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Theatre

Weekly Q&A: Sirc Michaels, artistic director for Onyx Theatre & Off-Strip

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Stage fright: Sirc Michaels says theater is not dead—just a little undead.
Bill Hughes

How did you wind up at Onyx?

I got in to Vegas last November, and the first thing I did in town was direct Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog at Onyx. That went really well. I hit it off with the owners of the theater, and they asked me to come onboard and start to shake things up.

What exactly did you want to shake up?

The big thing is the Onyx is minutes away from the Strip. Depending on the types of shows you do, there’s no reason why you can’t do shows that will bring in tourists. … The thing is finding a way to promote to persons outside of Vegas, but also bringing in an audience of theatergoers inside Vegas.

Then there were certain structural things. There weren’t a lot of internal volunteers, like people to help build sets. The Onyx had taken it all on themselves. Doing it that way, you’ll go insane. So, part of my job was shaping things and cultivating.

You started with Dr. Horrible’s. Now you’re doing Evil Dead: The Musical. Is part of your goal to bring more cult classics or things with some name recognition?

That is certainly what I like. It’s what appeals to me. And let’s not kid ourselves, it has a built-in audience. A good 40 percent of our audience probably never went to another show before. That was their first show, definitely their first musical. I heard people say that over and over again. People loved it. They didn’t realize theater could be like that. What I’m trying to do is show people it can be accessible.

Did you grow up with theater?

Or did you have an “Aha!” moment yourself? When I was a kid I was not a drama kid. I wanted to make movies. Drama was guys in tights, spouting old English words that made no sense. Then, there was a girl. She was in theater. Suddenly I liked theater. I volunteered. The first thing I saw was Antigone. It was the most god-awful experience in my life. The show, the production value was stunning, but good God, I wanted to go to sleep. But I stuck around and volunteered because I liked the people. Eventually, they found out that I wrote and asked if I could bring some writing in. They dug my work. Basically I stumbled into this.

And it just grew from there?

What hooked me was when they opened the show I’d written. Remember, I still had no idea how this worked. I just turned my script in. I sat down in the audience opening night, and they had butchered my script. I was angry. I was like, “This was supposed to be one monologue!” I had a vision of how things were in my head, so all at once I became that angsty writer who felt like he was really getting screwed. Then, people started laughing at lines and reacting to things. I kind of forgot they’d screwed up my script then. I really liked seeing the audience reaction. They were yelling, getting into it–okay, they were probably nice, polite claps, but in my head they were rock star cheers—over something I had written. There is nothing cooler than bringing something to life and seeing people react to it. It’s addictive.

What can we expect from you and Onyx going forward?

What I want to bring is fun; let’s explore the darker alleys—do shows that nobody else is going to do. I am not interested in doing what other people have done. You won’t see Little Shop of Horrors or Jesus Christ Superstar or any of those goofy things. I like them all; I just generally want premieres—Vegas premieres or American premieres. That’s what I’m interested in.

What I want to do is cultivate the artists. Not only am I doing what I’m doing at Off-Strip and Onyx, but I’m looking at other things. I have my own production company. One of the big things is development of talent. When a student gets out of school, they need to find something. Few people are going to give them a go, so where do they go? Community theater. That works very well. If you can meet those people and sort of see how they work, you can use and help them move inward into their career.

What would you like to see more of from the Vegas theater community as a whole?

I am nothing if not a self-promoter. I am trying to create the Vegas Theatre Connection, where we’d have a website where all of us could create Vegas-wide events to promote live arts and theater in particular. I’ve been trying to put that together.

I love promotions. I think it’s a fun part of the job. You get to babble at people. I don’t know why, but a lot of theater is complacent. Once we’ve got the audience, it’s our audience until—Oh, no!—they die off and you have to find a new audience. That’s one thing I’d like to see more of—a thrust to see live entertainment and promote it.

Tell me about a memorable moment you’ve had at Onyx.

Evil Dead is freshest in my mind, so that’s what’s coming to mind. Why, I do recall a chick sitting in the front row in a wedding dress. Remember, everyone in the first two rows are in the “splatter zone.” We give them a T-shirt to put on. It’s a rule. This chick didn’t want to have the T-shirt on. Mid-preshow she took off her T-shirt. Now, I’d told her, don’t worry, you’ll get covered in blood, but she was, like, “No, I want my wedding dress.” I finally was kind of, like, “F*ck you, bitch.” I had her stand and face the audience. I said, “We’ll get your picture. Look at the camera. Wave to the camera.” On one, two three … Out comes the guy who plays Scott with a pitcher of fake blood. He dropped it on her head, Carrie-style. It was awesome. Two gallons on top of her head—it went everywhere, it splashed everyone, went all over the stage. It was the worst thing ever, but it was awesome. Her dress went from white to red. Then, it was, like, “Now sit the f*ck down.”

Wow.

Yeah. For Evil Dead, we have a full-on preshow, and it’s profanity laden. At that point, we have their money, and it’s not our problem if they don’t like it. They can leave. And some people do have a problem with it.

Theater is a weird beast. You can’t control every element of it. What you need to have is passion. You have to look at it as not just a hobby but as a serious art form. For all the silliness, we don’t take this any less seriously than someone doing Death of a Salesman. We just don’t want to be mopey for three hours. We’d rather be dancing and silly. It takes a lot of work to make these things look seamless. It really is its own reward.

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