jakub | April 23, 2024

AMERICAN THEATRE | People to Watch: Ingrid Michaelson and Mark Clayton Southers

Ingrid Michaelson and Mark Clayton Southers. (Illustration by MUTI)

Ingrid Michaelson

The singer/songwriter’s first musical, an adaptation of The Notebook with playwright Bekah Brunstetter, is now running on Broadway.

First theatrical memory?

A Midsummer Night’s Dream with my family in Cape Cod when I was about 10. I was enthralled. Some actors’ costumes blended into the set. Once the show started, they all started moving and the whole set came alive. To this day, I remember that feeling of magic in my body.

Last memorable theatrical experience?

Walk on Through: Confessions of a Museum Novice, Gavin Creel’s show at MCC Theater. It was so inspiring and innovative. I loved every second.

What music are you listening to?

Ariana Grande’s “yes, and?” on repeat.

Where is home to you?

Brooklyn. My partner. My family. My dog.

What’s your greatest fear?


What gives you hope?

Music. Art. Laughter. Good food. Love. Friendship. Therapy.

If you could you give your younger self one piece of advice?

Write a musical earlier!

Ingrid Michaelson and Bekah Brunstetter inside the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre. (Photo by Boneau/Bryan-Brown)

Where does your affinity for musicals come from?

My father would tape a lot of PBS concerts and operas for me, and old black-and-white musicals. I grew up surrounded by music, as my father was a composer. I think my love for musical theatre was an inevitable reaction to my surroundings.

What’s the “note” you get most often?

That my lyrics are deceptively simple. Not sure if it’s a compliment…

When something cool happens, who’s the first person you call?

Will, my partner of eight years. Then my manager, Lynn.

If you could change one thing about the theatre, what would it be?

More suspension of disbelief in honor of universality.

What’s next for you?

I have a record in the can! It’s ready to come out late summer/early fall. Then hopefully more musical theatre writing, as it is my favorite thing to do.

If you didn’t work in the performing arts, what would you be doing?

Teaching kids theatre, which is what I did before my music career.

What did teaching theatre to kids teach you about how to write a good musical?

Be patient with others and with yourself. Have expectations but allow for them to be flexible. Kids can be a lot freer than adults, so remembering that that freedom still exists in us all is helpful.

It’s not theatre unless…

An audience influences the actors, and the actors influence the audience in return.

Mark Clayton Southers

The founder and producing artistic director of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre Company will premiere his new play The Coffin Maker at Pittsburgh Public Theater in May.

First theatrical memory?

I was hired to videotape Fences at Kuntu Rep in 1984, and I was sitting in the back row of the Stephen Collins Foster Memorial Hall with my Betamax running, not paying attention. And then Don Marshall started cussing out God! I was like: My goodness, he’s raising his voice and breaking some unknown law. It was frightening, it was chilling, and it was invigorating all at once. It made me pull my chair a little closer to the stage.

Last memorable theatrical experience?

Last fall during the final scene of my play The Bluegrass Mile at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre, this character, Kermit, an elderly man who basically just went along with whatever the white man said, finally spoke up and confronted the sheriff with this long monologue. Several audience members cheered him on. One lady actually stood up and said, “That’s right! God bless you!” It was amazing.

What’s next for you?

I’m teaming up with director Monteze Freeland for The Coffin Maker. It’s a brutal play about a former slave who’s only a former slave because he killed his owner and ran off. It’s a play about redemption. There’s lots of blood, lots of violence.

Mark Clayton Southers on the stage of Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre. (Photo from the page of Mandy L Kivowitz-Delfaver)

What music are you listening to?

Dinah Washington. Our theatre has 150 seats, but we can also do tables with little lights on them for a cabaret feel. We’re no longer in the downtown cultural district, we’re back in the Hill District, and I thought, we need a play that a non-traditional theatregoer can be attracted to. Back in 2015, we produced a play called Dinah by Ernest McCarty, a jazz musician. So we’re going to remount it.

Last show you binge-watched?

Squid Game. My daughter and I watched it together; it was a good bonding experience. And it does make you think about human nature.

What teachers or mentors most shaped your theatre journey?

Rob Penny, Vernell Lillie, and August Wilson.

What gives you hope?

I was in a major accident eight years ago. I was in the hospital for four months, and I used a wheelchair for a year and a half after I got out of the hospital. Since then I’ve been fighting major depression. So I’m thankful for every day I live for my family. I’m not afraid of dying anymore. I don’t know if that’s good or bad—that’s just how it is. I also get hope from the arts, and the ability to spawn peaceful people.

What’s the “note” you get most often?

Only my wife Neicy gives me notes. It’s usually, “Try not to be so sensitive.”

Favorite place you’ve visited?

Can’t recall the name but I’ve been there many times. The waters are crystal clear and the fishing is amazing, but I always end up waking up…

It’s not theatre unless…

The audience is emotionally moved.

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