20Q: Catching up with local theater technician/director Michael Stalsberg
Editor's Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area's arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece will include a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person's artistic interests but also his or her unique personality.
Michael Stalsberg is vice president of and a producer for Stage One; technical director for the Janesville Performing Arts Center and a freelance audio and lighting designer and consultant. He has been producing and directing shows in Janesville for more than 10 years.
Included in Stalsberg's directing credits for Stage One are “Glengarry Glen Ross,” “The Rocky Horror Show,” “It's a Wonderful Life,” “A Christmas Carol,” “Stop Kiss,” “How I Learned to Drive” and “Proof.” He also directed “tick, tick… BOOM!” and “The Frogs” for JPAC and has provided audio and lighting for such artists as Tony Bennett, Buckcherry, Taylor Swift, Sugarland, The Decemberists, Donny Osmond, Common and many others.
As JPAC's technical director since the facility opened in 2004, Stalsberg has provided audio and lighting services for all productions and 95 percent of rental productions. He also provides audio and lighting services for shows in the Kirk Denmark Theatre at UW-Rock County.
Stalsberg has a degree in recording from Madison Media Institute. He lives in Janesville with his wife, Sara Reinardy, and their two cats, Dulcinea and Eartha Kitty.
1. What was it about theater that initially drew you in? It was the technical aspect. I have always been fascinated with music and technology. When I became a freshman at Parker High School in 1998, Craig Bergum took me under his wing. Mr. Bergum's theater program was challenging, and it allowed me to experience several areas of production. A very valuable process.
2. If you could choose any role to play, what would it be and why? It's a tough choice. MacGyver, Romeo, Batman … there are too many great roles to choose from.
3. What makes community theater a valuable asset to quality of life? Community theater in Janesville is popular, and we always have actors ready to get on stage. Stage One tries to program shows that will appeal to a variety of actors and audiences. For the actors and crew, it is an opportunity to meet new people, build relationships, learn about themselves and grow by exploring themes of the plays. For audiences and actors, it can offer an escape, a way to have fun or a way to challenge how you see things and perhaps broaden your mind.
4. What is your preferred meal for breakfast? Lucky Charms and Coca-Cola, although I generally skip straight to lunch.
5. Name the last good/bad TV series you watched. I think some of the best new entertainment is being produced by Netflix. “Orange is the New Black” and “Stranger Things” are two of my favorite new series. They spend a lot of time developing characters and relationships with great acting and production value. Hollywood is always changing, and internet video streaming services are really stepping up.
6. Aside from theater, what do you consider your hobbies? I love music, and I mostly play guitar. I rarely perform publicly, but I love learning new songs and rocking out in the basement. It's a great stress reliever, and it impresses the ladies (my wife and cats).
7. Do you tend to lean toward health food or junk food? I try to maintain a balanced diet, but that can get tricky with the unusual theater schedules I frequently find myself in. I'd like to give a shout out to my pals over at the Lions QuickMart by JPAC. They always have a great stock of theater staples: Mountain Dew and Peanut M&Ms.
8. After a production closes, do you need time away from theater work or are you ready to dive into another project? As Stage One's producer, I work on at least three shows a season. I have directed the October show, which kicks off the season, for the past several years. After that, the shows overlap, so I am busy until March. In my day job, I'm the technical director at JPAC, so I never really get a break from theatre.
9. What is the greatest piece of advice you've received when it comes to theater? In 2005, I directed my first show at JPAC called “tick, tick… BOOM!” by Jonathan Larson (who also did “Rent”). It was a small-cast show, and we had a pretty low turnout. On Saturday night, a local theater legend—Josh Burton—came to the show. Afterward, we went out for drinks and he told me the most important thing about producing theatre—focus on the people and invest your resources in the people working on the shows. I've always kept this in mind when starting a new production, and I find it to be great advice.
10. Would you rather travel by land, air or sea? Land ... by car. Nothing beats a great road trip.
11. What is the most overlooked aspect of theater and why should it not be? In theatrical productions, people don't generally pay attention to audio or lighting unless there is a really cool effect or something goes horribly wrong. Generally speaking, however, this is the way it should be. But that means a lot of hard work goes unnoticed.
12. Are you a fan of film adaptations of theater performances? There are very few theatrical film adaptations that impress me. Some of my favorites include “Man of La Mancha” (1972), “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (1975), “Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” (1966) and “Angels in America” (2003). All of these films represent their play counterparts justly and have memorable performances. There are great adaptations, but theater doesn't always translate to film.
13. If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would do? Go to Disneyland.
14. Do you prefer dramatic or comedic shows? I like to find shows with depth and meaning that can also be humorous, such as “Glengarry Glen Ross” by David Mamet or “How I Learned to Drive” by Paula Vogel. These can be the most difficult productions because they ask so much of the actors and audience.
15. What was the first production you ever took part in, and what role did you play? The 1998 Parker Playhouse production of “To Kill A Mockingbird.” I was the soundboard operator and assistant to the lighting designer.
16. Have you ever been to a performance on Broadway? I am fortunate to have seen several shows on Broadway. The most memorable is “Proof” by David Auburn. I remember being skeptical about seeing Jennifer Jason Leigh in such a complex role, but I was blown away by her performance and the content of the play. Seeing a show on Broadway is like nothing else on Earth. I highly recommend the experience.
17. Many people never attempt to act simply out of fear of being onstage. Is that something someone can get over, or do you need to be at least a bit extroverted to even attempt it? Absolutely, it can be overcome. But for those who have not acted, oftentimes the only experience they have on stage has been a graduation ceremony or a speech in class. These aren't necessarily great comparisons to performing in a well-rehearsed play, and they might have a negative influence. If you have even the slightest interest in being on stage, I highly recommend auditioning for a play with a large cast. Large-cast plays have a variety of roles for all skill levels and are a great way to test the water.
18. Have you ever written a play of your own? I have written screenplays for a sketch comedy web series that is currently being developed, but I have not attempted to write a play. That, for me, would be a huge undertaking that I'm not sure I'd be good at or would enjoy.
19. What word do you always struggle to spell correctly? Jus abot al off 'em.
20. What are the benefits/drawbacks to working with child actors? You can't yell at them or swear at them, and they always need rides to rehearsals. Apart from that, children always bring energy and excitement to a show. Diversity is important in community theater, and that includes providing opportunities for actors of all ages.