Michael Russotto is quite busy these days. He is in rehearsals for The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company while starring in If You Give A Moose a Muffin at Adventure Theatre MTC. I wanted to know about Michael’s experiences with playing for young audiences and how he enjoys it. Read on for a great interview with a very talented and versatile performer.
What were some of your favorite children’s stories growing up?
I loved anything by Dr. Seuss, especially Green Eggs and Ham and Horton Hears a Who. I also remember liking just about any story that dealt with Halloween (my favorite holiday as a kid), and all of Frank L. Baum’s Oz books.
What is the first memory you have of your folks taking you to the theatre?
We lived in Italy (Naples) when I was 6 years old (my dad was a doctor in the Navy, and he was stationed at the naval hospital there). One summer we vacationed in London for a week, and I remember my parents taking us to a production of Hello Dolly! somewhere in the West End.
When Michael Bobbitt approached you about doing a show for him at Adventure Theatre MTC, what was your first reaction?
To stall for time! I wasn’t sure I really wanted to play a Moose in a children’s play. But Michael is a friend, and I felt that I should at least read the script before saying no. Well, guess what? It was charming and delightful and it had a lot of heart. So, of course, I said yes.
Can you please describe your character in If You Give a Moose a Muffin?
Well, he’s a very intelligent, fun-loving, talking Moose, naturally. He’s quite impulsive, which sometimes (okay, often) gets him into trouble. But everything he does comes from the heart. He’s never bored, and he’d be a really great best friend for any kid.
Is this the first time you have performed in a young audience production? How different is it than playing a show to an adult audience?
Well, actually, I’ve done a lot of work at the Kennedy Center’s Theatre for Young Audiences. I suppose I’d say that kids, especially young kids, are honest when they react. You know when they like the show and are really listening, and you know when they’re bored because they start to get restless. Adult audiences have more social control mechanisms in place, so sometimes it’s hard to tell with them just how they feel.
On Saturdays you play three performances. How do you pace yourself to get through a three show day?
You just try to focus on one show at a time and live it from moment to moment. If you think about a 3-show day stretching out ahead of you, it can seem like quite a mountain to climb, so it’s best to break it down into manageable chunks. Also, naps between shows and Gatorade help a lot.
At what age do you think parents should start introducing their kids to theatre?
As soon as they (the kids!) can follow a simple story.
What do you enjoy the most about performing for young audiences?
Their honesty. Oh, and also, they tend to talk back a lot (which I was initially worried about, because that kind of thing can sometimes throw you off); it has actually made me a better performer to really listen and respond to that stimulus. A lot of improvisation is involved.
If the chance presented itself, would you consider performing in another young audience production?
Yes; in fact I’ll be in The Mostly True Adventures of Homer P. Figg, a TYA production at the Kennedy Center, later this year.
After If You Give a Moose a Muffin finishes where can we see you next?
I’m currently in rehearsals for the fabulous Woolly Mammoth Theatre production of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Diety, a wonderful play by Kristoffer Diaz. It is set in the larger-than-life world of professional wrestling, and I’ll be playing the Boss.
If You Give A Moose A Muffin runs through September 2, 2012. All performances will take place at Adventure Theatre MTC, 7300 MacArthur Blvd, Glen Echo, Maryland in the historic Glen Echo Park. For more information and for tickets call the box office at 301-634-2270 or online.