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Michael Man

'My life is pretty exciting right now, and I hope it will continue."

Pierre Gautreau

Joe Szekeres

The theatre company's name - ‘Shakespeare BASH’d’ - made me do the proverbial double take. Does ‘Bash’ mean what I think it means?

After last year’s engrossing and pared-down ‘King Lear’ with Scott Wentworth in the title role, why was I thinking what I did? The Bash’d production of ‘Lear’ made for good theatre on a freezing night.

This month, it’s ‘The Two Noble Kinsmen,’ a collaboration between Shakespeare and John Fletcher.

According to a release I received, ‘Kinsmen’ explores many of the same themes expected from Shakespeare’s plays, including love, friendship, honour, and duty. Those familiar thematic topics are shown to audiences from new and unfamiliar perspectives, challenging expected ideas of gender, sexuality, romance, and ceremony. Although written over four hundred years ago, much of ‘Kinsmen’ feels incredibly modern, exploring many relationships, including same-sex love and attraction, in some of the most overt ways of a play from this period.

Recently, I spoke with Michael Man, who plays Arcite, one of the title characters and asked him to tell me a bit about the plot without spoiling any intricate surprises since I’ve never seen the play before. Man was keen that I knew nothing about the show. His wish is for audiences to do the same to come and enjoy.

There are two love triangles in ‘Kinsmen.’ In the first, two kinsmen are deep, deep friends who go to war and get jailed. While in jail, they see a woman for whom they fall madly in love. As part of this first triangle, these friends learn how to cope with each other falling in love with and fighting for the same woman. The second triangle involves what occurs in jail. We meet the jailer and his daughter, who falls madly in love with one of the kinsmen. Meanwhile, the jailer’s daughter is also being pursued and chased by another lover.

For Michael, the theme and idea of friendship aren’t discussed much, and these are two reasons audiences should see ‘Kinsmen.’ Since our world is still changing due to the pandemic, Michael thinks a lot about friendship attrition and how difficult it is to maintain friends because they’re worth so much. How do we keep friends through difficulties? How does one describe friendship and love, and what happens when they blur, if they blur, or do they blur? ‘Kinsmen’ explores friendship, what it can and cannot be, and how we maintain it.

Rehearsals have been going fine so far. Man loves working with these folks. He loves this company because SHAKESPEARE BASH’d is text-centric and actor-focused. Audiences attend to hear the text spoken hopefully well by people who are passionate about what they do.

His biography on TAPA lists impressive credits. This summer will mark his fourth season with Shaw Festival.

A Queen’s University and George Brown Theatre School graduate, he is an actor, musician, and theatre maker. Man has performed across the country. Having previously served on the Dora Indie Jury 2018/2019 and the Ontario Arts Council Skills and Careers Development Jury in 2015, Michael has experience critically and objectively discussing the merit of the works of his peers.

He has fond memories of his undergraduate years at Queen’s along with a great support network from his undergraduate years and his training at George Brown. He met some incredible friends:

“My life is pretty exciting right now, and I hope it will continue."

Man has also voiced the same frustrations and perhaps concerns about where the performing arts are headed due to so much change in the industry over the last nearly four years. Change will always remain a constant. There’s now an urgency to do what he wants to do. He chooses to stay with what he’s doing now and do it with all his might and heart. As an artist, there’s a certain level of faith and optimism in choosing to do something others might see as an unstable or unreliable career.

How important is it to continue honing his skills as an artist:

“I feel very lucky that I get to do what I really like, so why wouldn’t I take every opportunity to learn how to do it better?”

Outside of getting to see theatre, Man loves the arts and getting out to see what others are doing. It’s exciting to find out how people are communicating, what is interesting, and what is being received well or not received well. If he has the resources and the time, of course, he’ll take the time. But there’s learning to be done in other different ways from the people with whom he’s working, along with any personal reading he may undertake.

How important is it for Michael as an artist to hear what audiences, reviewers, critics, and bloggers say about his work?

There was a slightly uncomfortable laugh from him as he challenged me to continue asking other artists that same question. Again, we both shared a good laugh over it.

Man is in the art of communications. He is trying to communicate to the audience. The best communication is never one way. It’s always a dialogue both ways, so it’s essential to hear and understand what’s being received and what isn’t.

But Michael is an artist.

He's sensitive, as he believes most artists are, so that side is protected. He knows he must defend that sensitivity even though he may not know how others will process the created work. Artists put themselves out there and wear their hearts on their sleeves. Just as a rave review cannot bring him to the heights and skies, negative or poor feedback must not bring him down to despair. He’s working on how he receives all kinds of feedback.

Our discussion then turned to the changes in the industry. Michael is grateful that honest and meaningful conversations are taking place and getting more to the forefront. That said, coming out of these four years, he feels that as much as change is happening, a lot remains the same. The landscape is now very different.

Yes, stories are still being told; people attend to hear stories told and want to be seen, heard, validated, and listened to. He appreciates there is an essence of what remains true among all of us.

But there is still work to be done, and there is an added sense of urgency to do it. Many places around the world do not allow freedom of expression. This means Michael must continue to work in the arts formed by reason and with a convicted heart.

He feels grateful for being able to do his work and knows many artists who have either stepped away from the business or are pausing to take stock of where they are. Change will remain a constant and will always happen. For example, there’s a lot of discussion in film, television, and voice work about the influence of AI (artificial intelligence). This item has been hotly debated and must remain a significant concern for the artist/actor. Technology is a reality, but the actor/artist must learn to react and safeguard themselves.

Money and funds are always an issue in the theatre, even now more pronounced. As theatres continue to consider budget, Man hopes financial oversight will not discourage artistic risk across the board. He hopes both can go hand in hand and that artists aren’t fearful this will happen.

After ‘The Two Noble Kinsmen’ completes its run, what’s next for Michael?

He returns to Shaw this summer and ecstatic that it and Stratford will perform East Asian-centric plays this year. He’s writing for Shaw which has commissioned an adaptation to produce ‘The Orphan of Chao’ based on a 13th-century Chinese drama, ‘The Great Revenge of the Zhao Orphan,’ by Ji Junxiang. Man is grateful for the opportunity to have his words presented in this adaptation. He will also appear in a new adaptation of ‘Sherlock (Holmes and the Mystery of the Human Heart)’ and will act in another adaptation of a 13th-century Chinese drama – ‘Snow in Midsummer.’

As we concluded our conversation, Man spoke of something he holds dear to his heart:

“Regardless of who’s performing in a show, what stories are being centred, or where the stories are coming from, I hope audiences come out to see that we are all the same underneath. That’s what’s important.”

And what’s next once Shaw concludes its summer/fall season:

“Who knows, Joe, who knows? …I try to trust my gut in what I do, so I will continue to seek out exciting and interesting work done by exciting and interesting people.”

‘The Two Noble Kinsmen’ directed by James Wallis, opens on January 25 and runs to February 4, 2024. All performances will occur at The Theatre Centre, 1115 Queen Street West. For tickets:

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