Billy Mitchell

Director and Author Billy Mitchell is a visionary. Dividing his time between NY and NJ, Billy is always working on a project. With the Theater Company in NJ, Billy's directing credits include A Year With Frog And ToadThe Who's TommyFree to Be...You and MeSeussicalInto the WoodsSchoolhouse Rock Live!, Off the Beaten PathNoon; while at the Attic theatre Billy has directed JeffreyDesign for Murder; and in NYC: Love, Punky (Midtown Int’l Theater Festival), In Search of Tulla Berman and Who’s On First? for No Kneecap Prods.; Sunrize Highway’s Live from New York (at Elmo), Khaki at Bat (at HERE); and The Owl and The Pussycat (at Shetler’s Blackbox). Billy is the creator of A Gorey Phantasy, adapted from unpublished writings provided by late author/illustrator Edward Gorey; and the author/lyricist of Mad King Ludwig, a musical of the final days of King Ludwig II of Bavaria.D. Billy latest project is directing "Bartholomew Fair, NJ" in the Midtown International Festival in NYC from July 18-28. For tickets and showtimes & all things Billy Mitchell, be sure to visit: www.bybilly.com.

1. Who inspired you to become a director? High-profile inspiration: Hal Prince. Personal inspiration: Sandra Hardy, my acting teacher/director at the University of Maine.

2. When did you realize you wanted to be a director? When I first moved to NYC, I started directing cabarets & showcases to give my friends (and me) performance opportunities. I really enjoy creating theater in any capacity (performing, writing, directing), so as long as I stay busy and out of trouble, I'm happy.

3. What has been your best and worst experience with a show? "Worst" is too strong, but one of the most "challenging" directing experiences I had was staging "Annie" in Down East Maine inside a warehouse used seasonally for blueberry packing and wreath making. The stage was assembled by medium-security prisoners, the cast included 14 girls and a somewhat distracted dog, and during "Easy Street" my 350-lb stage manager appeared in drag as the ghost of Miss Hannigan & Rooster's mother. One dark and stormy night (thundering rain on the metal roof), I was twenty feet up on a wobbly scaffolding focusing one of our 8 lights when we heard 5 or 6 coyotes outside howling and trying to get inside where it was dry. By all accounts the show was a hit, though. 
One of the best experiences has been writing & directing "Bartholomew Fair, NJ" which has will be participating in the Midtown Int'l Theater Festival this summer. The whole thing is written in rhyming couplets, and my 5-person cast plays 20 characters -- and they are the most versatile, generous, hysterical group of actors ever. They make it all look effortless, and they totally make the script play better than it was written.

4. What was the best advice a teacher gave you? "It's better to do it and apologize, than ask permission and be told no."

5. What defines good theatre? For me, good theater is what sticks with me. It's a show I can't stop talking about, or a show that pops into my head days later and makes me think about the story, the performances, the songs, the sets, or any other element. I think the script is the heart & soul of a good piece of theater, but the production is what gives it life -- so all of it contributes to the success of the story.

6. Favorite musical/play? Wow. I love so many musicals -- I guess "Sweeney Todd" is pretty much at the top of the list. And "Pillowman" is a fantastic, creepy, amazing play (which I'm directing next season at The Attic Ensemble). Those are both really dark, but really funny .. a unique combination I am always drawn to.

7. Do you have any strange or unusual talent that no one knows about? If I tell you what it is .. then everyone will know. Actually, it's not completely unknown, but it's unusual: I create my own mazes.

8. Favorite TV Show? I don't honestly have one. I loved Carol Burnett and The Muppets because they were live on stage, on television. The immediacy of live performance has always been way more interesting to me than sit-coms or hospital/lawyer/police dramas.

9. Favorite ride at an amusement park? Do Dippin' Dots count as a ride?

10. Boxers or Briefs? The ubiquitous boxer-brief, actually. Or nothing.

BONUS QUESTIONS (updated Feb. 2010):

11. IF you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? I tend to dream more about events than people, but if I had to pick a person to dream about it might be Edward Gorey because I came so close to meeting him before he died, but we only talked on the phone.

12. What's your proudest moment? Gee. Currently, it's my production of The Pillowman -- I'm really proud of the work we've done. I think this changes a lot for me, because I don't ever want to be that guy who reminisces about an event 20 years ago, but did nothing to be proud of last week.

 

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Jenn Colella