We had the good fortune of connecting with Olivia Michael and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Olivia, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Risk-taking has played an important role in my journey thus far. My decision to pursue acting was a risk in and of itself. I began ballet training at the age of two and started acting in plays and musicals shortly after. I have always been passionate about acting and performance, but I never felt like those activities were secure and stable career options. The field of performing arts is now and has been full of uncertainties. Thus, early on during high school, I explored colleges that focused on the visual and graphic arts. Though I still have a passion for the visual arts, I do not experience butterflies in my stomach like I do when I’m acting onstage or in front of the camera! When I was sixteen years old, I felt a noticeable shift in my motivations. Immediately after finishing a run of a musical at my public high school, I felt incredibly depressed. I missed the feelings of being onstage and being part of an ensemble. In that moment, I was acutely aware that my love of acting far outweighed the fear and uncertainty that often accompanies the craft.
Soon after, I decided to take another important risk. For my senior year of high school, I moved from a small, Appalachian mountain town in North Carolina to Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan to study Theater Performance. I was both nervous and thrilled to be taking on this challenge at such a young age. When I arrived, I felt like a fish out of water. I was surrounded by a community of incredibly talented, knowledgeable artists that had spent a great deal of time in that environment already. I knew little to nothing about Shakespeare, Greek theatre, Chekhov, and Stanislavski, much less the college audition process. The year I spent at Interlochen was full of challenges – acclimating to a new environment, making new friends, and an enormous amount of college applications and auditions, not to mention the disappointment when I received rejections from schools. But amidst these struggles and persistent feelings of failure, there was also immense growth and joy. I made lifelong friends at Interlochen, found some incredible mentors, and had some wonderful performance opportunities both in school and at the professional level. Interlochen prepared me well for the next step in my risk-taking journey, namely moving to Southern California to attend the BFA Acting Program at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts).
Making the cross-country move to attend CalArts was life changing, but so worth it. I had never been to the west coast. But when I visited campus in the spring of 2018, I had a gut feeling that CalArts was the place I was meant to be. And I was right. As I finish my third year of the program, I feel excited and prepared for the road ahead.
I often tell people that I decided to be an actor because it was the thing that scared me the most. But over the past few years, the fear has evolved into excitement. I do not know what I will be doing in ten years, five years, or even next year, but that’s the beauty of it! Accepting uncertainty is a type of freedom. Taking risks is a testament to the belief that “you are enough” as opposed to succumbing to self-doubt and self-imposed limitations or the unrealistic expectations of others.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
What makes me unique is my commitment to my art, my work ethic, and my compassion for others. I am completely devoted to my passion for the arts. I will sometimes have nights where I film and finish editing a project in the same night! I can go into a state of flow with my work, where time stands still and there is nothing but me and the creation at hand. I also care a lot. I feel so deeply for other human beings and I wear my heart on my sleeve, which can be a double-edged sword. I love all facets of acting – film, classical, musicals, voiceover, but I have recently fallen in love with comedy. I have always enjoyed the form, but I think that part of this new love has to do with my growth in the area of vulnerability. Though vulnerability is often associated with grief and the more serious emotions, it requires a great deal of emotional risk to perform comedy. One uses comedy as a vessel to transform their pain and shame to something that brings others joy and laughter. They put themselves in positions that are embarrassing and they allow themselves the freedom to look like an idiot. It is an act of generosity. Whether it’s clowning, or Commedia dell’arte, or writing stand-up jokes, I am in the midst of a serious obsession with the form of comedy. From dance lessons, to community theatre, to Interlochen Arts Academy, to internships at repertory theatres and Shakespeare festivals, to CalArts, my journey so far has been both difficult and beautiful. It hasn’t been easy, but thankfully I did not expect it to be painless. I have chosen a path that includes a steady stream of rejection and failure. But, because of those rejections and failures, the successes are even sweeter! As the light at the end of the tunnel for the COVID-19 pandemic is now in sight, I am grateful to have been vaccinated. I am ready to see artists and their creations shine even brighter as we gradually emerge from quarantine. I am ready to go to work full time. I am ready to dive into the new world that is waiting for us. A world where we do not take anything for granted and embrace the blessing of simply sharing space to create new art.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
For activities, I would definitely take them on a hike to the Hollywood sign, some trails at Griffith Park, lounge in Elysian Park, check out the Hollywood Farmers Market, Grand Central Market, a REDCAT gallery or production, Amoeba Music in Hollywood, a drive-in movie at Street Food Cinema, and a campfire at Dockweiler Beach. For breakfast/coffee spots, we would have to grab a lox bagel and a latte at Courage Bagels, and then more coffee at Philz (the mojito latte is incredible). For lunch/dinner spots, we’d go to République, Joy, and Monty’s Good Burger. As for desserts, the most important meal of the day, we’ve got to get some cupcakes from Sprinkles and ice cream from Sweet Rose Creamery (the fresh mint chip flavor is the best ice cream I’ve ever had)!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would first like to dedicate my shoutout to my parents, Amy and Kurt Michael. Throughout my entire childhood I was encouraged to pursue my dreams. I began ballet instruction at the age of two and danced for over 12 years. I took forensic drawing courses and entered my paintings and sketches into competitions. I played basketball, softball, soccer, and ran track. My parents not only provided me with the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of activities, practices, and art forms, but they encouraged me to do so. My mother always used to tell me to do the things that made my heart skip a beat. My father told me once that I must always keep my mind open to the journey that lies ahead of me, and to never box myself in. Years later, I found myself in the car with my parents, suffering from an intense case of post-show depression and feeling conflicted about what I wanted to do with my future. With a shaky voice I said, “Mom, Dad, I think I want to be an actor.” They simply replied, “Then you should be an actor.” I am in awe of the unconditional love, support, and sacrifice my parents have made and continue to make for me. I am filled with gratitude for them. I would not be where I am today without them.
I would also like to extend my thanks to Amy Beane, a community theatre director in my hometown of Boone, North Carolina. I met Amy when I was ten years old, auditioning for a summer production of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. She cast me as Charlie Bucket, my first major role in a show. I recall that summer so fondly. Amy was an inspiration to me with her creativity, her sense of humor, her drive, and her love for the craft and the people with whom she worked. She believed in me and she continues to do so. Amy has had an enormous impact on my life and I continue to use the theatrical wisdom she has imparted on me to this day.
I must also give a shoutout to Interlochen Arts Academy. I am incredibly grateful to have been able to attend a school whose motto is literally, “Art Lives Here.” It was there that I fell even more deeply in love with acting and the many forms it can take in this world. I feel lucky to have been taught by and learn among a community of incredible artists and human beings.
Finally, I want to thank my community of Boone, North Carolina. Attending Interlochen was an enormous financial sacrifice for my family. I set up a GoFundMe page and received an outpouring of support from my community. Interlochen changed my life and my rural mountain community took part in making my dreams come true.
Other: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Burton Photography, Sara Eustáquio