“Do you want to be a star, or do you want to be an actor?” This question was asked by a seasoned and talented actress, Molly McCloskey, to a young, green, and ambitious Mike Sherry while he was still in his teens. At the time, he didn’t know the difference, but has since learned that an actor seeks the depth of his craft and is less interested in the glitz and glamour.
When I sat down with Mike in his poster covered office at Backdoor Theatre he enthusiastically jumped into his story. A story that zig zags the country from school to school and stage to stage. A story that begins on a small, homemade stage in a New England back yard. It all started for Mike when his father built a small stage for him to perform a tap dancing show for the family and their neighbors.
He shared his memories of watching Jimmy Cagney movies, like Yankee Doodle Dandy, with his parents and considers those moments to be the beginning of his theatrical training. “My parents would always have me watching musical movies. Ever since then I knew that I was destined for music and theater.”
A lot of theater people come from broken homes and are trying to escape. Not Mike. “I came from the leave it to Beaver family”. Mike described his family as typically blue collar and filled with civil servants or trade workers. Mike credits his parents for supporting and encouraging his path to the arts, but, as you can imagine, he met some resistance from other family members who would chime in with comments such as “you’re wearing tights??”
Mike admits that his formal training impacted him greatly as he named off a list of teachers, as if they were good friends, each one with a quote that he lives his life by. “If you can picture yourself doing anything other than the arts then do it. If you can’t picture that, then you know this is what you were meant to do”, one teacher, Lynne Kurdziel Formato, told him.
Another quote that seemed to be the theme that connected everything was “always be truthful and tell the story”. Mike believes that every script has a story to tell, even the whimsical comedies. “Without a story to tell, then what are we doing?”, Mike asks. “The story draws the audience in and engages their hearts and minds”. He applies this concept to every project that he works on. “To this day, that’s how I direct my own personal work as well as when I direct other people on stage.”
Some of the notable schools Mike attended include the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York City, where he met his wife Erin. Erin was a dancer and that kick-started Mike’s interest in honing his dance skills. Desiring to continue perfecting his dance abilities, he decided to attend Elon University in Phoenix Arizona, which he describes as “the best school” that he attended. Elon had a great program that assisted in finding jobs for its students and that’s just what happened for Mike. The dance training that he received at Elon, topped with a network of artists, landed him several jobs from across the country and eventually bringing him to the Wichita Theatre.
Throughout Mike’s education and work experience, he realized how small the arts world can be. This small world allows for tremendous networking opportunities that opens doors for new experiences. These doors led Mike to a wide range of experiences, ranging from lush hotels in Virginia to horses and rattlesnakes in Oklahoma, to cramped and musty dressing rooms on Broadway.
Eventually Mike decided to move back to Wichita Falls, and not long after that, received a late-night call from Dwayne Jackson at the Wichita Theatre asking him to come down immediately for an audition to dance in CATS. “It’s Sunday night about 10 or 11pm, but I grabbed my dance bag and went”. Mike got the role and, due to some unforeseen issues with project leadership, he was able to step up into some other roles including choreography. This helped him to immerse himself in the local art scene and eventually landed him the director position that he now holds at Backdoor Theatre.
Mike does not take credit for the success that he has experienced. He is quick to shine the spotlight on everyone from his parents, wife, schools, teachers, peers, friends, and other local organizations. He pointed Wichita Falls Art Alliance, Wichita Theatre, and several individuals that all help foster a healthy and thriving arts and theatrical community here in Wichita Falls. Mike could not say enough about the Backdoor staff and volunteers, and their role in the success of the sets and shows.
He concluded by telling me “It’s not just about entertainment. We can be entertained by watching Netflix. It’s about going deeper and finding meaning in life through the arts.” Mike is not afraid to tell the story.
Mike and Erin are co-directing Dirty Laundry, which is currently playing at the theater. Coming up is the Rocky Horror Picture Show in which Erin will be taking the lead choreographing and Mike will be acting in the role of Rocky.