reached out to my best friend who lived in Vegas at the time, to see if I could stay with him. I ended up staying with him for two months. That was nice, because I hadn’t seen him in a long time. He’s also a performer, so we were trying to console each other through the first couple months of our industry falling apart.

Outside of that, I had a lot of financial goals that I had planned for the coming months; to be more financially independent by July. I was super close to paying off my school loans. I was planning on getting Lasik surgery done, and I was going to get a car, so I could drive the tour. Now that I’m in Florida, I need a car. So, that still ended up happening. But it just kind of put everything on hold. Especially since my ex and I broke up in November of the year prior, and the lease on our apartment wasn’t up until the end of May. So, I was paying for this apartment that I wasn’t living in. I was also looking forward to the end of that; having access to my entire paycheck. It was just kind of frustrating to see that everything you had been working towards and setting up and putting into place for a year and a half, being put on hold; outside of your control.

Have you made any big decisions as a direct result of the shutdown? How has the pandemic changed your priorities, if at all?

I got a car! It’s the first car I have ever owned, myself. That was a large financial decision to make, especially when you don’t have a job. I’ve only had it two or three weeks. I love it. It’s perfect.

I had also planned to adopt and have a dog with me on tour. Well, when I got to Florida, I didn’t know anyone down here, and it’s a pretty isolated beach town. So, I decided I would foster dogs. It’s been absolutely lovely. The second dog that I fostered was this two-year-old husky, German shepherd mix, and we have fallen in love with each other. So, I’ll be bringing her on the road with me. Her name is Lucy. She’s a handful, but she’s lovely. So, Lucy and the car; but honestly, Lucy has been one of the positive things to come out of all this. I was really lonely when I first got out here; coming out of a four-year relationship with someone. Lucy and the other dog I fostered, Bubba, made a huge positive impact, and brought some love into my life when I needed it.

Did you initially anticipate that Broadway and other theatre productions, including your tour, would be closed for this long?

Pragmatically, I was aware that this could last a year. I wanted to be optimistic as long as possible. I think it was June, when we had a call with all the producers and everything, and they told us that they were looking at a December/January restart. That was when my optimism changed more to pragmatism. I was like, “Everyone is talking about how it’s supposed to get worse in the winter, so starting in the dead of winter probably won’t happen.” And now that’s the trend of things across the states. It’s becoming more of a beast, and I just assumed a more cautious mindset, just to help myself. Because when you keep setting short-term goals, and they keep getting knocked down, it really starts to add up. I would rather anticipate something far out, and if it happens sooner, that’s awesome.

What have you been doing over the past year or so to stay sane? What has helped you the most?

Definitely, Lucy. She’s so high-energy and smart that she needs a lot of structure, so that has required me to put in a lot of time training her. I’ve also sent myself back to college, in the sense of giving myself ballet classes and technical dance classes and working out consistently. Just because now that I have the time and I don’t have to worry about trying to balance work and dance and life and all that stuff, it’s been a great distraction. But I also want to come back stronger and better than I was before. I think this is a great opportunity to do that.

What has been the hardest thing about the past months since the shutdown?

I’d say the loneliness, really. I feel like everyone knows the saying that, “humans are social creatures,” but I think artists, especially, are even more magnified towards that. And especially people that tour for a living; we choose to leave our friends, family, and home behind to pursue what we love to do. And there are some of us that are lucky enough to go back to that, and others of us that actually kind of get rid of that stuff to join this tour family. And to have the tour family taken; ripped away from you, and then not having the place to go back to with your other friends and family is really hard.

And having toured so much, I was always familiar with a lot of alone time and being out of contact with friends and family for large periods of time, but this has been a whole different degree. I will say that Florida was never one of my favorite places, but I am starting to find the beauty of where I am. Now that it’s not the dead of summer, it’s really gorgeous out here.

What positives, if any, do you think have come out of this time of quarantine?

The time and lack of distractions that are afforded to you to really get to know yourself and get comfortable with yourself. I’ve tried to take that time I had in the past to do just that, but there are so many-I don’t want to call them distractions-that sounds bad-but there are so many things you can use to distract yourself, when you’re not in a pandemic. At the beginning of the pandemic, I decided to get off social media and really explore the areas of myself that I’ve never wanted to, or never felt comfortable doing. I think it’s also been nice being where I am. I’ve never lived on my own for any extended amount of time. So that’s been really nice.

It’s also given me time to look back at what really got me here, and I don’t mean my choices, necessarily, in life but looking at my parents and my mom and her family. And the full line of Harrisons (my mom’s maiden name). Especially with everything that happened this summer with the Black Lives Matter movement. I wanted to really delve into; not just the history of African Americans, but my own family history. And it’s inspired me. I’m slowly writing a script, I think. One of my mom’s best friends was the daughter of the man who owned the Black club in Atlantic City, and a lot of the Black artists that came through Atlantic City would stay at my grandparents’ house. And Duke Ellington was my great uncle. And she was also best friends with the white club owner who was also a member of the Atlantic City Mafia. All these crazy stories… I want to find a way to bring that to life. I don’t think I would have been inspired to do that; or not for a long time, if everything hadn’t played out the way it did.

