BWW Blog: Michael Milligan of Off-Broadway's MERCY KILLERS - Passing the Hat


So, that was the beginning. I've continued to do "Pass the Hat" performances, although I also now work on a "fee" basis as well. There's really something magic about passing a hat around. I made a commitment that I'm going to do this show for a certain period of my life, even if it means eating beans and sleeping on people's couches. And some of the organizations I collaborate with can't come up with the cash, but they come up with an audience, often times an audience of people who might not otherwise go see a play- and those are the people I most want to perform for. But please don't feel sorry for me. If you knew how little money actors generally make doing a play, and you consider that if I can get 80 people a week to throw ten bucks in a hat, I'm actually making more that most actors in the theatre. And this model is going to allow me to do a ten day tour around West Virginia, which is very exciting, because those are the exact people for whom I wrote the play. This is part of the reason I'm so excited about doing the show Off Broadway with the Working Theater and Harold Clurman Lab Theater. The Working Theater's mission is the presentation of plays with working class themes FOR working class people. Which means the ticket prices are set for people on a budget. The HC Lab, reflecting the values of Harold Clurman and the Group Theater is deeply committed to a socially relevant Art that speaks to society as a whole, that should be an integral part of the whole community and not just the privileged pastime of the affluent. And I don't think this is pie in the sky stuff. If theater is going to survive and be relevant it's got to open the doors. And not in a patronizing way, like "oh yes, we will set aside 10 tickets a performance so that those less fortunate may attend." I think in addition to ticket prices being off putting, what is also off putting about the theater to those who are not in the affluent classes, is that the themes and content of plays has no relevance to the vast majority of people's lives.

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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.