UNC alumnus Michael Allen returns to area as Broadway star in 'War Horse'
_Michael Stewart Allen, a 1995 UNC alumnus, is a cast member of the Broadway hit and Tony Award-winning play “War Horse,” which opened at Durham Performing Arts Center Tuesday.
Staff writer Madeline Hurley spoke with Allen about his time at UNC, his life in New York and “War Horse.”_
Daily Tar Heel: Did you always plan to pursue acting?
Michael Stewart Allen: I was always interested in acting. … I thought I wasn’t going to do it when I got to college.
There was a thing back then — I don’t know if it still exists — called The LAB! Theatre. I got into a show there my first week I got to school.
And also seeing shows at PlayMakers, I just really realized that I could do this as a profession as well.
DTH: What did you do after graduation?
MSA: I did teach high school for one year. Once I wasn’t satisfied with that, I packed up everything I owned, put it in a U-Haul van and moved to New York City.
I gave myself two years to see if I could make it, and I’ve been there 17 (years) now.
DTH: What were your first few years in New York like? What were your biggest challenges?
MSA: For actors … once you’ve got a job, it is really kind of like vacation. You’d be doing it anyway. You love what you do. I love what I do. But getting the job takes a lot of work.
DTH: What was the first thing that went well and made you decide to stay in New York?
MSA: When I first got to New York, I got a job just for myself as a security guard in the Diamond District, and I worked from midnight to 8 a.m. It seemed like the perfect job because I could have all day for auditions and to take classes.
I did that for about a year, until I realized that I wasn’t doing well in auditions anymore because I was so tired.
About halfway through the first year, I got cast in a show at The Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, and I wound up doing a show there … and that was really the first big break I had.
DTH: What was it like getting cast in “War Horse?”
MSA: Amazing. I still remember getting called back for the first audition. I remember being shocked and overjoyed … I never felt nervous in the auditions — that was the most exciting thing. The people in the room were just really loving and giving, and they wanted you to do really well.
DTH: What do you like most about the show?
MSA: This show is unique in history. It requires these amazing puppets that cost about a half million dollars to create and send them off to build in South Africa.
In theater books, 20 years from now, they’ll talk about “War Horse.”
DTH: How is it bringing “War Horse” back to the area where you went to college?
MSA: It’s sort of amazing. But when I went to school at Chapel Hill, Durham was a place that you just didn’t go. … So to come back to this amazing arts center that has been built there … is really great to see. I can’t wait to get to Chapel Hill tomorrow and, you know, say hello.
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