Meet Michael Mizerany — San Diego’s go-to collaborator and choreographerEntertainment News, Feature Story, Latest Issue, Section 4A Thursday, August 17th, 2017
Michael Mizerany has been playing his career like a chess game and he’s just about at check mate.
Most people who know him, or who might be familiar with his career, might assume that he started off as a dancer for a company called Malashock. However, you would be wrong. The dancing part did happen but he started off as an actor.
“I was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri,” Mizerany said. “I was an actor in high school and started to pursue a theater degree at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville. During my first semester, as part of the theater major, I took a dance class. I loved it. The next semester, I changed my major to dance. After college, I danced for a local St. Louis dance company called Mid-America Dance Company, then Loretta Livingston & Dancers and then toured internationally with the Bella Lewitzky Dance Company. It was the Bella Lewitzky Dance Company that brought him to the West Coast, Los Angeles to be precise.
Mizerany was inspired by those in the dance community even before he knew it was what he wanted to do.
“In college, two very important influences were Audrey Tallant and Calvin Jarrell,” Mizerany shared. “Even though I had never danced before, they saw the potential and gave me endless encouragement. In my professional life, I’ve had the great fortune to work with some of the best and brightest contemporary choreographers. Ross Winter, Loretta Livingston, Bella Lewitzky, Francisco Martinez and John Malashock were major inspirations.”
As mentioned before most San Diegans are probably familiar with Mizerany’s career with The Malashock Dance Company. He started with them in 1998 and became the associate artistic director of that company in 2009.
“I left the company in 2013 to pursue other opportunities,” Mizerany said. “In those 15 years, I learned so much. John was endlessly supportive.”
In 2011 Mizerany got his first taste of choreographing musical theater and it looks like he’s not looking back.
“The first thing I ever choreographed for theater was a play called Dooley at Diversionary Theatre,” Mizerany said. “I initially was ambivalent. I had never choreographed a play or musical. Then once I thought about it, I found one big reason to do it – I had never choreographed a play or musical. It was something different; something new to try. It was directed by Cynthia Stokes, a wonderful opera director who I met through Malashock Dance. She hired me to choreograph some fantasy sequences that take place throughout the play. That led to a Craig Noel Award nomination for Outstanding Choreography and some initial interest in my work. A few months later, Noah Longton (who was in the play Dooley) contacted me and asked me to choreograph the musical Altar Boyz. That led to another Craig Noel Award nomination and it all snowballed from there.”
On a humorous note, Mizerany’s career started as an actor, and when he became a dancer those acting jobs became musical theater dance jobs.
“As an actor, I performed in a few musicals but always as a dancer,” Mizerany admitted. “I cannot sing and was often asked to just mouth the words. I happily obliged!”
Mizerany has found himself in the position of being the go-to-choreographer in San Diego. But being the humble talented man that he is Mizerany politely declines that title.
“We have so many great choreographers in San Diego,” he said. “They are all doing amazing work. Even though I have been choreographing musicals for a very short time, I feel like I’ve had the great fortune to work with some of the best directors in town. A few of my most memorable collaborations have been with Sean Murray (Spring Awakening); Kim Strassburger (A New Brain); Claudio Raygoza (Ass, Or A Midsummer Night’s Fever); Ruff Yeager (Rent); Noah Longton (bare: a pop opera); Joey Landwehr (West Side Story); and last but certainly not least, Robby Lutfy (Shockheaded Peter). These are people who really inspire me and call me collaborator, as well as choreographer.”
So, it seems clear that Mizerany has in many ways conquered the world of choreography in San Diego. There is no telling when the next time is that you’ll be seeing his name attached to a musical as choreographer, but keep your eyes peeled, most likely it won’t be that long.
In keeping with his “something different” theme, Mizerany tossed his hat in the playwright ring not that long ago. The results were good, very good in fact. It may have been yet again something that was unexpected, but as they say, the timing was just right.
“In June 2013, I was scrolling Facebook and saw that The Old Globe New Voices Workshop was leading a class on how to write 10 minute plays,” Mizerany shared. “Again, I wanted to try something different; something I had never done. It was by happenstance. During the process, I was struggling to find a subject or theme for the play. Then I remembered a very good motto – ‘write what you know’. The result was the comedy 20 Minutes and Counting – a May/December romance between Peter, a disillusioned yet somewhat loveable 50 year old and Bart, an optimistic, wide-eyed and not yet jaded 25 year old.”
Mizerany admitted that after he was done with the 20 Minutes and Counting it sat on a shelf. Which is something most writers, both new and old, would confess to. In fact it sat for two years until he got another wave of inspiration when he saw a notice that caused him to dust off his first play.
“After I wrote 20 Minutes and Counting, it sat on the shelf for two years,” Mizerany said. “Then, I saw a notice to apply for the San Diego International Fringe Festival. I got an idea. If I asked two other writers to pen short plays, we could submit them all under the title Bedrooms & Boyfriends. The only rules: it had to be set in a bedroom and there had to be at least one boyfriend. The first two people that sprang to mind were Samantha Ginn and Jonathan Hammond. I had seen Jonathan’s work before and really enjoyed it and Sam Ginn, well, she is just freaking hilarious and I knew her play would be too. And it was.”
That opportunity led to another “something different” moment for Mizerany, directing.
“After working with such great San Diego directors, I wanted to give it a try,” he admitted. “I’m taking baby steps. I directed my plays for Bedroom & Boyfriends 1 & 2, a new version of Altar Boyz at Coronado Playhouse, the one man musical Songs From An Unmade Bed and a short play at That 24 Hour Thing. Next up: I’ll be directing and choreographing Bat Boy: The Musical at Ocean Beach Playhouse; choreographing the musical Cabaret at ion theatre; and directing the third installment of In The Va Va Voom Room at Diversionary Theatre.”
After all of the amazing journeys Mizerany has been on he has had one through line that has remained constant throughout it all, his love of his craft.
“My plan has always been to make art,” Mizerany confessed. “I’ve been very lucky that I am surrounded by amazing artists and collaborators who inspire me. I want to say I planned it all, but I didn’t. I’m just riding the wave.”
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