Michael Clickner: Guest Director and much more

Michael Clickner: Guest Director and much more

RTG Spotlight

Michael Clickner has a long-standing link with the Racine Theatre Guild, because it is where his parents met in the 1940s. Then Michael met  his future wife, Joyce Woodward, at the RTG and married her 34 years ago. How is that for multi-generational connections?

“My first experience with the RTG was in 1975, when I auditioned and was cast in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, back in the High Street Theatre,” Michael recalls. “I was in my first year of college at UW-Parkside, where I earned a degree in communications with theatre arts emphasis. I helped build RTG sets during my college years, and I helped to install rigging in the new theatre building on Northwestern Avenue.”

Michael has great memories of appearing in The Taming of the Shrew in 1976, the first play that was produced at the new theatre. He says that if you have heard any entertaining stories about that show from the older RTG volunteers, they are really true.

He also appeared in the show How the Other Half Loves (1979), where he met Joyce Woodward, whom he later married, and Shawn and Donn Britten, who met in that show and then married. The four have remained lifelong friends.

Michael’s professional career in theatre began with two years as the Technical Director at the RTG.

“Norm McPhee (Managing/Artistic Director of the RTG over 30 years) convinced me to go to graduate school at his alma mater. So I left Racine and earned a Master of Arts in Technical Theatre degree from Utah State University. When I returned to Wisconsin, I got a job at UW-Parkside building sets. My next career move was to Madison, teaching theatre at Edgewood College and working with the Madison Rep. Then I was the assistant stage manager, later becoming stage manager for the Fireside Theatre in Fort Atkinson, where I also built sets and did the lighting.”

Norm McPhee at the RTG called Michael back to Racine, where he worked as Technical Director for another five years. He recalls those years fondly and specifically building sets for Little Shop of Horrors (1988), Seascape (1987) and Corpse! (1989). A return to Parkside followed, as he worked there for 24 years, building sets and teaching.

Michael’s on-stage roles have been memorable, especially playing George in Of Mice and Men (1993).

“I loved every minute of that show,” he says, “though it took a real emotional toll, with that play’s tragic ending. Another play that stands out was the wildly funny Greater Tuna in 1990. It was a two-man play, and we each played something like 18 different characters, men and women. We had frantic costume changes back stage, and the costume crew would help by telling us which scene was next and which character we were playing. It was crazy but fun.”

“I retired from Parkside,” Michael says, “thinking I would let younger people do the all-nighters of working 24 hours. But I couldn’t stay away from the RTG. Doug Instenes called me and asked if I’d like to serve on their board of directors. Sure, I thought, that would be easy. And before you know it, Doug asked if I’d like to be a guest director for Design for Murder (2016). Of course I said yes.”

Michael says he is having the best time as a guest director for one or two shows a year. He loves the challenge of directing amateur actors and working with volunteer crew.

“I am well aware that these people have full-time jobs,” Michael says. “They are finding personal time to spend many hours in rehearsals, memorizing lines, and doing the performances, just because they love it. As a director, I enjoy coaching the actors, letting them be creative and come up with ideas of their own and even give input on costumes. Ultimately as director I have the final say, but the end result is collaborative.”

Perfect Wedding has had its challenges, as the rehearsal schedule was broken up by Thanksgiving vacation, Christmas vacation, and New Year’s break. But Michael assures us that the cast and crew have been pulling together with great energy.

“This is going to be a great show,” he says. “Norm McPhee loved farces, and I wanted to direct this as an homage to him. It’s not easy to do rapid-fire dialog and hit all the blocking for physical comedy too. But I think it will be very, very funny. I love to laugh. It’s one of the things that keeps me going. So directing a show that has this much comedy is a real joy.”