Spotlight Series: Meet Michael Mullen, An Award-Winning Costume Designer and Actor

This Spotlight focuses on Michael Mullen, an award-winning and always busy costume designer, writer and actor who often steps onstage in a variety of roles, both male and female.

Shari Barrett (SB): What would you like readers to know about your theatrical background?

Michael Mullen (MM): I’m a costume designer, actor, and writer who lives in Hollywood with my dog Choo Choo. I’ve worked in the L.A. theatre scene for many years now, and have received several awards and nominations for my work both onstage and off from such organizations as Ovation, L.A. Drama Critics Circle, L.A. Weekly, N.A.A.C.P., Scenie, Stage Raw, Robby, Broadway World, Ticket Holder, Eddon, and Desert Theatre League. I hope to keep working and doing what I love for many years to come, and I’m very happy to be a part of L.A.’s wonderful theatre community.

(SB): I know you are always busy costuming shows around town, so what production(s) were you involved with when word went out that those shows had to be closed or postponed?  

(MM): I was involved with a few shows when this whole Coronavirus pandemic started directly affecting theatre.  I costume designed Andrew Lippa’s The Wild Party at Morgan-Wixson Theatre (directed by my good friend Kristin Towers-Rowles) which was slated to open March 14th. I was at the theatre for final dress rehearsal on March 12th and the show was in great shape and ready for an audience. After the performance was over, Michael Heimos, the President of Morgan-Wixson’s board, came onto the stage to address the audience, cast, and crew to announce the run of the show was being postponed until later when it would be deemed safe to do theatre again. Everyone involved with the show was very sad over this news, but we all knew that this was the necessary and safe decision to make.

That night, the cast and crew stayed in the theatre and had an impromptu pizza Karaoke party to console each other that went on until the wee hours of the morning. Kristin (our director) organized a nice dinner for all the cast and crew at a restaurant called The Upper West for Friday, March 13th - which would’ve been our first and only preview performance. It was a lovely night of yummy food, drinks, and bonding. And now everything is on hold.

Michael Mullen in “The Importance of Being Earnest” at Crown City Theatre

Across town, I had a production of Romeo and Juliet (directed by Dana Martin) and All’s Well That End’s Well (directed by Nike Doukas) at a school called Art of Acting that had both just opened on March 11th. These two productions (which I costume designed) were both great, but unfortunately had to close early due to the Coronavirus situation as well. Everyone involved was sad of course, but understood why that decision had to be made.

That same weekend, I had In My Mind’s Eye (which I costume designed) close at Group Rep Theatre, but the production was scheduled to close that particular weekend anyway as it had come to the end of its scheduled run. The show was directed by Bruce Kimmel and written by Group Rep’s Artistic Director, Doug Haverty. It was sad to see the show end, but at least it was able to complete its full run before everything started shutting down.

(SB): You mentioned about the way in which The Wild Party cast and crew found out about the postponement. But what about the other productions at Art of Acting?

Michael Mullen in “The Legend of Georgia McBride” at Secret Rose. Photo credit: Chris Greenwell

(MM): As I recall, the cast of the two shows at Art of Acting were notified by email from the School Director, Johnny Yoder. I personally learned that the Art of Acting shows were closing early when I went to the school on March 12th during the afternoon to deal with some costume repairs for both productions. It was sad to receive all of this news about all three shows which I had costumed that were opening in mid-March. My heart broke, especially for all of the actors.

(SB):  Are plans in place to present the productions at a future date, or is the cancellation permanent? 

(MM): The plan for The Wild Party is for it to open and have a run later this year when it is safe to do so. Everyone involved is very happy about that and I think audiences will love the show since it’s fun, sexy, and very entertaining.  It’s weird to think that the set, props, costumes, wigs, and lights are all just sitting there in the theatre like a ghost light waiting to be used, but they will all get their glory and chance to shine eventually!

Romeo And Juliet and All’s Well That Ends Well at Art of Acting are sadly done for good. They were truly deserving of much longer runs.

(SB):  What future productions on your schedule are also affected by the shutdown?

(MM): I was costume designing several other productions that were supposed to open over the next few months, but unfortunately all have been cancelled and/or postponed until later (yet to be decided) dates when it is safe to do theatre again. Among these projects are A Little Night Music with Knot Free Productions, Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner with Ruskin Group, Imogene at Parson’s Nose, Art Of Acting’s productions of Distracted, Our Lady Of 121st Street, and Landscape Of The Body, and Love’s Labour’s Lost with Shakespeare By The Sea, as well as a few Hollywood Fringe shows. It has been announced that The Hollywood Fringe Festival (which was scheduled to happen in June 2020) is tentatively postponed until the month of October this fall. My 19-week-long costume design class at A Place Called Home has also been cancelled due to the building closing down until further notice.

