Gahanna Native and Tony Nominee Mike Faist Brings Inaugural Ohio Artists Gathering to Short North Stage
Gahanna native Mike Faist lit out for New York soon after graduating High School and within three years was on Broadway in Newsies. In 2016 he originated the role of Connor Murphy in Broadway sensation Dear Evan Hansen which won Best Musical at the 2017 Tonys and earned Faist a Tony nomination for Best Featured Actor and a Grammy.
I was lucky enough to talk to Faist by phone about a project dear to his heart, the Ohio Artists Gathering. The inaugural run is happening at Short North Stage this week, through August 31. As Faist said, “It’s a one-week theater festival bringing artists from New York and LA and integrating them with local actors, writers, and directors.”
“I wanted to bring this work to a city I love and call home, and I also want to show Columbus what’s in their backyard. I grew up in Columbus and theater was always something I wanted to do. When I moved to New York, remarkably, many people in my industry were from Ohio. So there’s an interest in Columbus, and there were a lot of things here I didn’t find out about until I left. For example, MadLab is celebrating their 19th season, doing new work, and I didn’t know about them growing up.”
On the origins of the festival, Faist Said, “I reached out to people a couple of years ago. I hooked up with Short North Stage, and they were my cheerleaders in a great way. From their 501(c)3 status to aid in fundraising to assistance on the production side, they’ve gone above and beyond trying to make things happen.”
“We have two pieces and a roundtable talk. We were very mindful of our constraints, the plays we’re doing are both by good friends of mine. But we lucked out with the material – I love both pieces.”
York Walker’s Summer of ‘63 comes to the Ohio Artists’ Gathering after workshops at the American Conservatory Theatre and The Actors Company Theater. The play focuses on love and friendship in the fraught climate of its namesake season and year. Faist said, “York’s a buddy of mine who moved to LA. He’s an African-American playwright who’s been working on this play, cast with primarily black actors, for a while. Reaching diverse voices was very important to me. York jumped at the opportunity, to work on the play, but also to hang out in Columbus.”
For the casting process of Summer of ‘63, Faist said, “York brought the out-of-town actors. (Lateefah Holder and Tobie Windham from LA, and John Stewart from NYC). They’d either worked on the piece before or he thought they’d be good.”
“Short North Stage suggested actors from Columbus. They put themselves on tape, York went through them, and he thought, ‘These actors are great.’ He focused on the roles he wanted to work on in the piece: ‘Let’s use the Columbus talent for these roles I want to develop, I want to see different perspectives here.’” The actors chosen are some of the cream of the crop in Columbus, dropping jaws in works as varied as Passing Strange, How We Got On, and Cats: Kendra Lucas, Shanelle Marie, and Taylor Moss. They also made a brilliant choice for director, Alan Bomar Jones whose work last graced Short North Stage with their acclaimed production of The Mountaintop.
The other piece being workshopped and performed is Cubicle Farm, written by Faist’s Dear Evan Hansen co-star Asa Sommers. Faist joked, “Asa wrote Cubicle Farm, and I love the piece, but it’s also a one-man play, and I’m starring, so cheapest option all around!” The play focuses on a lone tech late at night trying to remove a powerful computer virus.
Faist said, “Asa is over-the-top theatrical, humorous, dark, and witty. He showed me this play he was working on, and it tailored to his character. This side fascinated me – I’ve seen it, but I think he shies away from showing it to people. I related to it. It has this Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas kind of vibe. It has an ‘objective cynicism,’ being able to observe and critique and call out human behavior. How can we turn someone so rude and make him loved and adorable.”
Discussing the process, Faist said, “Asa and I are co-directing the play together – again, we’re the cheapest options! We’ve been meeting since February when we decided he wanted me to work on the piece and I wanted to bring it to Columbus. Asa had the play; I’d bring a handful of notes. Then he’d spend a week away at his computer, re-writing. We went back and forth, fleshing out specific goals. Now, I’ve been memorizing, learning lines, blocking, and Asa’s been judging my performance. It’s been a very fun, pretty relaxed experience.”
This is your chance to get in on the ground floor of a new and exciting event and a chance to see brand new work. Faist summed it up, “Along with the plays, we have the Big Table Talk with CAPA, GCAC, and Short North Stage. We want to talk about where theatre can go here and how to get there. We started this thinking about the next five years; this is about building momentum. I hope to get more artists and companies involved next year.”
The Ohio Artists Gathering runs August 28 through August 31 at Short North Stage. For tickets and more info, visit ohioartistsgathering.com.