BWW Blog: Michael Milligan of Off-Broadway's MERCY KILLERS - A Leap Into the Void!

December 4
1:34 PM 2013
BWW Blog: Michael Milligan of Off-Broadway's MERCY KILLERS - A Leap Into the Void!

A Leap into the Void! musings on the upcoming run of Mercy Killers, by Michael Milligan
Over a year ago, I took a detour in my career. That's a polite way of saying "I took a leap into the void." Years of being a journeyman regional theater actor had taken their toll. Leaving me broke and uninspired. So, I was developing my one man play, Mercy Killers, in response to a series of personal experiences with the healthcare system. The idea that a year later we would be opening this show Off Broadway would have been absurd! But here we are and Thoreau's famous quote comes to mind:
"If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours."

That quote, minus the "confidently" part, sums up the wild ride that has brought Mercy Killers from a rented community theater in Columbus, OH., to a Dr.'s living room in Toledo, a Comedy Club full of medical students, at the State Capitol for an audience of Minnesota state legislators, small towns across Ohio and Minnesota, Philadelphia, the Edinburgh Fringe, a radical "anti-bedroom tax rally" in rural Scotland, Chicago, Philadelphia, Virginia, and most recently, a 14 venue tour of California with the California Nurses Association and The Campaign for a Healthy California... to its Off Broadway premiere.

Not exactly the route I would have imagined.
If you work in the arts long enough, you will inevitably become aware that artists as a demographic are horribly marginalized by our healthcare system. This will change somewhat under the Affordable Care Act, more so in New York where we tend to be ahead of the curve. But there will continue to be ridiculous scenarios, incredible waste, jumping through hoops, interruption of care, lack of access, underinsurance and periods of uninsurance. But I digress- as a guest blogger, maybe I'll revisit some of this in later posts!

As artists we tend to lurk under the table living off falling crumbs from the table of plenty. I know an absolutely brilliant painter from my hometown, absolutely brilliant, whose artwork decorates many a McMansion- he is well loved and regarded by swanky circles, and he has never been able to afford insurance. After a couple surgeries and bankruptcies, this fine artist has to deal with debt collectors and the unending anxiety, of not only possible relapse, but also, the accompanying financial devastation. I have a hundred stories like this, this is just the one that came into my head. Some of them are very personal. Some about former partners, friends, and myself. And they all fill me with rage and the urgent need to keep on performing this play until the American heart finally breaks. And we can take the health of those we love the most out of the hands of those who see potential profits in human misery.

So, anyway. I was one of these artists living on crumbs. We are so used to giving, to adapting ourselves to whatever circumstances to please a director, or an agent, or a casting director, or a producer, or a managing director, etc. etc. Until it becomes a kind of virtue. Until there are actually classes you can take to practice how to fawn and kiss backsides in a more effective manner. I'm not sure this is the way to make great art, by the way. But this kind of habit of kneeling and bowing, has made us too adaptable and accepting of inhumane conditions. People who give so much, who create so much love and joy in the world, should not be left out in the street when the wheel of fortune turns against them. Least of all then, when help is needed most.
So, this play for me, is my way of standing up. Of stepping into the sphere of creation, of deciding what art is, of not leaving it to producers, taste makers, or people with bags of money. I am a worker in the arts. I make the art. And what I make comes from my joy in working. I am no longer a drudge. I am no longer an indentured servant. I am no longer a mercenary. I am a warrior. All I need is a chair, a table, a light, and an audience. And this is the best thing I've ever done.

Come check it out. I wrote it for you.

Mercy Killers is written and performed by Michael Milligan, presented by the Working Theater and Harold Clurman Lab Theater.
Here's a link to an hour long radio program I did with Senator Marty in Minneapolis

For more information, visit:


BWW Blog: Michael Milligan of Off-Broadway's MERCY KILLERS - A Leap Into the Void!
Post Show with Mayo Med Students and Representative Tina Liebling of Minnesota

BWW Blog: Michael Milligan of Off-Broadway's MERCY KILLERS - A Leap Into the Void!
"Joe" giving his testimony to Minnesota Legislators, House of Representatives Hearing Room, St. Paul

BWW Blog: Michael Milligan of Off-Broadway's MERCY KILLERS - A Leap Into the Void!
Post performance with PNHP Dr.s and Senator John Marty, author and sponsor of the Minnesota Health Plan, which would offer universal coverage to all residents.

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About the Author

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Guest Blogger: Michael Milligan Michael is a performer who has been writing and acting for the theater for over two decades. Milligan has appeared on the Broadway stage as Little Charles in August: Osage County, De Bries in La Bete, and as a ‘raver’ and understudy on Jerusalem. Off-Broadway credits include Will Eno’s Thom Pain and The Golem with Robert Prosky. Other New York credits include the world premiere of The Empty Ocean with Harold Clurman Theater Lab, and Nightlands with New Georges.

Milligan has performed his one man show, Mercy Killers, around the US in places such as Columbus, Cleveland, Albany, Athens, Toledo, Minneapolis, Duluth, Burbank, Hollywood, Stockton, Nevada City, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Charlottesville, Dayton, Rochester, Mankato, San Diego, Sacramento, Philadelphia and more in a variety of settings including professional theatres, student unions, union halls, doctors’ homes, and the House of Representatives Hearing Room for members of the Minnesota legislature. Mercy Killers received a 2013 Fringe First Award during its recent run at the Edinburgh Festival- the performance also garnered a rare 5 star review from the Scotsman.

A reading of Milligan’s verse play, Phaeton was presented by the Harold Clurman Theater Lab featuring Mark Rylance, David Hyde Pierce, and Joanna Lumley. The play was later presented by conservatory students at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting and as a part of the NYU graduate acting program’s ‘Studio Tisch.’ His adaptation of Jack London’s The Sea Wolf has undergone several workshops and readings featuring Jay O. Sanders as the enigmatic Wolf Larsen. Milligan got his start writing stories for his mother, who is a professional storyteller in Central Ohio.

Milligan received his training from Juilliard where he won the John Houseman Prize for excellence in classical drama. His love of Shakespeare has taken him around the world performing the bard for the Shakespeare Theater, Royal Shakespeare Company, Shakespeare and Company, Cincinatti Playhouse, St. Louis Rep, the Utah, Alabama, Illinois, Colorado Shakespeare Festivals, Milwaukee Shakes, Shakespeare Festival of St. Louis, and New Jersey Shakespeare in roles as diverse as Hamlet, Mercutio, Romeo, Angelo, Cassio, Dromio, Lucentio, Antipholus, Mark Antony, Edgar, Orlando, as well as many spear carriers and shrubbery movers. Milligan is a sometime instructor of Shakespeare at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting.

He has also appeared at many of the nation’s top regional theaters including the Guthrie, Westport Country Playhouse, Charlotte Rep, The McCarter Theater, and Folger Theatre in Washington D.C.