Community Spotlight: Michael Hancey

By Ginny Butsch posted 14 days ago

  

One of the main goals for our Theatre Education Community is to help theatre students and professionals from all over connect and identify with each other in order to build resources and support the theatre education field. We shine a spotlight on a different member every other week by conducting a simple interview.

Our latest Spotlight Member is Michael Hancey, troupe director at Laramie High School in Laramie, Wyoming, home to Thespian Troupe 4835. As an experienced musical theatre teacher, Michael frequently advises his fellow Community members on curriculum development, orchestration, locating music and tracks and just about anything else you’d want to know when considering producing a musical.

Ginny: What kind of training/education did it take to get you the job you have today?

Michael: I’ve just completed my 26th year as an educator. Primarily, I’ve spent most of my time teaching choirs and vocal music. I have a Bachelor’s of Music-Vocal Music Emphasis and a Master’s in Administration and Supervision. During my teaching career (I’ve taught in Arizona, Wisconsin, Idaho and now in Wyoming), I started a Musical Theatre class and from there my passion for musical theatre and drama has really blossomed. I am currently taking a few classes from Regent University to get a Theatre endorsement added to my certificate. I absolutely love what I do and couldn’t be happier. At my current school I teach Drama 1, Drama 2, Musical Theatre 1, Musical Theatre 2, and am the Theater Manager.

Ginny: What inspired you to become a teacher?

Michael: I remember sitting in my junior high choir class and thinking, “I want to do what he is doing.” Mr. Morgan was a phenomenal teacher that really helped me decide early on that I wanted to teach. From there, I’ve always looked for mentor teachers to help and guide me. Ms. McGuire in high school, Dr. Cooksey and Dr. Powers in college, and Mr. Selim - my first colleague mentor - all helped me become who I am today. Teachers really do make the difference!

Ginny: What is your greatest challenge currently?

Michael: Tough question. I would say that my greatest challenge is always the show that I’m currently working on. Since its summer break, I’m working on the entire season, developing curriculum for my Drama 2 class and organizing the Musical Theatre Camp we will host in mid-August. I’m working on “The Addams Family Musical” right now and I’m doing this show with both of my Musical Theatre classes in the fall, so trying to figure out a way to get all of them on stage in various parts is a challenge. I’ve also been asked to design/develop a Technical Theatre class, and that area is probably my greatest weakness, so that too is a challenge. Knowing what to include in the curriculum is tough. Thankfully EdTA has a lot of resources that I have found extremely helpful.

Ginny: What is your favorite musical (or play)? What makes it so special?

Michael: Again, another tough question! A number of years ago I did “A Christmas Carol” by Kornhauser and Barnett (available from Dramatic Publishing, http://www.dramaticpublishing.com/browse/a-christmas-carol-22169) and absolutely fell in love with it. I was in rehearsals and said to my wife, “I’m going to direct this show again.” I love the music in it, and the characters. After reading so many versions of the play, this is the one I fell in love with. I also love “Into the Woods.” It was the first musical that I cried during while rehearsing it. Being adopted, I really related to act two of the play. I’m lucky enough to be directing it again this spring with my Musical Theatre 2 class. The whole concept of what constitutes a family is intriguing to me and “Into the Woods” is a great vehicle and musical to explore those ideas with my students. I’m so excited to go back to the woods!

Ginny: What was the first play you ever saw?

Michael: I don’t remember the first play I ever saw, but I do remember the first play I was ever in. I was probably 9 or 10 years old. It was a community theatre performance of the musical “Oliver!” I was cast in the ensemble and my first role was to serve the gruel to the boys in the orphanage. I held the ladle and put the gruel in the bowls. Even though it wasn’t a memorable part to others, I will always remember doing it and LOVING it! I knew then that I wanted to be involved in the theater somehow. I loved becoming someone else on stage. I’ve been doing theatre ever since.

Ginny: Everyone has at least one good theatre story. Tell us yours!

Michael: I have always told my students that the “show keeps going, no matter what!” Well…I was directing and conducting a “Best of Gilbert & Sullivan” show in a newly renovated lecture hall that was originally a small theatre. There was a stage that we were using since our regular stage was under renovation. We brought in some older strip lights and placed them on the front of the stage to give it the feel of a 19th century British Theatre. We were about 2/3 of the way through the performance and I start smelling smoke. Thinking it was just the dust burning off these old lights, I didn’t think much about it. A few minutes later (in the middle of our Mikado section), I see smoke rising from behind the piano. The students also see the smoke and start staring at me as if to say, “What do you want us to do now?” I told the pianist to keep playing while I figured out what was going on. By this time, parents have opened up the doors to get the smoke out - while the performance is still happening!!! I realize that no one had unwrapped the extension cords used to plug in the strip lights, so the heat of the electricity running through the extension cord was causing the electrical fire. I unplugged the lights, threw something on the extension cord bundle to put the fire out and then went back to conducting the performance. Why or how no one pulled the fire alarm I’ll never know. The performance ended and the melted extension cord wad hung on my classroom wall with the signk “The Show Must Go On” underneath it.

Ginny: What is your “dream” show?

Michael: Someday I’d love to direct “Pippin.” Love the music, love the story. Just waiting for the right student to come along.

Ginny: What was the most difficult element of a production you’ve ever had to manage?

Michael: We were doing “Les Miserables School Edition” and I designed a set that was in two pieces that would revolve and turn and become the different locales needed for the play. It was HUGE! I remember being in dress rehearsals and one of the pieces almost fell into the orchestra pit because the students weren’t turning the piece properly. When I was designing the set, I took the right measurements to make sure when it was locked in place it would fit, but didn’t take into account the amount of space needed to move, turn and manipulate each piece while on stage with actors. Won’t make that same mistake again.

Ginny: Name something on your bucket list.

Michael: See a Shakespearean play at The Globe Theatre in London. I get to check this off my list this summer! I’m seeing “Romeo and Juliet” at The Globe later in June. I’m so excited!!!

Ginny: What is your proudest accomplishment?

Michael: Other than my three children? We were closing down our old school prior to opening a new facility and I had the voices to do “Les Miserables School Edition.” I combined my Musical Theatre classes with the Choir classes for this show, and it was phenomenal. I’m not one to toot my own horn, but it was really a fantastic show. From costumes, to sets, to individual student performances, to the orchestra in the pit - it was quite literally life-changing for all involved.

Ginny: What is something we would be surprised to learn about you?

Michael: I love to bake. When I need to relax, I bake. One of my favorite recipes is my grandmother’s recipe for wheat bread. The recipe is written in her own handwriting. Whenever I bake it, I am transported to her small kitchen in Utah. I’ve often thought of opening a bakery if this teaching gig doesn’t work out!

Michael’s passion and love of teaching is reflected in every answer of this interview, the students at Laramie High School are certainly lucky to have such a caring educator to lead them. If you enjoyed Michael’s interview as much as I did, add him as a contact in the Community.

Do you know someone who deserves a moment in the Spotlight? Tell me their name and why at gbutsch@schooltheatre.org. Want to read more Community Spotlights? You can find them here.

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