Our spotlight this month is our very own Mike Doran, past and present Technical Director. The Technical Director is more than essential to the production of any show on our stage.
Mike’s a homegrown boy from Twisp. Here’s what he has to say about how he got to where he is today:
Describe yourself — where you grew up, family, education, etc.
I was born and raised in Twisp. My parents are Dan and Chrissy Doran, and I’m the middle of three kids. My older brother is Ken and my younger sister Lisa Doran Marshall. I graduated from LBHS in ’93 and went on to join the Navy and train to become a hull technician aboard the USS Anzio. I served in the first Gulf War/ Operation Desert Storm and did a tour in the Mediterranean and Adriatic, traveling throughout Europe and the Middle East.
I started my first construction business after I left the Navy and moved to Seattle. I also was in several bands and started a recording studio with my bandmate Ira Wilks during that time. I built up most of the skills that inform my work at The Merc by learning audio engineering with that early recording work.
While looking for a new project, I answered an ad for a drummer in The Stranger magazine and joined a band that led to me meeting my wife, Emily McDonald, and we were married in 2005. I attended Shoreline Community College, studying computer networking and repair, which helped with the early digital recording days where computers and recording gear never played well together. Emily and I bought our first house and welcomed our first son Evan in 2008. In 2009, my father Dan was building a house and asked if I could come help him with the construction. We arrived in the valley thinking we’d only stay for a year or so. We have now been here 13 years and have added another son to the family, Nathan in 2013. Currently, I’m working as Interim Technical Director at the Merc, in addition to running a tiling business.
Tell about how you got involved in The Merc. What responsibilities did you have? What responsibilities do you have now as an interim TD?
When we first moved back to the valley, Emily was a new mom staying home with Evan and wanted to reconnect with her theater roots. She emailed Julie Wenzel and volunteered at the Merc, sewing costumes with Lisa for Robin Hood and then eventually auditioning for shows. Soon she became a board member and was part of the Capital Campaign to purchase the building from Egon and Carolanne Steinebach. Upon Egon’s retirement from tech duties, The Merc was looking for a new technical director. Based on my prior credentials and education, Emily offered up my name as a prospective candidate. I was eventually brought on as an employee and after a few years, I left The Merc to build another house and pursue electrical training. I recently came back as an interim technical director in addition to my other gig– installing tile, and playing drums in my band Black Pine, with Andrew Tuller, Bill Bartel and Nick Sabalewski.
My duties were and are to program lights and sound for Merc productions and rentals. I work closely with directors to build light and sound scenes. A big part of my job is directing strikes, which include the final breakdown and reset after a show. I also keep the gear working properly, research, and advise in purchasing gear as needed and report to the board of directors monthly.
Can you think of a particular memory of working as the TD in the past? Something surprising? Funny?
From a tech perspective, my favorite show to help create lights and sounds was Venus in Fur. It was a very technically flashy and light-effect heavy show. So, I was at the Merc finishing up some stuff, and I had to run and grab something from the office. I walked in, as I normally would, and our ED Missi was standing there in head-to-toe lingerie. Red-faced, I bolted out of the office, apologizing profusely to her for walking in on her while she was changing into her costume when she stopped me, laughed, and told me, this IS the costume.
To this day I’m never shocked by what I see around a corner at The Merc. It could be a dragon, it could be Mr. Peanut, or it could be your boss in lingerie. You just never know with theater.
In general, why do you think live theater is important in a small community like the Methow Valley?
Theater brings people together to share stories, experiences and culture. It provides creative outlets for people in rural places and gives them a real connectivity to the community. As a drummer, I’ve always enjoyed making music and being with a group of creative people and performing. There is so much talent in the Methow, with so many great bands and shows happening all the time, and that’s how it’s always been out here. In the valley, we all come together to entertain each other when the weather gets cold and the snow gets deep. Without the performing arts, cabin fever can take hold, and if you’re not into outdoor winter activities, The Merc provides something completely different to do instead.
Our September Spotlight shines brightly on Missi Smith, who came to the Merc with big shoes to fill as Executive Director (ED) nine years ago. Not only did she fill them, but she made them stilettos and strutted them all over the theater. We have had the privilege to experience her as an actor, director, choreographer, and fearless leader of the Merc Playhouse. She has since retired as ED but continues to volunteer her time in a variety of ways. The Merc is forever changed through her contributions as she truly is our unicorn. Missi explains her journey within the theater here in her own words:
Tell us about your past experience with theater.
