Liz Mikel – Interviewed
Recently BRAC member Liz MIkel took a moment to talk with DTC’s Lee Trull about her upcoming role as “Mama” in A Raisin in the Sun.
Liz, I believe you auditioned for the role of “Mama” the first time DTC produced A Raisin in the Sun in the 1990s.
(Laughs) I was way too young.
Dallas legend Irma P. Hall landed the role. Did you see her in it?
Tell me about the experience of seeing Irma play the role.
It was absolutely phenomenal. I remember taking my mother and girls that night. Opening night! In fact, Im struck by this. Just as a young actor watching Irma — her commitment and her passion — it was like a master class. Honestly, in watching her approach the piece with a mothers sensibility and heart. And then I saw her play that role again a little bit later. In fact, I took my mother to that performance as well, when the African American Rep did it. And once again, I was just struck with the passion behind the performance, and everything. All those small little nuances that a mother would recognize. A mothers heart and a mothers sensibility. Her performance was kind and riveting.
How does this compare to say, Give It Up!, which was a new show? The writers were in there changing it to your voice, working on it with you. The expectations were that it would be a killer musical, but nobody had ever seen it before. How does that compare to taking on such an iconic role?
Because it is an iconic role, and because this piece had been done at the movies, it has been done on Broadway, it has been done regionally, it is an iconic piece. So when you have a piece like this, you have big shoes to fill. And each role has been played by great actresses. I mean, Teresa Rashad was “Mama” on Broadway. Huge shoes to fill when you step into a role like this, compared to Give It Up!, where I was making the shoes. Mine were the first shoes. Another actress could have come in and make it their own and do what they need to do and I have to approach “Mama” with that same sense of making it my own and my own personal connection. I did feel a certain responsibility to the piece, to the way it has carried, this iconic piece of theatre. You have to rise to the occasion as an actress and a person, and grab hold of the reins and take that baton, that artistic baton, and try to run my stretch as well. I have to put my mark on it, or try to put my mark on it. And that’s what I hope to do.
Have you ever worked with Raisin director Tre Garrett before?
I have not worked in that capacity with him. He is the artistic director of the Jubilee Theatre. I had the pleasure of being at his theater earlier this year with my mentor, director Akin Babatunde. Akin and I have worked together since I came to the Theater Center, before I came to the Theater Center, in the 1990s. And Tre and Jubilee were the most gracious. It was a two-character play, so I’ve worked with him in that capacity, at his theater, but never as a director. So, I’m excited about the process. I’m real excited and a little nervous, and you know, its new! And we always find ourselves a little nervous. But I’m so excited, I can’t tell you.
Liz, our audiences over just the last five years have seen you play Tatania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a new role in the musical Give It Up!, a supporting role in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, and this past season doing comedy and improv work in The Second City Does Dallas. I’m curious what has the acting company provided for you, as a stage actor?
Oh, wow. The acting company has provided such opportunities for me. Number one is that Im being able to play, it is such a pleasure. I would have never been cast in Death of a Salesman anywhere else, I dont believe. The opportunity to play Titania, and especially during the inauguration of the Wyly. And then, my God, the chance to create a new role in a new musical that ended up on Broadway and that was because of the Dallas Theater Center’s commitment to artists and to our community. You know, I get choked up. I’m not going to start crying, but I could. I’m so serious! It’s such an honor. I don’t even have the words for it, because what I’m being allowed to do in my city where I grew up, as an artist and express myself and encourage the younger generation that are coming up and being able to give to my community and be seen in a different role. But the gift that we are being given by having a company of actors and an artistic director that brings them out artistically, our commitment to the craft. It speaks volumes. And it chokes me up when I think of how lucky and blessed I am to be an artist in this city, at this time. I was raised artistically here in Dallas. And now creating these huge roles, artistically and create, or recreate old roles, create new roles, and approach things with fresh, bold ideas. It is the dream and gift of a lifetime. And I thank (DTC artistic director) Kevin Moriarty for having the vision and the commitment to us and our community, to us as artists in Dallas. A gift–it blows my mind. Im so grateful to be in the company and be able to do the work that were being able to be given.
Is there a specific message or thought or theme that you particularly hope that young people leave with after seeing our production of A Raisin in the Sun?
No dream is too big. Even though Walter Lee’s dream had to be deferred, he had to step out with that dream. And I can tell you as a African American actor that was raised in Dallas, Texas, no dream is too big.
Archival photos by Brandon Thibodeaux and Karen Almond.