(SB): That was quite a packed schedule!  I don’t know how you manage to work on so many shows at the same time and do them all so well. So for now, how are you keeping the Arts alive while at home by using social media or other online sites?

Michael Mullen and Choo Choo

(MM): I’m teaching acting/improv classes for kids on Zoom now, reading plays, following the news, Facebooking, talking with family and friends on the phone, watching a lot of T.V. and film, hanging out with my dog Choo Choo, and eating A LOT! And since the Hollywood Fringe Festival is now postponed until the fall, I’ve decided to try and write a play or at least find one to produce and act in myself. I mean, why not, right?! And masks! I should be making masks for people to wear! Bedazzled themed masks would be fun, huh?

(SB): Absolutely!

(MM): It’s tough to be alone and not see people because I’m a social person, but I’ll be okay. We’ll all get through this tough time, and I can’t wait to hug everyone when this Coronavirus nightmare is over.

I just want to remind all my fellow theatre folk that we are all in this together and that we will all be making theatre again when it is safe to do so. In the meantime, it’s important for all of us to stay healthy and safe, practice social distancing, get plenty of rest, and wash our damn hands!  It’s also important for us all to connect with each other and reach out if we get lonely. I’m here for anyone who wants to talk.  And I guess people are starting to do play readings on Zoom! I think that’s great! I encourage doing that for sure! Zoom Zoom, baby!

What I’m looking forward to the most, after this Coronavirus nightmare is over, is the resurgence of theatre across the world and especially here in Los Angeles. Theatre makes the world a better place. ❤️ Much love, everyone.

(SB) I am on the same page with you and can’t wait to get back to reviewing shows. #TheatreInspires

This article first appeared on Broadway World.

Ashton's Audio Interview: Armin Shimerman (Quark of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine") in the Antaeus Theatre Company's production of "Three Days In The Country"

A fresh, breezy update by Patrick Marber of Turgenev's classic comedy A Month in the Country, this is a tale of unrequited passion, unfolding over the course of three days in the sunny Russian countryside. Full of wit, folly and heart, men and women, both young and old, learn the tender and ridiculous lessons of love.*
Enjoy this interview with Armin Shimerman (Quark in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) and the cast of “Three Days In The Country” playing at the Antaeus Theatre Company, running until Aug 26th. You can listen to this interview while commuting, while waiting in line at the grocery store or at an audition, backstage and even front of the stage. For tickets and more info Click here
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*Taken from the website

Nike Doukas Accenting Her Way From The Cockney Streets To The Royal Court

Actress Nike Doukas will be doing double duty in Pasadena Playhouse's latest production of KING CHARLES III, previewing on November 8, 2017. Besides taking on the character of ‘Ghost,' Nike's accent coaching expertise will be utilized to achieve maximum British effect of the various British characters. Nike was most gracious to take the time to answer my accented inquiries.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Nike!

I have seen you credited as both a 'dialect coach' and an 'accent coach.' Could you explain the differences, if any, between the two terms 'dialect' and 'accent'?

I so appreciate your question about the difference between a dialect coach and an accent coach! Linguists make a very sharp distinction between the two: A dialect is defined by vocabulary that people use depending on where they come from, for example, in Boston (where I grew up), people say "wicked" to mean "very" (among other things). But the classic "Park the car in Harvard Yard" is an accent, the same vocabulary is used, but pronounced differently. I deal only with pronunciation, and therefore, am an accent coach. For some reason, theater people tend to call what I do a dialect coach, I'm not sure why, but I'm always trying to correct the error.  

If I wanted to sound like a Cockney villager, would I come to you with the request to coach me in a Cockney accent? Or in a Cockney dialect?

Come to me for coaching on your Cockney accent - although Cockneys also have a very extensive dialect, which I can research for you, if you want extra help on that. Then I will be your dialect coach.

Any accent you would name as your specialty?

My specialty is British accents, particularly RP, or Received Pronunciation, which is also known as the Queen's English, and is that very refined sound you hear from the Royals and upper crust. I also specialize in Cockney and Estuary, which is the ever more popular accent, sort of mid-way between RP and Cockney.

In KING CHARLES III, what various accents will we be hearing? Upper-class British? Lower or middle-class British?

We will be using all three in KING CHARLES III. I have also coached about twenty other accents for plays and TV. Boston is one of my favorites, for obvious reasons.

How do you feel about productions that do not incorporate the appropriate accents of the show's characters?

