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A Conversation with Mike Hartkins

Give us the lowdown on “Side Man.”
It’s a show that NOLA Project had approached Mike (Santos) and Ashley (Ricord) about some time ago, to play the parents. It’s about a trumpeter and his group of friends, and how his family crumbles because of his art form. And it’s about the fall of jazz. What excites me is the jazz theme. Especially with the theater being down in the Quarter. Jazz has such a base in New Orleans. There’s some good comedy in the show and some great drama. It’s a good, solid piece of theater.
What’s your biggest challenge with this play?
Not the actors, I’m not worried about them. But it’s a tech-heavy show, as far as lighting and sound, and it jumps between spaces a lot. I think tech going to be the biggest issue. I picked a stage manager I trust — Jennifer Billot — because there are so many cues, and a great set designer, Jessica Cook. It’s a really great supporting cast.  
You left New Orleans for a few years, then came back; what happened in between?  
I went to New York to experience what it’s like to be there and audition, and do a show there. [While in the city, he appeared in plays at Manhattan Repertory Theatre and Columbia University.] It wasn’t really my kind of place, and I wasn’t horribly impressed with most of the theater going on there. I thought we were doing stuff here that was just as good, if not better. And the atmosphere here is so much better. New Orleans is where I wanted to be.
How do you mean the “atmosphere” is better here?
It’s more of a community. New York is a little more cutthroat, and everyone’s a little more tense there. Getting into auditions and trying to be seen by the right people is harder. There’s a lot of that who-you-know atmosphere. Here, theater is a business, but it’s also a community. We all go to see each other’s shows and we support one another.
How is today’s local theater scene different from your grad school days?
Wow, it’s blossomed. When I left, there were a few young companies here, but we (InSideOut Productions) were the new bunch in town, and felt like we were the ones who were doing a grittier type of theater. Now, I love how all this new young talent has come in. This place has just blown up. I hear of so many fantastic shows going on, and I’m so happy to see all the new, young companies here. I am just so excited to be back.
What would you add to the local scene, if you could?
More original work is always good. I think the support’s there. I hope  people just keep plugging away and do original work. All the new scripts I’ve seen are fantastic. My push would be to get more spaces to work with. The talent’s here, there are a lot of good young actors and directors. The more spaces we have, the more opportunities we’ll have to see good work.
You’re directing “Side Man,” but you’ve also done a lot of acting. Which do you prefer?
I love both. but if have my druthers, I’d rather act. There’s nothing quite like being on stage in front of a live audience.
Is there a play that you have always wanted to do but haven’t yet?
“Night of the Iguana.” I’ve always wanted to play (the Rev. T. Lawrence) Shannon. That’s a dream
role for me.
How do you feel about musicals? 
I’m not a big musical person. The ones that catch me are those that have a great story and great acting roles and scene work. I’ve always loved “Into the Woods” (Stephen Sondheim, based on the book by James Lapine) and “Sweeney Todd” (Sondheim, written by Christopher Bond) — something that has a little grit. I loved “Urinetown” (Mark Hollman/Greg Kotis) when I saw it in New York. •
 — Interview by Kathy Finn

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