Michael M. Donahue ’05 has countless theater credits to his name. “I’ve been making theater for as long as I can remember,” he says, “even it if was directing my cousins in productions of A Christmas Carol and The Lion King in our basement.” On the Harvard campus, Donahue has directed popular Loeb Mainstage pieces like The Physicists. His artistic endeavors and future aspirations have exceeded the limits of his childhood basement.
“Throughout high school, the directors I worked with both at school and at camp continually told me that they thought I’d ultimately be a better director than an actor. At the time, I didn’t really have an appreciation or understanding of what it was that a director did, and I very quickly grew suspicious that they were all trying to find a nice way of telling me that I wasn’t a good enough actor to work professionally. There were actually a few years there that I resented the idea of directing.”
After acting in three shows his freshman year (he played the “American Male” in a production of A Piece of My Heart, Cousin Kevin in The Who’s Tommy and Annie Briated in HPT154: Snow Place Like Home) he began devoting his energies to directing and found that for the most part University resources encourage and promote student artists.
“The resources we have both at the ART [American Repertory Theater] and within the Harvard faculty are great, as is our access to performance space…but it’s quite frustrating that Harvard generally does not recognize the potential for academic work in theater, unlike some of the other arts. It’s wonderful that I’ve been able to build a special concentration and gain academic validity in the eyes of the school for the work I do, but nevertheless that line still separates the performing arts from the plastic arts and film—this can be incredibly frustrating and taxing.”
His first directing endeavor was a production of Patrick Marber’s Closer, an experience that got him hooked on directing.
“Directing Closer was one of the most rewarding projects I have ever worked on. There were times during that rehearsal process that the entire world seemed to come to a halt and give way to the moment we were working on in the room. And I learned more about the theater and life in those few brief weeks of rehearsal than I had from all the times I had acted combined.”
Off campus, Donahue works with a professional theater company as an associate producer for the St. Louis MUNY, an outdoor theatre that produces seven musicals during the summer. His latest inspiration, however, has come from the experimental theatre he experienced during his time in Berlin, where he spent two weeks this past January as part of an independent study.
“It’s rare that I get so excited just being in a theatre watching something. In Berlin, that was a much more common experience. Most of the shows we went to were filled with younger audiences because the theater there was both entertaining and relevant. Perhaps the most arresting piece we saw was at the Volksbuhne. It was a production of a Hans Christian Anderson piece, an epic three hours…what was most amazing about how physical and crazy the entire piece was, was that no matter what they did, it never seemed like they were doing anything that did not entirely belong within the world they had created onstage—it was all as ordinary as everyday life.”
In his final semester he is directing The Orestiae for thesis credit. It will be showing on the Loeb Mainstage from April 29 to May 27, and will feature an ensemble of ten dancers and experimentation with video. Donahue likes to add touches of flair to his productions. The set of The Physicists, for example, included a pool of water onstage. As for Orestiae, he hints, “there’s going to be a whole lot of dirt on stage.”
—Cassandra M. Cummings