You thought of a very special idea for your company to help spread joy during these hard times. Can you talk a little bit about Secret Oaken and how it has helped to lift the spirits of your castmates and company?

Secret Oaken-It’s just a way to spread joy. I think everyone is enjoying it, which I’m really happy about. But I keep telling people it wasn’t my idea. I got it when Faith (friend and Music Director) sent me a random care package, because I had been talking to her about how I’m staying busy and stuff. She sent me her favorite coffee with some homemade chocolate chip cookies with these special chocolate chips. And it just arrived; she didn’t tell me. She sent it with a letter and it said, “Hey I know you’re going through a hard time right now. Want to let you know you’re loved. I’m thinking about you. Here are some cookies.” And it hit me at a time when that’s literally exactly what I needed. I was just feeling so alone and isolated. And I just didn’t feel like anyone was thinking about me.

And as soon as I finished reading her letter, I felt that warmth and I was like, “How many other people are feeling this way?” And what can we do to try to stay connected?” Like I was saying, the tour family is your family. Faith and I have been lucky enough to work two shows back-to-back.

When I emailed about it originally, I thought I was going to get shut down, because there was still a lot of Covid everywhere. But I sent it just to give people the option, and luckily, quite a few people signed up. I keep getting texts and emails, so I think people are still sending people gifts.

What do you miss the most about live theatre?

Performing. I know that’s obvious, as a performer, but this time has really shown me that I have two personalities. My offstage personality is really chill, laid back, super calm. My onstage personality is when I really come to life, and that is what really fills my heart with joy. So, not being able to have that outlet has been really difficult. So, I cannot wait to get back onstage and just live for an audience and help bring people into another world for a little while. I feel like this is a time when people really need that.

What’s your favorite theatre memory?

Whenever anyone asks me this question, I always feel like it’s the wrong answer because it’s not my favorite, because something amazing happened. But the very first dance of any kind that I did onstage, in front of an audience, was when I was 16 or 17. I was just starting to get into dance, and a local studio gave me a free dance scholarship. They didn’t really teach me to dance; they just taught choreography. And the first thing they had me do was at Six Flags over Texas, for their holiday show. I did one number. They dressed me up as a hippopotamus in a pink tutu, and I was a hippopotamus in “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas,” and rocked it. I think it’s my favorite, because I see myself as a character performer, and that certainly exemplifies that. It also taught me how to steal the show, despite the part I’m given.

What is the thing you’re most excited to do when live theatre is back?

Aside from perform, I think I’m most excited to partner with Berklea again. I didn’t start dancing until very late. I played a lot of team sports, and while a cast works as a team; you don’t get to do a lot of team stuff unless you’re partnering. And Berklea and I had the pleasure of dancing together in a show in New York just before Frozen started. And we just have a great connection when it comes to partnering. Being able to trust that the person is going to be there when you need them, and if things go wrong, you can laugh it off and work through it together. And Berklea is that person for me. And I can’t wait to work with her again.

What advice do you have for young Broadway hopefuls during this time?

To not get discouraged. You have so many more—I hate saying this, because it makes me sound old—but you have so many more opportunities available to you than we did when we were kids. If this had happened when we were kids, everyone would have had to buy a VHS tape, and it would be nonstop rewinding. And when you broke the tape, that would be that. But now, with YouTube, I’ve taken so many ballet classes for free this entire time. And I danced in my best friend’s garage for a couple months. I ordered a ballet barre, and took ballet in my living room on the carpet. And then, I got a portable dance floor, and I did that for months. You have so many avenues of ways to learn and to continue to progress. Broadway will be back. Theatre will be back. Just keep moving forward, have faith, and keep learning.

Lightning Round:

Favorite Broadway Musical: Aladdin

Favorite Broadway Play: Burn This

Favorite role you’ve played: Pabbie in Frozen

Dream role: Overall, would be T’Challa from Black Panther. Dream role, Music Theatre would be Lafayette or Kristoff.

Favorite Broadway Icon Andre De Shields. I trained him (as a personal trainer) at Manhattan Plaza Health Club for a while! And then, I saw him in a play in Chicago, and when I heard he did Hadestown, I was just floored. He’s a phenomenal person.

Favorite Broadway Theatre Ritual and/or tradition: I really enjoy my pre-show warm-up ritual, because it makes me feel like a professional athlete. I put my headphones on, and I get focused. It makes me feel like when they show the NBA stars exiting the bus before or after a game. It amps me up.

Favorite city on tour: Chicago.

Favorite Theatre Superstition: Whistling in a theater, except I whistle all the time.

Favorite Dressing Room Item: Any of my Batman things. I love Batman stuff.

Favorite trunk item Probably my frying pan. Nothing worse than getting to an Airbnb and they have terrible cookware.

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