Jonathan Michaelsen teaches the real world on the theatre stage

“Artists take the world and internalize it and give something back,” Artistic Director and Theater Department Head of Indiana University Jonathan R. Michaelsen said. For Michaelsen, giving back is what his career is all about.

Michaelsen began his career at IU 12 years ago but has been participating in and teaching theater all his life. Throughout his journey, he has discovered that teaching is his ultimate passion. He considers himself lucky to be able to teach yet still allow students to develop on their own. One of the best parts of his job is allowing the students to have creative freedom with how they go about learning the role of the character and how they problem solve.

IU produces an average of three shows during the regular school year but also puts on shows for the summer theatre program. For these summer shows, Michaelsen will sometimes hire equity actors, professional actors that perform with pay, to fulfill the roles of older characters to keep shows “age appropriate,” Michaelsen said.

Keeping the show genuine, however, is not the only reason he hires equity actors. His other motivations are to show the students what a professional career looks like and to mentor them throughout the show.

“It’s about seeing how those people work. Our students need to see the lifestyle. These people are tremendous and open and giving but they aren’t of home. Our students need to understand that if they really want to have a career in theater they have to move. They are going to have to live 6 weeks one place and 8 weeks another place,” Michaelsen said.

Equity Actors Grant Goodman and Jenny McKnight also know the struggle of moving around for the job. They want the student actors and other aspiring actors to know the job is a lot of hard work but the reward is well worth it.

Both Goodman and McKnight have worked with Michaelsen for multiple years. Michaelsen has taught them not only acting skills but also life lessons. “He’s taught me that you can still be a really kind, genuine person in this business,” McKnight said. As for Goodman, Michaelsen has “taught me patience. Sometimes you have to wait for student actors to catch up and Jonathan is very patient about that. He lets us be mentors towards them and lead the way but he also gives them a lot of room to have the time to grow,” Goodman said.

The actors both appreciate the time they have had with learning with Michaelsen. “He’s just a really goodhearted, kind person,” McKnight said. “He’s available, he’s interested, he wants to help you, and I wish that everybody had somebody like him in their lives because I think we would all be a lot happier.”

Through the next years, Michaelsen hopes to inspire and teach more students. He wants to be known as a mentor and friend to everyone that comes into the theatre. He plans on directing more shows, teaching more students, and allowing his legacy to continue on.