The skilled OSF actor Michael J. Hume lets his directing and writing muscle tissue play – Ashland Tidings
Although the pandemic brought some kind of forced retirement for Michael J. Hume as an actor, he counts himself among the luckier ones, old enough to pick up two pensions and social security.
“I have younger actor friends with two young children and no income,” he said. “It just confuses the mind.”
With more than two dozen seasons at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Hume was cast as Captain Robert Falcon Scott, mollusk and ensemble in “Peter and the Starcatcher” and as Gonzalo and ensemble in “The Tempest” for the 2020 season – until the cinemas only a few days later went dark because of COVID-19.
Even so, he was busy writing projects, running gigs, and connecting with family and friends.
Hume is staging “Tiny Beautiful Things” for the Rogue Theater Company from July 15th to 25th at the Grizzly Peak Winery. It is produced “in the round” on the winery’s Oak Grove outdoor stage.
Based on a book by Cheryl Strayed (author of “Wild”) and adapted for the stage by Nia Vardalos (“My Big Fat Greek Wedding”), Renee Hewitt, Geoffrey Riley, Mia Gaskin and Carlos-Zenen Trujillo play the leading roles.
“It’s a tremendously human handwriting,” said Hume. “Strayed had an online advice column called ‘Dear Sugar’. She gathered a wide range of life questions and their answers in a volume that became the basis for the piece. It is filled with the generosity and wisdom of a life lived with grace, loss and failure. “
It was called a “Critic’s Pick” by the New York Times and received rave reviews. Chicago Onstage said it was “wonderfully weird”. The New York Times said, “It works wonderfully as a sustained theatrical exercise in empathy.”
Prior to OSF, Hume worked for various theater organizations including the American Conservatory Theater (San Francisco), South Coast Rep (Costa Mesa, California), Pittsburgh Public Theater, Portland Stage (Maine), Hartford Stage (Connecticut), Manhattan Theater Club and Manhattan Punchline (New York City). He co-founded the Lexington Conservatory Theater (New York) and Capital Rep (Albany, New York).
“We came to Ashland and OSF with babies from New York and looked for a 10-month contract,” said Hume. “The family also lives here. I thought we’d be staying for a year or two. ”That was 29 years ago.
He enjoyed OSF’s rotating repertoire model.
“Doing eight gigs a week is the professional norm,” he said. “Playing the same piece eight times a week can be annoying, but you do it.”
With a changing repertoire, however, there is more variety.
“It’s a luxury to have eight shows with two or three different roles,” he said. “It keeps you busy, makes you think fresh. You enjoy going back to a role, sometimes after up to 10 days. If there is one disadvantage, it is fatigue. “
In any format, actors need to be able to keep it fresh.
“Be humble,” he said. “And you listen.”
Its preparation process depends on the role.
“There are different requirements, different processes. Shakespeare puts language first. With musicals it’s the songs first. “
Shakespeare can be a challenge for some actors. Any advice for actors new to Bard?
“I know it’s pretty much out of fashion at the moment, but it seems important to me to get an idea of the iambic pentameter,” he said. “For a young actor coming to OSF with no experience, my advice is to find a trainer before you come. And read aloud to you all the time. “
Hume is big on a role.
“I always have a notebook,” he said, “full of notes and rubbish. Then you can throw everything away in the rehearsal and just play. “
Hume has proven his vocal skills in several plays, most recently as father Maurice in Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast”. But he has no formal training.
“To my great personal shame, I had no musical training after third grade,” he said. “My life would be so much easier if I could read sheet music.”
When asked about his favorite roles, Hume said he would stick with the tried and true and say his last role was his favorite role. But there is a special place for Mr. Antrobus in “The Skin of Our Teeth,” a role he played on OSF in 1995.
“That has had a remarkable response for me,” he said. “My mother (Patricia Riordan) starred in the original 1942 Broadway production of Elia Kazan, starring Tallulah Bankhead and Fredric March.”
He said his mother told stories about March chasing her around the locker room while his wife, Florence Eldridge, was one locker room down.
“She left the show in the middle of the run to marry my father in Albuquerque,” he said. After divorcing and widowing, she moved to Ashland in 1985, volunteered with OSF, and shared her piano playing and singing songs from the 20s, 30s, and 40s with residents of many of the Rogue Valley elderly care facilities.
Hume directed a production of “The Skin of Our Teeth” when he was with Capital Rep, and 12 years later he starred on OSF.
It was also in 1995 when he took on what was possibly his most challenging role as Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
“It was exciting at first because it’s such a brilliant, difficult part,” he said. “I was immediately told by every actor I knew, ‘Congratulations, you’re going to get the worst reviews of your entire career.'”
Understanding its significance after researching the role, he discovered that Lionel Barrymore, Charles Laughton, Albert Finney and Peter O’Toole all viewed themselves as failures in the role.
“If you do the job right, you have to dive into very dark pits,” said Hume. “It’s ugly work, even scary work.”
He said there are two types of actors who take on the role. Those who know how to start the play but fail in the second half; and those who do not know how to enter the arena but thrive when the blood and madness begin to flow.
“I generally don’t read reviews,” he said. “But enough people came up to me and said, ‘I just want you to know, I disagree with the San Francisco press’ that I ended up just thinking, MY GOD, WHAT DO YOU SAY ?!”
So he looked at the reviews.
“I was gutted. So while I did the right job and know that I made this amazing language clear and precise, ultimately it is hard to know that it is highly disapproved. ”He said it was definitely a learning experience.
Hume was born in Pasadena and grew up in Tustin, 80 km south. He was a family of creatives. His mother, grandmother, aunt, and sister were actresses. His father and brother were artists. “And we all took piano lessons,” he said.
He began taking acting classes at the Newport Beach Children’s Theater Guild in fifth grade. “I played Bottom on ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ which got the ball rolling.”
As a teenager he did an apprenticeship at the Tustin Playhouse, painting sets, cleaning toilets and selling donuts.
After high school, he attended Cal State, Fullerton; Professional theater workshop, Hollywood; American Conservatory Theater continuing education program; and in the Herbert Berghof Studio in New York City with the renowned actress and teacher Uta Hagen.
The next thing for Hume is to train his writing muscles.
He and two employees, Jahnna Beecham and Malcolm Hillgartner, have worked on two musicals in recent years.
“The Magician’s Secret” was commissioned by the Children’s Theater of Charlotte and Orlando Rep.
“It’s an original story with songs about a young master of the magic contest who turns into a ‘Scooby-Doo’ secret,” said Hume, “without the dog”.
Originally planned before the pandemic changed everything, it could go back into production from 2022, he said.
The other track is Parcel from America, an Irish Christmas musical based on a story by local Irish storyteller Tomaseen Foley.
“It’s autobiographical and based on his vacation experiences he grew up in rural western Ireland in the 1950s,” said Hume.
“We worked with composer / arranger Kevin Corcoran from Dublin and JR Sullivan, artistic director of the Irish Theater of Chicago.”
Hume said they hope to assemble it at the Smock Alley Theater in Dublin and then take it to the ITC.
“In the meantime, we’d like to have a scenic reading in Ashland with local actors and musicians sometime this summer,” he said. “Kevin and Jim will join us and maybe Irish producer Hugh Farrell. We have set up a cast and a band and are now waiting to hear from a room. “
You can reach Ashland author Jim Flint at firstname.lastname@example.org.