Who are you and what significant contributions have you made to the organization?
My name is Mike Wirsch, and I became involved with the Chappell Players my freshman year at St. John’s University (2005). I was the Historian for the 2006-2007 season, and not a very good one; I’m the guy responsible for any gaps in knowledge you have regarding that period. At the Little Theater, I performed in musicals, cabarets, dance concerts, straight plays, Bromidean Projects, and Opening Week shows. I also wrote some sketches, and I wrote the script for Cabarock, whatever year that was. I told you I’m a bad historian.
How was the transition from college to the real world? How was life after graduation?
After college I moved upstate with my parents for a year and felt the same ennui that a lot of graduates face. I graduated with a BS in Communication Arts, and I didn’t really know what to do. So I moved to Jeju-do, South Korea and taught English for a year. Living abroad taught me a lot, and it broadened my perspective of the world. I also speak a little Korean now. This has become completely useless since I moved to Astoria.
"CPTG fosters a proactive attitude, and its members learn from direct experience."
Did being involved in the Chappell Players prepare you for life after college? How so?
Being a Chappell Players offered me freedoms that a more “traditional” theatre program (I’m looking at you, Tisch School of the Arts) might not have. Essentially, if one is interested in any particular element of theatre or performance, the Chappell Players can act as a vehicle for that pursuit. If I was interested in designing lights for a show, I would have been able to do that through the Chappell Players with minimal interference. I could have designed sound, sets, costumes, whatever. If I really wanted to put up a show, I could talk to the group and make it happen. I’m not sure what the process is at other schools, but I imagine there’s a lot more red tape when it comes to that sort of development. I guess the short answer is that CPTG fosters a proactive attitude, and its members learn from direct experience. Probably a lot of mistakes too, but that’s the best way to learn.
What is your favorite CPTG memory or performance?
I think I have to go with Don Gormanly’s answer of Alexis Pereira’s The First Ever Cabaret. It was a really funny Western with a great cast, and it had a fantastic collection of songs. Dylan Frisina and I sang a touching rendition of I Just Died in Your Arms Tonight, while he, you know, died in my arms. It was hard to see, but I assume there wasn’t a dry eye in the audience after that.
Have you been able to remain involved with theatre as much as you hoped/wanted?
Surprisingly, yes. I just finished performing in a festival of student-written plays, and I perform regularly with my musical improv team, Good Catch (goodcatchcomedy.com). Last year I had my play, The Journeymen and Womyn With a Y, produced in San Antonio and read in New York. I spent one winter playing trombone with no clothes on at The Cutting Room. So I do a bunch of stuff. But the thing I am most excited for is a show I have written for the NYC Fringe Festival this summer. It is called Michael Paul Wirsch’s The Curse of the Babywoman, and it is being produced by BIG Theatre Company (bigtheatre.org), a company that was started along with fellow alums Olivia Hartle, Ken Kruper, and Sarah Goncalves. Olivia Hartle is directing the show, and she’s absolutely brilliant. Do come see the show. It’s going to be a good time.
What is professional theatre like compared to what you did with the Chappell Players?
Everything varies based on the production. I generally feel less stressed out about the theatre I do now, but maybe that’s more of a commentary on my attitude. I have definitely pulled fewer all-nighters since graduating. Also, they pay you. That’s nice.
Do you have any advice for Chappell Players going through college or those who have already graduated?
Create your own stuff, because it is rewarding in a way that putting up someone else’s production of “Tennessee Williams’s Deep Cuts” will never be. Money and egos have put a bunch of gatekeepers in the entertainment industry, but if you create your own stuff, you circumvent these gatekeepers. You become the gatekeeper. Other advice: Take an improv class. Travel. Practice yoga. Don’t panic.