You’re an actor, and you’re about to be in a production that is supposed to run for nine weeks. It turns out to be a hit so it’s extended. Tickets sell out quickly so it’s extended again. Before you know it, you realize that by the end of all the extensions, you will probably have been involved in this one production for more than six months!
To overcome the challenge of not becoming bored doing the same thing over and over again, you find new things to keep yourself alive and fresh on stage. The last thing you want to hear is an audience member telling you that you are not being true to the material. So you change things up a bit. Instead of playing the classic video game Frogger for the past couple of months, you decide to play Donkey Kong instead, and then later, Space Invaders. It turns out that it really helps!
The actor you just imagined being is Michael Peters, better known as Mike. During pre-show before performing in The History Boys, Mike gets into his character, Rudge, by playing some Frogger, Donkey Kong or Space Invaders. This is only one example of how Mike stays true to his work. He is a talented and outgoing person!
Raquel Mendoza (RM): What is your hometown?
Michael Peters (MP): Oswego, Illinois. It is near the city of Aurora.
RM: What was your first acting job (unpaid)?
MP: When I was in junior high, I was part of the production Wild Flowering and Chastity. Obviously I had a good time because I am still acting.
RM: What school did you attend to study acting?
MP: I went to Colombia College, Chicago and received a BA degree in theatre performance.
RM: How long have you lived in Chicago?
MP: I moved to Chicago in 2003 so I have been here for about six years. And I do like Chicago. Born and raised as a Chicago kid.
RM: What’s on your plate after The History Boys?
MP: I’m auditioning for commercials and I have been making voice tracks to try to get a job doing voices for Futurama, which will be pretty big. It will be lots of fun. I just came from doing a commercial audition for Budweiser. For the audition we got to be NFL fans and we got to scream and play around a little bit. But after this, nothing permanent right now. I probably will be working for the theatre where I’m a company member, The New Colony.
RM: Had you ever worked at TimeLine prior to The History Boys?
MP: Well, before this I did a staged reading of Machinal this past February and the year before I was an understudy for a part in Fiorello!
RM: What has your experience been being part of The History Boys since the beginning?
MP: It’s been tremendous. This ensemble work that we have done has been wonderful. Also this has been my first opportunity to work with more experienced actors. It has been a great experience soaking up their knowledge and getting some of their perspectives because they have been acting professionally for more time than I have been. And working with all the boys too has been great. Every night we try to keep it fresh and make sure to stay true to the material. For instance, we expose on stage our little inside jokes we have with each other. Don [Brearley], who plays Hector, he always delivers his opening monologue differently every night; he either walks somewhere else or has a different reflection on something. So you can’t go on autopilot because he might come over and hit you on the head if you’re not paying attention. It’s fun. We do what we can to keep it fresh and I believe we have succeeded so far.
RM: And you as your character, do you try to do things differently every night?
MP: Somewhat. My character Rudge is focused and he is frequently characterized by the other characters as dim. The things I do new every night come from saying things that the audience doesn’t really hear, stuff that is between the boys. One thing is that I used to play Frogger every night before the show but now I am changing it up. Now I came across a brunch of other games, equally iconic, so now my new thing is changing what games I play every day. So last night I was playing some Donkey Kong, today I played some Space Invaders, some classics. I want to give the audience a nostalgic feel — I can’t tell you how many times someone said, “Is he playing Frogger?” If there is anything else new I do, it comes from reacting to what the other actors do.
RM: What do you think TimeLine has given you?
MP: Well, TimeLine is a solid company with a singular vision. Director Nick Bowling, Artistic Director PJ Powers and everybody else who is a company member seem to be really committed to a singular focus, which is that we are trying to discover history and what it means to us now. This is why The History Boys is such a perfect play for them because it discusses how we deconstruct history. Also I believe that what TimeLine is doing is asking the question of how we view history. How is history told and how is it taught? And what can we learn so we do not make the same mistakes in the future. It has been a great experience and a wonderful opportunity to learn that. I would have not committed to stay for the whole time if I wasn’t still having a good time at a great company.
RM: What is something that you remember when spending time with cast members either at TimeLine or outside of TimeLine?
MP: I went to a White Sox game with Will Allan who plays Scripps, his dad and his girlfriend. We had a very good time. But yes, the cast definitely spends time together out of the show. Some of us, like Rob Fenton who plays Lockwood, he moved here from Virginia and at first hardly had any friends in Chicago. He and Brad, who played Timms, got along very well and became close friends. All the cast members really have built an easy relationship with each other which helps us when we perform. When the audience sees what is going on stage, they see something real. On stage, we are really trying to make each other laugh, we are really trying to keep each other interested and be real with each other. It is not a hard job to do that on stage.
RM: What are your goals for the future?
MP: As an actor, I am always looking to challenge myself. My character Rudge is somewhat of a challenge for me because I see myself as lively and active with people but Rudge is not like that. All the stuff that I do as a person, that Mike Peters does with other people, has to be put aside for Rudge. So it’s those types of challenges that I want. I would like to be, like almost everyone in the cast, a working actor and have acting as a sole profession. I don’t have to be famous; I just want to be on stage. It’s really the most rewarding thing, acting.
RM: What is one reaction that you received from the audience that surprised you?
MP: My girlfriend thought I was sexy which is funny because I guess that is not like myself. Parents and friends have all said really good things to me. That is rewarding because it makes me feel that I am doing what I should be doing on stage. I also don’t feel like I made a mistake not going to business school. That going to school for acting was the right choice. Overall there have been great and warm reactions.
RM: Is there anything that has impacted you or that you have learned about yourself throughout this whole experience?
MP: I’m learning how to be a professional actor. It is really unusual for a play in Chicago to run more than eight weeks. Two weeks of extension is great but for this show to run for months now is pretty unusual. That is one of the reasons why I want to be here for the whole extension because it will help me learn how to develop a way to keep working. For instance, like on Broadway some people are doing a show for two years. So after doing so many performances, it is challenging. It’s like, “Can I do this? Can I do a show for six months?” Well, let’s find out.
RM: What do you hope your last performance of The History Boys to be?
MP: I would love for everybody in the original cast to do the last performance but I don’t think that is going to be possible. All I hope is that the last performance is like the first performance, like all the other performances in between. I want it to be as good as the first performance. The cast strives for every performance to be great. That is what professionals do. To be a working actor is making sure to do your job every night. So I would hope that the last performance is the same as all the other ones.
RM: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us!
MP: Thanks. This was fun.