BWW Interview: Maria Mikulec Says NEXT TO NORMAL at Lakeland Players Will Reduce the Negative Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness
From May 17th through May 26th, Lakeland Players in Waterford Township will be putting on a production of the award-winning rock musical Next to Normal. Having taken home the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010 and three Tony Awards in 2009, Next to Normal is the story of what happens when a family is met with death, mental illness, addiction, and the ethics (or lack thereof) of modern psychiatry. BWW Detroit had the opportunity to talk to the director of the production at Lakeland Players, Maria Mikulec. You can read our interview below.
BWW Detroit: Can you give BWW readers a brief background of yourself and your theatre career?
Maria Mikulec: I was first exposed to Broadway when I went to go see Wicked at age 13. That turned into taking a dance class, which turned into spending every waking moment in class or rehearsal, or spending lunch hours playing the piano in my high school choir room.
I earned a Bachelor's Degree in Musical Theatre from Adrian College, where I was fortunate enough not only to do shows that ranged from Moliere's School for Wives to Rent, but also to perform with names like Andrea Bocelli, Stephen Schwartz, and Eric Whitacre. One of the benefits of going to such a small school was that we were encouraged to try everything, which is where I discovered my knack for directing. In my postgraduate life, I have enjoyed creating as much as possible while exploring new mediums.
How would you describe Next to Normal in your own words?
Next to Normal is a show about life, the way we live it, and the things that happen that we don't always want to talk about.
What was your introduction to Next to Normal?
My mom used to play Seth Rudetsky's talk show on the Sirius XM Broadway channel when she would drive me to school; that was really when I heard most of the show for the first time.
What made Lakeland Players apt to put on a production of this show? What made you specifically excited to direct this musical?
Lakeland really started diving into edgier material last season when we produced The Laramie Project and subsequently fundraised for The Matthew Shepard Foundation while advocating for the LGBT community. The great success from producing a show that was equal parts emotionally charged and philanthropic made them very excited when I pitched Next to Normal and my plans for the production.
What made me particularly excited to direct this show was the fact that it was the first time that I saw certain parts of myself represented in a Broadway show.
What makes Lakeland Players' interpretation of Next to Normal unique?
The biggest part of what makes our production unique is the outreach initiatives that we are putting on along with the performance. In the lobby of the theatre, we will have a resource table with contact information and materials from organizations all the way from the Suicide Prevention Lifeline to therapy clinics in the Metro Detroit area.
In addition to that, we will have talk-backs following every performance. Each night, a different guest speaker will lead discussion about anything from their story to material explored in the show to how we can better care for those suffering around us.
What would you say is the main takeaway of this musical? Rather, what will audiences come out of this musical thinking and feeling?
My music director Rafeal summed this up best during our first production meeting when he said, "Everyone is obsessed with this idea of being normal but that isn't really possible, so if you get something next to it, you're doing great." When audience members leave this production, my hope is that seeing the Goodman family go through these things can open up conversation that will lead to reduced negative stigma about people suffering from depression, addiction, anxiety, and similar illnesses in our community.
Do you have a favorite scene in the show? Favorite song?
This one is so hard to choose; all the material is so good! If I had to pick a favorite it would be either "I Am The One (Reprise)" or the finale, "Light." "I Am The One (Reprise)" is one of my favorites because I think it speaks to anyone who has felt invalidated by someone that they love, and I love "Light" because it includes one of the takeaways from the show-that though the demons may be strong, the light is always stronger.
What would you say to someone with no prior knowledge of Next to Normal to get them to come see the production at Lakeland Players?
If someone had no prior knowledge of the show, I would tell them that no matter where they are on their journey, there will be something they can get out of this show. The characters are so impactful because they are based on what make up real people's everyday lives.
Do you have any personal social media accounts (e.g. Twitter, Instagram, etc.) that you want listed for the readers?
My personal Instagram account is @mariamichellemikulec.
Next to Normal runs from May 17th through May 26th at Lakeland Players in Waterford Township. For more information and tickets, visit http://www.lakelandplayers.net/tickets.html.
Connect with Lakeland Players on Twitter at @LakelandTHEATRE, on Instagram at @lakelandplayers, and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/lakelandplayerstheatre/.