I am oh so pleased to hop back into the interviewer chair and pick the brain of yet another brilliant, creative soul dwelling among us. This month I got the chance to interview actor/writer/musician/designer Joshua Mikel! I first met Josh via Endstation Theatre Company where I was actor turned marketing director and he was the resident playwright. Little did I know then that Josh would randomly continue to pop up on my TV and at my visits to the movies. (I saw him on Nashville and in Million Dollar Arm, among others.) I'm really excited to introduce you to this prolific, multidisciplinary artist. He's just cool. Cool and funny. And inspiring. Read on, people!
HS: What does creativity mean to you?
JM: I think, very basically, creativity is an ability to think differently. Imagination. Seeing potential in things where other folks might not. Very early on (as early as Kindergarten) I found that being creative garnered me a lot of positive attention from my friends and teachers, and so being creative was always a fun thing for me. I used to think that everyone saw wonderful things in their heads, say, when a teacher asked them to complete a creative project (they had the imagination), only they hadn't incubated the skill or vocabulary to translate that idea to what they were working on. I still do believe that, only some folks are more inclined to lose that side of themselves as their energies move (or they're pushed) towards other interests. I was lucky enough to have family that encouraged my imagination and encouraged me to practice. My grandma was a painter, my parents are super creative in their own right, and both my brothers are as well.
HS: Tell us a little about your career path. I first met you as Endstation Theatre Company's resident playwright, but you've had pretty steady acting work over the years and it seems like that what you spend more of your time doing. Could you tell us about your career trajectory?
JM: I started acting my junior year of high school. I had the time of my life playing Gollum in The Hobbit (before the movies). My mentor (friend and AP English teacher Jerry Smith) at the time pushed me to apply to FSU to study theatre. Once I got there I auditioned for everything that was going on. I met Geoff [Kershner] and tons of other folks that shaped me creatively and still do to this day. I found that I was learning more doing student productions than I was in my classes, so I did as many shows as I possibly could. Meanwhile, I decided to double major in creative writing because I'd always been interested in it and serendipitously the School of Theatre at FSU had brought in a visiting chair, Mark Medoff, whom I was able to get a couple playwriting classes with. He encouraged me to write young audiences plays and pushed me to submit one, my first TYA [Theatre for Young Audiences] play: The Monster Hunters, to The Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival. It won the TYA award at KCACTF, and later was published through Playscripts, and that began my relationship with them. While all that was going on, I started doing student films at FSU with their pretty incredible film school. I graduated in '07 rather unceremoniously after fulfilling my final requirement for graduation via a CLEP test I took on Liberty's Campus while in Lynchburg working with Endstation on The Tell Tale Heart and The Mind of Poe (might have to read that sentence twice). Meanwhile, I was touring full time playing drums for my band Look Mexico. I traveled with them for another three years and in 2010 we parted ways as they moved to Austin and I moved back to Atlanta just as Atlanta's film scene was starting to take real shape. I landed an agent that October (thanks to the reel I was able to scrape together from my FSU films) and each year in Georgia has been better than the last.
HS: So you're based out of Atlanta. How did you land there as opposed to LA or NYC or anywhere else?
I grew up in Conyers (Southeast of Atlanta) and when I parted ways with my band, I knew that Atlanta had a burgeoning film scene (they shot Prisoners on the street behind my parents' house. Never in my life did I think the industry would be that close). It just made sense to come here, be close to my family and get some early credits before trying to enter those larger markets. Thankfully so much of the business has relocated here and self taping for auditions has really taken off as well which makes auditioning a million times easier (and less terrifying than going into a room with casting directors for them).
HS: So, are you an actor that writes plays or a playwright that acts? How do you identify? And how does your time break down for each art form?
JM: At this point in my life, unfortunately, I'm definitely an actor that writes plays. I don't stress about it too much, because I know creative folks' output generally waxes and wanes (we can't all be Stephen King), but I do think I was way more dynamic and exciting when I was primarily a writer. I hope to get back to some sort of writing schedule in 2016. I'd say 50% acting, 10% writing, 10% Facebook, 10% stressing about work I'm not doing, 10% Netflix, 5% stressing about how I used to be a better artist, 5% Fantasy Football. Is that 100%? I don't know, I'm too distracted.
HS: Ha! So, do you write for other mediums as well or mainly stick to the stage?
JM: I've written some short screenplays, some crappy poems, a couple short stories, and I'm working on my first feature length screenplay.
HS: Secondary question: which came first? Writing or acting?
JM: I think writing, but that was mostly really crappy angsty high school poetry. I think it's probably up on a Live Journal somewhere, and I talk about women's clavicles like every other line.
HS: I always feel kinship with other multidisciplinary creatives. Did anyone ever tell you that you should only be a playwright or only be an actor? If so, how did you combat that?
