Michael Milkanin, Broadway Performer.
[Interview Date: December 19, 2020]
Kinky Boots on Broadway, Oaken in Frozen First National Tour and more.
Can you describe what the week leading up to March 12, 2020 was like for you? How certain were you that there was a shutdown looming?
I was in Portland on the 1st national tour of Frozen. I was sharing a house with Elsa, Hans, and a female swing. I was feeling a bit sick, but no fever, and I still had my voice. And so many people were already out of the show. Hans had “the flu” and was out of show for a few days. We had had a company meeting, warning us to take as many precautions in the workplace that we could. That was my first tip-off that we may have to take a break. You could feel the energy moving too fast; the whole world was starting to stress, and we didn’t know anything except that fear of the virus was spiraling around the world. The day before the shutdown, I made an inappropriate joke during our last show. As the Bishop in the coronation, I greeted everyone by saying, “Happy closing.” We knew something big could happen, but we figured Disney wouldn’t close us. They would find a way to keep us open no matter what. Little did we know.
How did the announcement of an unexpected layoff affect your immediate plans?
The shutdown announcement was in a company meeting that got pushed up an hour. Our company manager hadn’t been home. She was wearing the same clothes as the night before. She said that things keep changing so fast that she isn’t even sure what to tell us. All she could say was that we were shut down for at least 2-4 weeks, to go home and pack our trunks and anything we wanted to ship home and email them where we wanted to be flown.
I panicked. I couldn’t go to my home in NYC because it was occupied by a sublet. I was nervous to travel to my parents in fear of getting them sick, and it was all too soon. This year was huge for me. I had worked so hard for this job. It was an answer to some really tough experiences, and now I had to figure out what I was gonna do or where I was going to go. Luckily, most of my house mates were staying in Portland, so I decided to stay and relax. Treat it like a month-long vacation and continue on the tour-route until we return to the show. At this point, we were thinking we would be back in 4 weeks, maybe 8 at the longest.
How has the layoff affected your more long-term plans? Have you made any big decisions as a direct result of the pandemic? How have your priorities changed, if at all?
Everyone goes on tour with a plan. Whether that be to save money, to gain experience, to travel, etc. My plan was to use this show as a career launching pad. It was a great role in a new show. I was so excited to do a quick year, maybe year and a half, then return to NYC ready for the next challenge and even buy NYC real estate. The 5-year plan was all laid out so clearly. That changed quick. A few big decisions were made: I drove across the country from Portland to NYC in May to be back in my apartment and have a summer in New York. My sister was diagnosed with fast-growing breast cancer, and I decided to give up my apartment and move to Utah to help with her treatment. I think my priorities are shifting a bit wider than myself. It’s quite easy for me to focus so much of my energy into work, and as soon as work wasn’t available, I definitely felt lost. Prioritizing my family, my mental health, and my future other than work.
Did you initially anticipate that Broadway and other theatre productions, including your tour, would be closed for this long?
Absolutely not. We were told to prepare for 4 weeks, so I was treating it as an extended vacation. As it started getting longer and longer, I realized it wasn’t going to change. Every time they pushed us back, I’d think, “That seems so far away, of course we will be ready by then.” And then, we get closer to that start date, and it’s clear that we won’t be coming back. And the cycle starts again.
What have you been doing over the past year or so to stay sane? What has helped you the most?
Truly not as much as I wanted, though I am trying to give myself the grace to just be sad and take a break. I have been doing some play/musical writing and exploring some other creative outlets. Chatting with friends has been my one saving grace, though recently I got a puppy and that has been such a needed change of pace.
Have you been able to keep dancing and singing during this time? How has the pandemic affected your motivation and ability to create your art?
My motivation has left. Haha. I have danced a little, choreographed a little, but I’ve had to take a step back from it all. I started doing more writing than anything. Dancing is a group activity, and Zoom just doesn’t do it for me. I sing though. A lot more than I thought.
What has been the hardest thing about the past months since the shutdown?
I miss people. I miss hugging. I miss the play. Work is my favorite thing in the world. No work means no people, no gym, no fitness classes, no groups. Golly, I miss groups.
What positives, if any, do you think have come out of this time of quarantine?
I got my sweet puppy and a car to take on tour with me when we (hopefully) return in July. I got to spend the holidays with my family, which hasn’t happened for maybe 4 years. I got to help my sister through breast cancer treatments.
What do you miss the most about performing in Frozen and live theatre, in general?
Family portrait in Hygge and the Crowning of Elsa. Two moments when I get to connect with most of the cast. I get to see everyone’s face, and both moments where everyone is settled and making their own choices. It is always new and exciting.
What’s your favorite theatre memory?
My Broadway debut, as a swing, was a whirlwind. I remember getting to the end of the show after bows and preparing for the re-entrance. All the stress and nerves wore off, and I knew I had made it through. You get one debut, and I didn’t ruin the play. Quite an exciting and very big turning point of my career.
What is the thing you’re most excited to do when live theatre is back?
My friends and structure. I miss my coworkers and our antics. I also miss show-life structure: yoga, gym, show, dinner, etc. All things we can’t do right now.
What advice do you have for young Broadway hopefuls during this time?
Train, train, train. Now is the time to be ready. I know it’s hard and motivation runs slim, but being able to sing 15 seconds on the internet doesn’t prepare you for real work. Diversify your skill sets, learn some musical theatre history, and be ready for the work, because Broadway loves the young and hungry.
Favorite Broadway Musical: Bridges of Madison County
Favorite Broadway Play: Noises Off
Favorite role you’ve played: Fabrizio in The Light in the Piazza
Dream role: Bobby in Company
Favorite Movie Musical: West Side Story or Hello Dolly!
Movie that you think should be a musical: Holes, The Burbs
Fosse or Jerome Robbins: Jerome… that’s tough.
Michael Bennett or Agnes DeMille: Bennett
Favorite Broadway Theatre Ritual and/or Tradition: It changes between shows, But I love greeting the head carpenter/crew. I feel like it humanizes the experience for me and helps me remember there is more to the world than the ribbon dance!
Favorite city on tour: Seattle, WA or Austin, TX
Favorite Dressing Room Item: Nin Jiom Syrup- perfect for a sore or dry throat!
Favorite Style of Dance: Disney Hip Hop