2015 Best Leading Actor in a Play Nominee: Michael Underhill as Peter/Craig in Happy Medium Theatre's "Dying City"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com

Photo Credit: Josephine anes.

Photo Credit: Josephine anes.

Michael Underhill is a thriving Boston actor who has made his mark in multiple Greater Boston professional and fringe productions. One of his latest performances as Peter/Craig in the 2015 production of Dying City by Happy Medium Theatre was a feat unto itself. Alternating between the twin brothers in a dynamic and nuanced performance, Michael performed this intimate work in his very own home with his wife, Kiki Samko, to outstanding acclaim. In his Interview, Michael talks about performing this production in an alternative space, his top three personal memories, and his many upcoming projects!

Hi, Michael, and thank you for joining us for our ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. Let’s start by finding out more about you.  Who are you, where are you from, and what do you do?

My name is Michael Underhill – a born and raised Boston actor. I have been on the Artistic Boards of imaginary beasts and Happy Medium Theatre for 5 years. My parallel career is with Associated Grant Makers, where I have served as the Program and Administrative Associate for three years.

Tell us about your work on Dying City.  Who did you play?  How was this production different or similar to other productions?

I played the twin brothers Peter and Craig in Christopher Shinn’s beautiful play, Dying City. For one, getting to play two brothers who are at the same time very different and very similar is a unique treat and a challenge as an actor. Secondly, I got play opposite my wife, Kiki Samko, in our own living room.

Talk to us about performing in a found space.  Have you done other theatre like this before?  What were some of the challenges?  What were some of the benefits?

I had never performed in my own home before. We were inspired by the "Home Invasion" project that Theatre on Fire began. They rehearsed a play that could be adapted and brought to audience members’ own homes. The challenges are obvious in that it’s not an actual theater space without the usual sound or lighting package, small audience spaces and the fact that we were living in our rehearsal and performance space! Taking the work home with us for sure.

The benefits? The commute was great, for one! It was an extremely intimate performance and could be qualified as hyper-realism. My favorite example is that we boiled water on an actual teapot and did many experiments and trial and error to figure out when we should put the pot on to achieve the dramatic timing of the whistle. It was pretty consistent, but there were some happy accidents with it as well!

Peter (Michael Underhill) in Happy Medium Theatre's Dying City (Photo Credit: Josephine Anes).

Peter (Michael Underhill) in Happy Medium Theatre's Dying City (Photo Credit: Josephine Anes).

How have you grown as an actor over the past year?  What do you continue to work on?

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to expand my horizons in terms of characters that I’ve been able to play. From a college fraternity brother to a pill-popping kleptomaniac to a self-absorbed actor and a withdrawn army veteran to various Shakespearean roles (and not to mention a severely cut down version of Cosette in Les Miserables), it’s been a cornucopia of different personalities to unearth on stage. I am continuously finding myself doing things that challenge and scare me, which I believe is the best way to grow and learn.

What are some of your guilty pleasures?

On my (rare) days off, I indulge in playing video games for longer than I should!

What are three of your favorite personal memories?

Marrying the love of my life on a beautiful picturesque weekend with all my closest friends and family.

Riding horses on the beaches of Anguilla.

Running a Spartan Race and getting really, really muddy.

How would like to see the Boston theatre scene change in 2016?  Over the next five years?

I think, in 2016, I would like to see more audience engagement from theaters in general. The theater has become this isolated dark place that we go into and keep quiet for 90 minutes to two hours and then are escorted out into the world and on our way home. Providing a casual (not forced talkback) avenue for audiences and artists alike to gather and confront the work they’ve just sat through.

More efforts to find sustainable, reliable funding. Flash crowdfunding has been very fashionable in the past few years (and for good reason), but I fear for the fading out of the fad. I’m in love with Bridge Repertory Theater of Boston’s $5 a month subscription service “All-In” and wish there were more of these affordable and convenient services available from small to large theaters.

What is one thing that you wish that people knew about you? 

I’m a goofball once you get to know me.

Of what are you most proud?

As a theatrical accomplishment, I revived the student group Silver Masque at Northeastern University and founded the bi-weekly performance cabaret “Fortnight.” It continues and thrives as an experimental space for students to perform, sing, dance, write, laugh, and most importantly, fail gloriously in a safe space! It fills me with joy that it is still around for students to have that opportunity in a collegiate atmosphere.

If you could perform opposite your wife, Kiki Samko, again, what roles would you like to play and what shows would you want to perform?

We have always talked about a gender-bent The Taming of the Shrew with Kiki playing Petruchio and myself playing “super dainty Kate.”

Kelly (Kiki Samko) and Craig (Michael Underhill) in Happy Medium Theatre's Dying City (Photo Credit: Josephine Anes). 

Kelly (Kiki Samko) and Craig (Michael Underhill) in Happy Medium Theatre's Dying City (Photo Credit: Josephine Anes). 

Other than that, we haven’t really talked about specifics, but any time we get to share the stage is a boon.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

Sir Joseph Surface in School for Scandal by Richard Brinsley Sheridan (Actors' Shakespeare Project, April 13 - May 8, 2016)

Palmer in Eyes Shut. Door Open by Cassie M. Seinuk (Wax Wings Productions, May 2016)

Steve-o in Brendan by Ronan Noone (Happy Medium Theatre, July 2016)

Director of Sense and Sensibility (based on the novel by Jane Austen), adapted by Kate Hamill (Maiden Phoenix Theatre Company, October 2016)

Various characters in Shit-Faced Shakespeare Magnificent Bastards Productions (Ongoing . . . over 100 shows and counting!

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Go see theater!