I grew up dancing and that is how I spent most of my youth, teens, and young adult life on stage. During my early years, I was a child dancer in the Indianapolis Ballet Theatre's annual Nutcracker performances several years in a row. I toured with the ballet company and really loved everything about it. I was also a dance competition kid. As I grew older, I performed in musical theater productions, theme park and mall-type shows, and I danced in the contemporary dance company in college. As a side gig, I choreographed and taught dance classes. I have been involved in performing arts of many types ever since. It wasn't until I moved to the Methow, and got involved in theater here, that I had experience with "straight plays." That was a whole new challenge! But it's gone well, and it's become another love of mine. I joined The Merc board several years before I wound up in the Executive Director position that I held for eight years.
What excites you about live theater?
Oh man, as an audience member, or as a cast member, or as a director? It excites me in many different ways. As an audience member, I come to the theater with a lot of wonder. How will I be transported to another world or reality? What will I witness, and what will I learn? How will I think and feel differently once I've experienced this live performance? As an audience member, I honor all of the work that goes into creating live theater and I am here to witness! As a cast member? Well, the excitement of presenting something in front of a live audience is unparalleled. I mean, maybe you can compare it to other thrill-seeking adventures, but I'm typically risk-averse. I'm not somebody who goes fast and hard down a mountain...but I know a good adrenaline rush, and there is nothing like the 5 minutes before a performer takes the stage. It is a total "be here now" experience to dive into a character different from your own, live in her skin for 90 minutes, and tell a story to an audience of people. Then there is the director or choreographer role that I find much fulfillment in. I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of creatively telling a story through live theater. It's a longer-seeming endeavor because in those roles, I begin planning and charting the course long before I even know who is in the cast. It's a slower burn to opening night, but the thrilling part comes when I no longer have any control over the show and the actors have fully taken on my vision and sent that out to the audience. Sometimes, when I've directed or choreographed a show, my favorite thing to do is watch the audience from our secret perch up in the mezzanine. I get a thrill out of seeing the audience's reactions.
Why is it important in a small community like the Methow Valley?
Live theater is a wonderful teacher and community builder. The Merc provides a place for people of any age to learn new skills, be part of a team (or family as we like to call it here), and to explore sometimes difficult concepts. It brings people together. I mean, we sometimes have 8 year-olds in shows with 80 year-olds. They work together to create a final product and during that time they all learn from each other. I don't think that happens in many places besides the theater. I could go on and on about skills and traits theater teaches that one doesn't learn in school or classes: Confidence, dedication, discipline, communication, using one's voice, etc... Then, there are the benefits an audience experiences. Being together to witness members of the community perform and entertain is so valuable. It creates memories. People still remember that one time something amazing happened on The Merc stage and they were there to see it. They talk about shows we've done that open up conversations about history, politics, and the condition of being human. Live theater is an asset and it greatly enriches lives, and I am so grateful that the people in the Methow know this and support us!
Can you share a unique experience you have had in a theater setting… As an actor or director?
Hahaha, every experience is unique; that's what makes it so fun. But. BUT. There was nothing quite like my experience onstage in Venus in Fur. I talk about it way too much. I'm sort of like, "One time at bandcamp..." Do people get that reference? haahaha. But that role really was exceptional and a great challenge with seismic rewards.
Other unique experiences tend to be the outtakes that nobody actually sees from the audience. The times s*** goes down backstage or during the rehearsal process and everyone has to overcome it together and it all works out in the end. Those are the secrets of the magic of theater. You gotta come be in a show to know what I'm talking about. It happens every time, it seems like, and every time it's different and every time we make magic.
What draws you to a particular script?
I like scripts that contain real people grappling with real-life issues. I like stories that show the complexity of life and provide characters that actors can really get into and feel something while they are creating. I'm not as into the neatly tied-up, happy endings as much as I am the ones that leave open-endedness. That's how life is, so I like to get into the gray areas and explore both the things that make us laugh and make us cry, or make us want to cry so much that the only thing to do is laugh. Dark comedy? But I know that not everyone likes that, so I also, as the ED, was always looking for a balance.
I can also be drawn to scripts and stories that I know make us feel great as an audience (especially for children's shows). The most important thing in a script, I believe, is the characters. What's there for the actors and how can we bring the people (or in some cases, animals) alive onstage?
As a director, what do you hope to accomplish?
hmmm. I could answer this in a number of ways. I hope to create an entertaining show that executes a clear vision, of course. I want to tell a story that transports an audience. I hope to impact people's lives positively. I want to cultivate the love of performing arts from the standpoint of my cast. I hope to create relationships that last a lifetime, to add to our theater family. Making art in the theater requires a team, and my biggest hope is that the entire team I've relied upon for each show I've produced is satisfied with their work as much as I am satisfied with my own. I think that shows onstage and is very important.