Collegiate Theatrics: Vanderbilt University's MICHAEL MAERLENDER
Welcome back to campus and our first Collegiate Theatrics story for the 2017-18 academic year. Hard to believe, but it's that time of year again and students are returning to classrooms all over the country to start another cycle of learning and performing, creating memories and gaining experiences that will sustain them throughout the rest of the lives.
Today, we shine our spotlight on Vanderbilt University junior Michael Maerlender, a native of New London, New Hampshire, who is back in Nashville to pursue his dreams of a life in the theater while working as a production/writing intern with K-Squared Productions and Tennessee Performing Arts Center's world premiere run of Part of the Plan, a new musical that features a score from the catalogue of American singer/songwriter Dan Fogelberg, which opened at TPAC's AnDrew Johnson Theatre on Sunday night, following two preview performances that started last Friday.
From his earliest moment onstage - he was cast in his fifth grade production of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing - Michael's been intrigued by live performance.
"Being in the play meant you got to miss class for rehearsal," he remembers. "And I was the only kid in my grade who could cry on command, so I got the role of Claudio."
But he wasn't fully hooked on theater until the summer before his freshman year of high school when he auditioned for the New London Barn Playhouse's Teen Company.
"I fell in love with performing, and theatre has been a highly-consistent part of my life ever since," he explains.
There's a definite hint of autumn in the air, so what better way to kick off the coming season than by reading all about Vanderbilt University's Michael Maerlender in the very first Collegiate Theatrics of the year...
What's your college experience at Vanderbilt been like so far? Has it lived up to its hype? Absolutely! I've loved every minute of my time here. It's an incredibly rigorous program, but the collaborative nature of campus makes everything I work on that much more rewarding. The theatre faculty are the most talented, accomplished group of people I've ever gotten to work with, and because our department is smaller than most, I've been able to get to know all of them on a really personal level, which is awesome.
What's your favorite thing about studying at Vanderbilt? I'd have to say the people here. The friendships I've made in my time here are all so different but all so amazing- I know we'll stick together long after graduation. Plus, everyone here does so many differing incredible things that when you have a group together, it feels like you're a team of superheroes, everyone having their own unique power.
What does the future hold for you and have your aspirations changed since you're now an experienced college student? I've still got next year, and a majority of this year left, so nothing's final, but ideally, I'd like to move to Chicago after I graduate. The theatre scene there is so rich, and it would also allow me to pursue other interests, like writing and marketing, while auditioning for shows. Once I (hopefully) have some credits to my name, I could see myself moving to New York to try and tackle Broadway. When I first got to college, my plan was to immediately apply to MFA programs, following graduation. That's still something I'm interested in, but I don't think it needs to be as immediate.
What collegiate theatrical moment looms largest in your mind? The memory that sticks out for me was my first entrance on opening night of Damn Yankees last year. I was playing Joe Hardy, a role that demands a more classic-Broadway style of singing than anything else I'd ever done. The rehearsal process was really tough because of that, and our amazing vocal director essentially had to re-teach me how to sing for the part. On opening night, I stepped out for my first entrance and launched almost immediately into singing "Goodbye, Old Girl," having no idea what the audience would think. Luckily, they reacted better than I could have ever hoped for; walking into the wings after that scene was probably the biggest rush of adrenaline my body's ever endured.
What advice would you offer to high school students considering making the plunge? Be sure to really ask yourself what you want out of your experience! There are so many kinds of theatre programs; BFAs, BAs, big departments, small departments, musical, etc., and all of them are going to give you something completely different. I'd also say that if you're thinking about it, go for it. Studying theatre only pigeonholes you career-wise if you want it to, and will most likely open you up to new areas of study and profession you'd never have considered otherwise.
Tell us about your latest theatrical project - and what comes next? I've got a couple of things going on right now! I'm currently interning with the writing and producing team behind Part of the Plan, a new musical that's premiering at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. I'm also in rehearsal for two shows right now; I'm playing The Mercenary in Kid-Simple: A Radio Play in the Flesh by JorDan Harrison, and Theo in Green Day's American Idiot. Those go up in November and January respectively, and after that I'll be putting together audition material for summer stock theatre programs.