JM: My mentor told me a while back that one day I would have to choose. I always took it as a matter of pride that I never would, but the longer I tried spinning all these plates, the less fulfilled I felt and the less I felt like I was creating my best work. Just this year I decided to calm down my music video work and was feeling a lot less compelled to continue doing graphic design (because it's a thankless f*cking career). I've since found more time to focus on acting, but the tough times are when acting jobs or auditions aren't making it across my plate. I've yet to figure out what to do with that time. I think I work very well on a schedule, but the nature of the film business and auditioning runs contrary to that. 2015 has definitely been a transition year.
HS: What is your approach to writing a play? Can you tell us about your creative habits when you're creating a new work?
JM: I like pondering on the play for as long as I can until I sit down to write it, and once I do, I try and crank out a draft as quickly as possible (in a week or so). That's at least how my past three or four plays have worked. Then, hopefully, I can get the thing read out loud and go back and do some drafts. And hopefully, shortly thereafter, all that writing misery will be over. It's never that easy.
HS: How does your acting work inspire your writing? Writing inspire your acting? Do the two influence one another? Do you ever write parts you'd want to play?
JM: I think, when I'm writing, it is very much like I am ad libbing for every character. I don't much like writing at coffee shops anymore because I like saying the lines out loud. I think the better actor I become, the better writer I will be for sure. And yeah, there are a handful of parts I'd like to play. Mostly fruit people in my latest TYA play The Whole Bunch.
HS: And Virginia people get the chance to see that play next month when it premieres in Lynchburg! We are lucky. So, what inspires you to write?
JM: I used to just write stuff I thought was cool or funny (and still do in my TYA work), but lately I've been aiming to write stuff that asks those larger questions (this is going to sound so dumb and pretentious) of why we're here, or to help shed some light on one issue or another. Not in a teacher/student way, but in a "let's have a dialogue about this weird thing we all experience" way. I've been wanting to tell a story about racism for a long time, but it always seemed a little patronizing for me to write a black character experiencing racism, but I think I've figured out a way into that story, and I'm real excited about it.
HS: Very cool. So, I think you and I are about the same age. We graduated college at the same time. I've noticed a lot of my actor friends burning out or bowing out after hustling throughout their 20's. It doesn't seem like you're slowing down at all. How do you stay encouraged and inspired to continue pursuing acting and your goals?
JM: I see it too, and I think what's helped me stay afloat is kind of what we've been touching on- I've thankfully got other coals in the fire, so when I lose and feel helpless acting, I still am commander of my destiny as a writer. I luckily have encouragement and things to look forward to in both worlds. And I've reconnected with my band, so writing music and playing with them gives me another exciting thing to look forward to. Also, I'm fortunate that there is so much going on in Georgia. I'm lucky to be close to my family (in proximity & in love). That when sh*t is hitting the fan in my work life, I have them close to recenter myself. Also I'm fortunate to know my type. I think so many people aren't really honest with themselves about the type of characters they should play. I think one of the best realizations I've had as an actor is that I'm not your typical leading man material. It changed how I saw my work, and how I marketed myself. Every show has a meth head, a pizza guy, a murderer, or just some creep. It's my bread and butter.
And let's be completely honest, I'm fortunate to be a slender white male. You change a single one of those words and my path would have been exponentially harder.
HS: What is your advice to someone who is just starting out but who'd like to do what you do?
JM: So many folks these days get caught up talking about what they're doing, telling people what they're going to be working on before they even lift a finger. Just quit talking about it, and do it. The proof is in the pudding. Are you creating good work? No. Then keep working and stop hollowing out your intentions with Facebook updates and crowdfunding campaigns. Encouragement is fantastic, but you have to be honest with yourself about the extent and quality of your output. I am speaking from experience here. I can post a Facebook update and get smoke blown up my ass from here to doomsday, but all I'm doing is stroking my ego, riding a slowing wave, and distracting myself from real work.
"Just quit talking about it, and do it."
Gary Garrison talks about your "artistic age." How long have you been practicing your craft? I've been acting since 2001. I'm 31 years old, but artistically I have been practicing my craft for 14 years. I am 14 years old as an actor. A two year old can't expect to have the same successes as a 14 year old. It is dangerous to compare yourself to other artists of different artistic ages. Pat yourself on the back for what you've accomplished, but don't expect credit for stripes you have not earned. Stop talking about how hard and miserable it is to be an artist and just be one. I don't know a single person that I would call an artist that does not create.
Learn more about Josh by checking out all of his creative endeavors online. You can find his acting work here, follow his playwriting work here and view his most recent reel here.
Read advice from Joshua and other thriving creatives in my eBook “5 Minute Mentor for Creatives”. Grab your copy here. And if you'd like more articles like this in your life, subscribe here! Once a week you'll get my blog right in your inbox. No bombarding, I promise. Just inspiring, helpful posts.