BWW Interview: Michael Walling of TROLLWOOD MAINSTAGE MUSICAL at Trollwood Performing Arts School
I am going to start doing interviews with local theatre directors, actors etc. To kick things off my first interview is with Michael Walling, the Artistic Director for the Trollwood Mainstage Musical.
(BM)Hello Michael, Can we start with your background, where did you grow up?
(MW) I grew up in Oregon, in a small little town outside of Portland called Happy Valley. There was less than a hundred people living in the valley. There was one church, one tiny grade school and one little park.
(BM) What first got you interested in theatre?
(MW) When I was in 15 years old I went to the theater for the very first time. It was the musical "Cabaret" It had a profound effect on me. As fate would have it, years later I would perform role of the MC in "Cabaret" for my very first professional paycheck. I have never forgotten the powerful impact that one production had on my life.
(BM)Thinking back over the years is there a special show that really stands out?
(MW)As I look back at almost three decades of directing for Trollwood, it is impossible to choose that one special show. With each new production comes a new challenge. I never want to direct anything that comes to easy for me. I am always interested in the artistic challenge in every production.
(BM)What made you decide to put on the director hat?
(MW) In my early 20s I was a working professional actor. Though the job of an actor is complex, it has a singular focus. I knew I wanted something more. I was always keenly aware of the bigger picture of theater. One of the many responsibilities of a director is to have an overall observation of each and every aspect of the production. I was drawn to the multitasking expertise of the director
(BM) What was the first show you ever directed?
(MW) The first professional show I directed was a summer stock production of "My Fair Lady" the show was successful, but I was not. What I was good at was hiring the right people and having a strong vision, but I was pretty bad at everything else. The very first thing I did when the show closed was to ask the cast, crew and creative team to tell me everything that I could improve on. It was a humbling yet teachable moment for me. It is exactly what I needed.
(BM)You just finished your 28th year at Trollwood; can you tell us how that relationship began?
(MW)In 1990, I had spent the entire year traveling the country as the company manager of a Broadway production. The tour was coming to an end when I colleague of mine mention she knew of a summer musical theater position in Fargo ND. I applied and got the job. The next summer I applied for the director of the main stage musical.
(BM) What keeps you coming back?
(MW) I'd say two things, the students and the art. It's an honor to be placed in a position of mentoring a young adult. I don't Take That responsibility lightly. Knowing my artistic influence can inspire a student to use the tools that I share with them and apply them to many aspect in their life is extremely rewarding.
Having an opportunity to create art on such a large scale is a rare opportunity. And collaborating with national artists to create such an amazing theatrical experience is truly a gift.
(BM) Trollwood is considered one of the top summer theatre programs in the country, why do you think that is?
(MW)If I'm talking specifically about the main stage musical program, it's because of our national staff. We work the entire year to gather professional artists from around the country to merge with successful local artists to inspire the young adults of the region to embrace the arts. Our adult artists, local and regional, are all filled with passion and dedication that's tangible to our student base.
(BM) Is there a show that you have always wanted to do that you haven't been able to, or isn't available yet?
(MW) After directing almost 100 productions around the country, the list of shows I still want to direct is still extremely long. And certainly, every year there's some new theatrical project that I would love to get my hands on.
Is there a show you would never want to do?
(MW) I can't say there is a specific show I would not want to direct, but I will say not every show works at every theatre. The first stage of a successful production is knowing the right show for your venue. Once you choose the right show, success can soon follow.
(BM)What goes into deciding the show each year?
(MW) There are many factors in the equation of choosing a show for Trollwood. My first objective is to select a theatrical work that would be challenging for our students. We are a school first, so to me the student challenge is mandatory. Another would be how commercially viable is the show. Is it the kind of show that the community would embrace and support. And finally, would the show be a good ambassador to represent Trollwood and the quality of which we create.
(BM) Why Freaky Friday for 2019? What drew you to this show?
(MW) Since I consider the Main Stage Musical a "teaching production" for our students, it is my responsibility to find the art's education value in each musical I select. Last years old book musical introduced a heavy acting challenge with long acting scenes and less singing. And included extremely classical musical theatre choreography and orchestration. With this years brand new Disney selection, the scenes are very short and delivered in lighting speed. The orchestration is extremely contemporary. The singing is no stop and the choreography is very hip and urban. Our students education in the arts is benefiting tremendously from both styles. And because of that, I think our audience will as well.
Thank you so much for your time and thank you for your continued support of local arts!