BWW Feature: At Home With Cassi Mikat
One of the most welcome and welcoming sights in all the world is when you round the corner at Feinstein's/54 Below and see Cassi Mikat is working. She might be standing behind the concierge podium, she could be at the coat check room, or she may be showing you to your table. Whatever position she is filling with the excellent front of house staff at the much-loved Midtown Manhattan nightspot, you can count on Cassi to be a major part of making your night out a memorable and enjoyable one. For the truly lucky (and this is one of the times in life when we make our own lucky) there have been evenings at 54 Below when Cassi has been on the stage.
An actress of considerable talents, Cassi has taken part in group shows on the stage at 54 Below and lucky are the regulars who were in the house and given a chance to say, "I didn't know Cassi could do THAT!" As talent goes, hers is big enough to rival the enormity of either her smile or her hair, or both. It's a little overwhelming, the first time you're exposed to it, and you never forget it. You also never stop wondering when the next time is that you'll get to see the dynamo in action.
Three months into lockdown, Cassi Mikat has been spreading her many talents around her family homestead in Michigan and planning the next chapter of her story, one she spoke about in this interview we did about life, art, crafting, and a loving pooch named Elphaba.
This interview was conducted digitally and is reproduced in its original entirety.
Name: Cassi Mikat
First Cabaret Show (Title, Year, Club): Life of Love: A Cabaret by Cassi Mikat, 2016, The Encore Musical Theatre Company and The Human Race Theatre Company
Most Recent Cabaret Show: 54 Does 54: The 54 Below Staff Show, 2020, Feinstein's/54 Below
Website or Social Media Handles: cassimikat.com @mikatmusicstudios and @cmikat on Instagram
Cassi, you hail from Michigan - did you go to your family homestead for the quarantine or did you stay put in Manhattan?
I went home to Michigan to quarantine with my family. I miss my Manhattan fam immensely, but the support from my family has been invaluable in these crazy times.
You are an arts and crafts person and very proud of it - did you jump right into new projects when this all started, or did you take out a few days to Netflix and chill?
I sure am! I jumped right into a bunch of new projects right away. I'm currently working on crocheting two different blankets at the same time, one of them is a two-person job with my sister CiCi. I don't do anything halfway!
You've been one of the Maitre d's at Feinstein's/54 Below for a while, now - what have been some of your favorite aspects of working club life?
I am so lucky to be a part of the team at Feinstein's/54 Below. My favorite thing, bar none, has been the people. The staff is incredible, we are all very close. I have gained a lot of close relationships there that mean a lot to me. I also adore getting to meet and see all of the different performers. As a performer myself, I learn a lot watching an array of performers you truly wouldn't get to see anywhere else. I have gained so much seeing everything from college seniors doing their showcases, performing for their first time in NYC, all the way up to Broadway legends on their thousandth performance. You get to really analyze and form opinions on what works and what doesn't.
The staff also gets the opportunity to perform together every few months in the staff show. It is one of my favorite nights. Everyone gets to share what they are in the city to do. It's awesome. (Photos by Michael Hull)
How does an actor find balance when there is so much to be done for their career during the day, but their night job in the club business keeps them up so late?
The schedule is actually one of the main selling points of the job! I am able to get everything done for my acting career (i.e. auditions and classes) during the day before going to work. It's a rigorous schedule, but it leaves me the most time to accomplish everything that I want to. I will admit that after working a coat check shift until 2:30 am, it is definitely difficult not to press snooze on the alarm for the 9am audition. But it's a small price to pay for the opportunity to do what I love (even if it's only for 32 bars).
You recently made the exciting announcement that you are going back to school in the fall - tell me about that.
I am heading to Boston Conservatory at Berklee this fall to pursue my MFA in Musical Theatre Vocal Pedagogy. I have been fascinated by the voice and its function for pretty much my whole life. I started teaching voice in college and have gotten much more serious about it in the past couple of years. I am so excited to go to school to gain more knowledge and expertise that I can pass on to my students when I come back to the city. Not to mention, strengthening my skills as a performer for my own performing career. I will be in the first graduating class of this program that is cutting edge in its field with its focus on contemporary voice. To say that I'm excited is an understatement. It's going to be hard to leave the city, even if it's only temporary, but I will definitely be back for auditions and visits here and there throughout my two years in Boston.
You have performed in some of the group shows at 54 Below - what have been some of your favorite acting experiences away from the club?
Late last year, I was able to participate in a cabaret produced by Kevin Ferguson called Friendsgiving. It was a collaboration of a bunch of friends making music about friendship. It was such a fulfilling process and an empowering show. And being able to perform in NYC alongside some of my closest friends was a huge blessing.
My favorite acting experience that I've had in my professional life was playing Sharon Graham in Master Class by Terrence McNally at The Human Race Theatre Company, a role for which Audra McDonald won the Tony Award for originating. It felt like this piece was written for me, a classically trained singer with a BFA in acting. I was able to sing an incredibly difficult aria while also having the opportunity to participate in some extremely human and vulnerable scenes. I could do this play over and over and never get tired of it.
You are an advocate for change in the business and in the world, using the platform of social media to discuss topics like equality in casting, an end to body-shaming, and many other ideas and philosophies. Have you always had a socio-political point of view?
It's funny, I was just talking to my parents about this. I have been socio-political from a very young age. I was in middle school when I forced my whole family to start recycling, arguing passionately with my parents that we only get one planet to live on. (They graciously helped me set everything up, and let me participate in whatever political groups I chose throughout my growing up.) We live in a world with so much inequality, and I feel it is my duty as an extremely privileged person to stand up for what is right no matter what. This industry, in particular, lacks diversity in so many ways and we need to fix it. The time is now.
You come from an arts family - what kind of fun things have been happening or are coming up for the Mikats in quarantine?
I am so lucky to have grown up surrounded by music. My mom and two of my sisters are opera singers and my dad is an organist and choral director. Toward the beginning of quarantine, we put together a devotional of hopeful music that we recorded and posted on social media to help bring peace during this tumultuous time.
My sisters, Camille and Cora-Melin, and I are also in the process of writing a cabaret about sisterhood. We don't have any dates set yet, but it's coming!
I don't want to bring up any unhappy feelings, but I read your lovely Facebook tribute to Elphie - would you like to share any memories or photos of Elphie with your fellow animal lovers on Broadway World?
Elphie was just the best dog. She was a golden retriever named after Elphaba from Wicked. She helped me to get over my phobia of dogs and was very special. I miss her every day.
Cassi. I would love to hear about your work as a teacher.
As I said before, I've been teaching voice since I was in college. My mom is a voice teacher as well, so I've gained a wealth of tools and knowledge from her. I'm certified in Somatic VoiceworkTM: the LoVetri Method, which is a body-based method for singing in contemporary styles. I'm very passionate about using methods specific to contemporary voice, it's not a one-size-fits-all system. I have a studio in NYC with students ranging from people trying singing for the first time, to actors and dancers looking to expand their arsenal, to professional singers. I am currently teaching virtual lessons and I am taking on new students! If anyone is interested in more information, they can email me at email@example.com :)
Thanks for chatting with me today, Cassi. We'll miss you when you go to school, but we will see you back here when you're done!
All photos provided by Cassi Mikat
Photo by Michael Hull