I feel very strongly about accents in plays. There are certain plays I can't imagine without an accent, and KING CHARLES III is one of them. As an actor and as a theatre-goer; for me, the accent informs and enriches the play. The sounds people make reflect their emotional, physical selves, the way people make a sounds, informs how they express their point of view. This is not only in terms of the way the sounds are formed in the mouth, but the musicality of the speech, which varies so much from region to region. Think about the way Jimmy Carter's accent compared to Hilary Clinton's accent, compared to LBJ's accent, compared to our current president's accent informs their speech and personality. When directors try to neutralize accents, or lose them altogether, it makes me feel they don't really understand the world of the play. I sometimes think they think it's too hard for the actors and will distance them from their roles. And it is hard work, and can feel distancing. In KING CHARLES III, we are working for a much more expressive musicality, that is very alien to our American ears. Americans tend to make emphasis with volume, not pitch. The Brits are much more versatile with the vocal tools they have; they use volume, pace and most especially pitch, and it makes them much more expressive communicators. It's why they are so pleasant to listen to! So as Americans in the cast, we have to embrace those changes and make them feel like ourselves, and that takes work. But that's what actors do! We love taking on different physicalities, different ways of dressing, different ways of thinking. So for a director to say that's just "too hard," I say, "It's our job." And for the director who says, "It will alienate the audience. I want this to feel universal." I say, "There is no such thing as a universal accent. Everyone has one. And when audiences recognize themselves, it isn't because of the accent., It's because of the shared humanity. The fun and the lesson is recognizing yourself in someone who seems quite different. Fortunately, our director Michael Michetti, feels the accents in this play are of the utmost importance. He and I talk a lot about the story we are telling with the way the actors are sounding. He's very sensitive to the nuances of sound, and I love that.

Would you consider yourself an actress who loves to teach and coach? Or a teacher/coach who loves to act?

I am something of a typical L.A. actor (and American actor) who does as much acting as possible, and supplements my income with outside work. In my case, I'm an accent coach. I teach accents in class, and I am an acting teacher and coach. I also started directing a few years back, and in fact, will be directing Harold Pinter's THE HOTHOUSE at Antaeus as soon as KING CHARLES closes. I adore teaching and directing and accent coaching, but I think of myself primarily as an actor. Being an actor informs everything I do as a teacher, coach and director. Specifically as an accent coach, I know how delicate the process of developing a role is, and how alienating it can be to add an accent to the mix. I like to think I am able to help the actors use the accent to get closer to their characters. I often give notes in terms of acting choices. That's really fun for me. I try to be sensitive as to when an actor can hear a note about accents and when they need to focus on other things.

You're multi-tasking in KING CHARLES III, first in the role of Ghost and also as the show's accent coach. Do your two positions overlap? Or do you keep them separate?

In KING CHARLES III, I rarely give notes when I'm acting. Aside from the fact that I don't want the actors to think I'm listening for their accent when I'm acting with them, I don't want to be listening for their accent when I'm acting with them! So I spend most of my off-stage time taking notes. This wonderful, warm and talented cast has been absolutely receptive and welcoming of the notes. They make it easy for me.

You were chosen as one of the ten to participate in the Lunt Fontanne Fellowship Program in 2011 led by Olympia Dukakis as your Master Teacher. What was the process in getting to be chosen?

I was a 2011 member of the Lunt Fontanne Fellowship. Each year, the Fellowship selects ten American regional theatre actors to go to the Lunt Fontanne estate in Wisconsin, and study for ten days at their beautifully-kept home in the country. I was nominated by South Coast Repertory Theatre, a theatre where I have worked a lot over the years. It was an absolute honor to be nominated by my friends at SCR, and accepted into the program. Each year they have a different "mentor" leading the group of ten actors, and my year, it was Olympia Dukakis.

What gems of wisdom did Ms. Dukakis share with you?

She is a fiery, passionate, and hugely talented actress. We spent ten days with her thinking about and working on Chekhov plays. She had much to share with us, including her incredible knowledge on the period Chekhov was writing in. She also has a specific way of rehearsing. It was challenging and rewarding to experiment with her way of looking at rehearsal. It was especially rewarding to be among old and new friends in this group, and share war stories, complaints and to appreciate each other's work. It's very rare that actors get these kind of working retreats, and are treated so lovingly and lavishly. It made us feel very special, and I recommend it to any actor who's lucky enough to be asked to be included.

Thank you again, Nike! I look forward to hearing all your wonderful work in CHARLES.

Thank you, Gil, for your interest in me and in KING CHARLES III.

For ticket availability and show schedule through December 3, 2017, log onto