An exciting and original project is coming this Spring from Broadway multi-hyphenate Michael Kushner – a person who has multiple proficiencies, often cross-pollinating into each other to allow a full range of professional capabilities to flourish. As a go-to jack-of-all-trades and an artist “who can’t sit still,” the active performer-producer-photographer-writer-educator is now preparing to take his podcast Dear Multi-Hyphenate, streaming on the Broadway Podcast Network, to the world of academia.
Hosted by Kushner, Dear Multi-Hyphenate explores the full potential of a life in show business, encouraging artists to let go of the rules and to take agency of their range of capabilities by delving into multiple realms. He and his guests, which have included such luminaries as Emmy winner Rachel Brosnahan (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), Olivier Award winner Sophie Thompson (Harry Potter), and Tony winners Tonya Pinkins (Jelly’s Last Jam) and Randy Graff (City of Angels), examine the mindset and possibilities of doing it all.
Beginning in 2021, Kushner will give students aching to create their own opportunities the proverbial keys to the castle through tailored episodes, masterclasses, and seminars that address such key questions as: Are you unsure if you could do anything other than what your BFA allows you to do? Are you sitting on a project and you have no idea how to get started? What if others have pigeon-holed you into thinking that you are just an actor, or just a director, or just a producer? His well-rounded interactive teaching approach is designed to guide any artist who wants to grow, as he did, on his journey from child actor to Ithaca College graduate to behind-the-scenes man on Broadway and beyond.
I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with Michael, who was excited to share his plans and thoughts about his latest venture.
What do you consider the most important personality traits or qualities for an emerging artist or student to become a multi-hyphenate?
Michael: Without a doubt, empathy. We have to be open, patient, and willing to go on a journey with our artistry, especially when it’s multiple proficiencies like acting AND producing AND directing, or whatever they may be. We often hear, “Show business is hard!” And it is; but there is still so much heart involved. If we stay empathic and open to each other, we build safe spaces to create and to fail. That would be another quality: the willingness to fail. Failure is oftentimes our best teacher. When we fail, we learn not only what not to do, but to avoid the patterns that got us there. When working as a multi-hyphenate, you double, triple, even quadruple the levels of your work ethic, but that also equals your chances of failing – which then brings me to awareness. You must be aware of the art you’re creating and the purpose you’re serving.
How has having a range of talents, capabilities, and specialties helped you personally, especially in getting through the professional challenges of the pandemic?
First and foremost, I want to acknowledge my privilege in a situation like this. I understand my experience is not representative of many artists, but I wish to inspire other artists to find agency in their artistry, which has allowed me to find stability, even during a pandemic. When I was younger, Elena Garcia, my high school teacher, encouraged me to create, because even with “a can and a stick” you can still make theater. So, I’ve always had that mentality – and it helped during a pandemic. I was able to co-create (with Brian Sedita) My Broadway Memory with Broadway Podcast Network, I was able to work on my book proposal, to tighten up my podcast episodes, to coach virtually, and to do politically charged, socially distant photoshoots in support of Black Lives Matter and Broadway for Biden. My studio opened up right when small businesses were able to, and with a strict COVID-19 protocol, I was able to begin shooting again – but I had kept my mind in the game.
What will the format be for the new educational series?
Dear Multi-Hyphenate is both a podcast and a workshop, so it will be a combination of that. I’m not planning to travel in person to different colleges, as we’re in a pandemic still, but Zoom has been a perfect tool. I combine storytelling, humor, first-hand accounts, inspiration, crystal-clear activities, and more to make sure theater-arts students are inspired to make sure they, too, can achieve artistic agency, freedom, and stability. Most importantly, I’ll be tying in conversations from my podcast with other leading theater multi-hyphenates I’ve interviewed, and turning those topics into interactive lessons.
Can you give us an idea of some of the special guests and topics that will be included in the upcoming installments?
Oh my gosh, yes! Cynthia Henderson, my professor at Ithaca College, always implored us to understand our ‘Why?’ You can listen to her speak beautifully about it on my episode with her on Dear Multi-Hyphenate. Her teachings really permeated me, so I decided to create an exercise that helps people start to crack the code, to help them understand why they are artists! It’s ever changing, but that’s sort of the fun, right? It helps us develop a richer relationship with ourselves and each other. Understanding why we do something helps us commit to situations that are favorable and create environments and relationships that are healthy and supportive. For me, I produce non-quotidian artistry that benefits the world around me. Therefore, I look for other artists who think the same way, so we’re all on the same page.
What do you hope the main take-aways will be for the participating students?
That creating is fun! And the theater CAN be a lucrative environment to thrive in. It’s possible – it takes work, an outlook, and specific tools – but it’s possible. And that you can be an honest artist, who has agency, who can make your own decisions, and ultimately, be happy!
Many thanks, Michael, for giving us a preview of the class content and for sharing your experience and expertise to help students in the performing arts to become all that they can be!