(2016, May) Mike McCormack. We are incredibly lucky to have Mike McCormack visiting us in June. NWTC talks with Mike about his passion for theatre.
What is your first recollection of theatre?
I think it was school trips to the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon when I was about 12. We saw David Warner as Richard II and I still have images in my head of him on the stage – a really powerful and memorable experience.
How did you become involved in teaching theatre studies?
In 1982 I got a phone call from the British Theatre Association, now defunct, asking me to teach on the annual summer school. I explained that I’d never taught theatre, or anything else for that matter. The response was “Well, you’ve been recommended anyway and we don’t have anyone else at this notice!” I decided not to be too offended and loved doing it. At that moment, I discovered the activity I’m most passionate and enthused by and have increasingly pursued it ever since.
You have performed, directed and taught (anything else?!)...what do you enjoy about each?
Well, I began as a magician at the age of 13, having seen one at a friend’s birthday party. I was paid modest sums for performances by about the age of 15 and then worked in holiday camps. By the time I was 19, I was the youngest holiday camp Entertainments Manager in the country and thought this was to be my career – acting never occurred to me. I started doing a bit of acting in my 20s and some people thought I was okay at it so I applied for drama school and, to my slight surprise, got in. I loved every day of the training but got rather frustrated by the lack of theory or history. I also thought that spending my life waiting for people to employ me to play a part would probably not be very satisfying, especially if the work wasn’t interesting. That’s why, despite the thousands of performances all over the world, I’ve never thought of myself as a ‘proper’ professional actor.
The opportunity to direct came at the end of my training at Central School when I directed a group of my peers in a public show which I really enjoyed. I set up a small touring company before the opportunity arose to become Artistic Director of the fledgling Finborough Theatre, London, a position I occupied throughout the 80s alongside an increasing interest in teaching.
In the 90s I completed a master’s degree in drama theory which allowed me to realise an ambition to teach in higher education. I see all three activities as feeding off each other, although teaching now occupies most of my time. I suspect any good teacher will tell us that it is in fact part direction and part performance! I am very lucky to spend my working life doing the things I love, but to quote Thomas Jefferson (maybe) ‘The harder I work, the luckier I get’.
What/who inspires you in your work?
Everyone who really cares about the power of theatre including people I meet, students, enthusiasts, experts and audiences.
You were director of Summer School for several years and taught again recently. Who do you think can benefit from Summer School and why?
Summer School is a unique experience as almost every participant and tutor knows. I was asked once whether I enjoyed being Director and I replied that it was the best job in the world. Anyone who has an genuine interest in and curiosity about theatre finds it an extraordinary immersive experience as all involved make discoveries. It’s for everyone, no matter what their age or background, and in addition to the sheer excitement, it’s also an opportunity to acquire theatre skills and knowledge.
What would be your advice to aspiring actors?
You never stop learning about theatre – seek every opportunity to do so.
And a little bit more information about Mike …
Mike McCormack trained as an actor at Central School in the 1970's and has performed in regional theatres throughout Britain, played Shakespeare in Regent's Park and in 1990 led his own company on a world tour visiting Turkey, Israel, the South Pacific Islands and the Philippines. He has directed numerous productions throughout Britain and Europe and was the founding Artistic Director of the Finborough Theatre, London. He is also a puppeteer, mime and magician and was for some years Associate Director of Parasol Theatre for Children. He is co-founding Director (with Graeme du Fresne) of In Fieri Theatre for whom he played Macbeth.
Mike first taught on the Summer School in 1982 when it was under the auspices of British Theatre Association Training of which he was member of the Board of Directors. He was Summer School Director from 1996-2003 and now has the honorary title of Summer School Mentor. He has joined his friend and successor, Graeme, at the Summer School on several subsequent occasions, most recently in 2015.
Mike is Senior Lecturer in Drama at Liverpool John Moores University where he teaches across practical and theoretical subjects, most recently directing a new adaptation of Lady Audley’s Secret.
His most recent professional production was The Bells in 2014 at Liverpool’s Unity Theatre which he directed and played Matthias. A local theatre critic listed the show as one of the ten best Liverpool productions that year.