Columbus Makes Art Presents Behind the Scenes with Actors’ Theatre’s Michelle Batt
Michelle Batt is a director, actor and educator. For roughly the past 25 years, she went from community theater to 15 years at MadLab to co-founding eMBer Women’s Theatre in 2016 and being a contributing artist/member of Actors’ Theatre of Columbus since 2017. Her resume includes mostly directing for the past 15 years, but you have also seen her on and off stage in that time through original and also traditional works. Recent Columbus credits include eMBer’s productions of Love, Loss, and What I Wore and Steel Magnolias, MadLab’s Skillet Tag, and ATC’s 2017 production of The Emperor of the Moon.
Michelle is directing a live reading of the Elizabethan romantic comedy Mucedorus in the upcoming online Shakespeare Underground collaboration between ATC and eMBer on Monday, July 20 at 8 p.m.
Scott: Describe your art and your creative process.
Michelle: My art is theater. My creative process is simple, go with your gut. I am not a professionally trained theater person but I was privileged enough to spend many years learning from two people (one of which I am married to) on how to be in the character, how to see the vision for a show and how to tell the story with the best people possible. Theater to me is about telling the story to the audience. They are smart and they deserve to laugh, connect and feel the work you are creating. Theater is a reflection of life in many ways and I hope that even if it’s a farce, the joy of laughter connects that feeling with theater for the audience. I love to participate in work that engages the audience. I have found that theater is the place where stories can be told and connections to change lives can be made.
Scott: How do you recharge and/or refine your artistic process?Michelle: My artistic process is constantly changing with each experience. When going to Actors’ Theatre from MadLab, I had never directed a show in the park and I had never directed a show from the 1600s. I had to listen, ask questions, learn from a great cast and knowledgeable leaders. I believe that if your process stops changing and morphing that you are not thinking innovatively with your theater, your actors or your production. Actors’ Theatre helped me refine my artistic process from just the knowledge of original work to the knowledge of all different kinds of work.
Scott: How long have you been acting and what is the most important thing you have learned about yourself along the way?
Michelle: I have been acting and directing for over 25 years. The most important thing I learned about myself is that I had a talent. From 1983, when my mom enrolled me in the Columbus Junior Theatre of the Arts (now CCT), to today, theater has been my thing. But throughout the years, it took me a long time to find out what I was good at. I have found that in a few areas, especially in the learning and growing I did in all my years at MadLab. Without my time there, I would not be where I am today. I had a lot of tough lessons and a lot of lifelong friends and a lot of heartache and a lot of beautiful theatrical experiences, all of which have shaped me to be me.
Scott: What role are you most proud of?
Michelle: The role I am the most proud of was being the Education Director for MadLab Theatre and designing the Young Writers Short Play Festival. I believe it was like 2011, when my husband had the idea, and then looked at me and said, “You like kids, make it happen.” Then, along with some great collaborators, it was born. The many years of creating it, being a part of the students’ development and producing all the shows were the highlight of my theater career so far. The moment you see that student experience their work performed in front of paying audience for the first time is like no other. The work that was in their head all that time, was now revealed, real. I used to say “we change lives,” because we did. I miss it, especially this time of year. If you can affect one person in the work you do, and help them to see their potential, their dreams, their accomplishments, then theater is doing its job. This was my proudest accomplishment. I would say a close second is starting eMBer with Melissa Bair.
Scott: Describe the difference between acting and directing, and do you have a preference?
Michelle: Acting for me is exciting because you get to be someone else. You get to transform and experience. My last role was as Ouiser Boudreaux in Steel Magnolias in eMBer Women’s Theatre’s inaugural production. It was an homage to my grandma and also an honor to be on stage with women who command it every time they step on it. Directing is who I am at the core. It’s where I learn, grow and get excited. It’s where I can collaborate and create a vision for the greatest audience experience. It’s home.
Scott: What’s the best advice you’ve been given?
Michelle: “Just direct. You know how to do it, so do it.” Sometimes when you are working on a show, you get wrapped up with opinions and people and then, the vision and direction get lost. It happens and you just need to sit back, see the big picture and do your job. Not everything is a democracy.
Scott: What’s the best advice you feel you can give?
Michelle: My best advice is to always work with a theater company that has integrity and treats everyone with dignity and respect. That company will be your family and together you will make passionate art that changes lives.
Scott: Describe one of your favorite moments working with Actors’ Theatre.
Michelle: My favorite moment was working with the cast and crew of The Emperor of the Moon. This was a group of professionals that truly enjoyed working together. They would bring food to share or connect together to learn how to be couples outside of rehearsal just so on stage they were able to feel more comfortable work well together. We did improv exercises and laughed at each other while also being dedicated to show. They were patient with me when I didn’t know things like the logistics or doing a classical work on an outdoor stage. Actors’ Theatre itself created that culture. This is why working there has been such a joy for me. This is why eMBer collaborating with Actors’ Theatre on Mucedorus is such a perfect fit. Actors’ supports not only their staff and casts, but also reaches out with the true love of art to partner with others who share their love of theater and value of a good story. I continue to work so closely with Actors’ because I believe in the art they make and the way their culture brings joy.
See Michelle’s work in the comedy Mucedorus, a collaboration between ATC and eMBer on Monday, July 20 at 8 p.m.
ATC’s The Shakespeare Underground is broadcast from an undisclosed location every Monday night at 8 p.m. Visit https://bit.ly/EtherGround to join. While tickets won’t be sold for this event, we appreciate your support during this difficult time and hope to see you in person soon. “Pay What You Will” at https://bit.ly/DonateETHER. Full show information available at www.theactorstheatre.org.
Columbus Makes Art Presents is a bi-weekly column brought to you by the Greater Columbus Arts Council – supporting and advancing the arts and cultural fabric of Columbus. The column is a project of the Art Makes Columbus campaign, telling the inspiring stories of the people and organizations who create Columbus art. Learn more about local artists, organizations and events at ColumbusMakesArt.com.