It’s Featured Artist in Action time again (which, as regular readers know, I am a BIG fan of!). This time around we’re talking to actor and writer Michael Cyril Creighton. Michael has a great success story that’s sure to inspire: While working in the box office at Playwrights Horizons, he created a web series about a guy that works in a box office. That series — Jack in the Box — went on to win him a WGA award for best new web series. He subsequently quit his job at Playwrights and less than six months later was cast in a play there, in which he was then nominated for an Outer Critics Circle Award. He’s since found success in numerous mediums, and continues to make a name for himself as an actor and writer. Let’s turn it over Michael to get the full story!
1. When you were first starting out in the business what were your goals?
To be honest, my goals change daily. However, the constant things I’ve always kept in mind are: 1) I want to do work I am proud of; and 2) I want to be surrounded by people I enjoy and am inspired by. Of course, there has been a lot of trial and error, but so far, so good. I was constantly told when I was in college that I “wouldn’t work til I was in my 30’s and grew into my type.” While I appreciated the candor of my teachers, I came out determined not to be defeated. So another goal was to stick with it and be patient. But I’m not patient. So, I decided it was best to make my own work so that I didn’t get stagnant and petrify while I was waiting to age.
2. What have you accomplished since then?
Pretty early on in my career I was a founding member of The New York Neo-Futurists, which was an invaluable first step in figuring out my voice as a performer and writer. While I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I dabbled in stand-up and storytelling and did a little hosting for VH1’s video podcasts. Eventually, I started working regularly with The Debate Society, a fantastic Brooklyn based theatre company and through working with them really feel like I honed my craft as a stage actor. I have been lucky enough to originate roles in four of their plays: Cape Disappointment, You’re Welcome, Buddy Cop 2 and most recently Blood Play (which we did at The Public Theater’s Under The Radar Festival, and later at Williamstown Theatre Festival). In between working on those productions, I was also lucky enough to do the NY Premiere of Christopher Durang’s The Vietnamization of New Jersey, which is how I got my Equity Card. (Side Note: When I found out they were doing that play, I wrote the director and said “I’d love to be seen for the role of Father McGillacutty. I know you may think I am too young…but I can grow a beard. I can do it.” And I did.)
I also did the NY Premiere of MilkMilkLemonade by Joshua Conkel, in which I played the role of “Nanna” and received a NY Innovative Theatre Award Nomination. During this time I created my web series, Jack in a Box, which was based on my day job working in an off-Broadway theatre box office. This was the smartest thing I ever did and became a calling card of sorts for me. The series ran for four years and consisted of 31 episodes. I won “Best Web Series” at the NY Television Festival in 2010, and was twice nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award for Outstanding Achievement in Original New Media. I won that award in 2013.
I think as a direct result of creating an on-camera persona through Jack…, I started getting work on TV. I’ve been seen in small roles on 30 Rock, Louie, Person of Interest, Orange is the New Black, and Nurse Jackie. Although Jack in a Box has ended, I continue to work on the web, guest starring in other people’s series and last year wrote an episode of the critically acclaimed (and totally beautiful) web series High Maintenance, which I also guest starred in.
Most recently, I was seen in the NY Premiere of Sarah Ruhl’s Stage Kiss. I was named a “Face to Watch” in the NY Times Spring Preview and received an Outer Critics Circle Nomination for Outstanding Featured Actor for that production. The show was at Playwrights Horizons, which is where I worked in the box office for eight years while doing all of the above mentioned things. It was nice to be home.
3. What was the most valuable thing you learned from creating your own work?
Creating your own work is scary, but also so rewarding. You don’t have to wait for people to give you the opportunity to show what you got…you can just show it. And you can work with whomever you want to work with. I am so grateful for the fact that I was able to work with some of NY’s best actors, all of whom took the words I wrote and made them sound infinitely funnier than I even imagined. I didn’t create my own work out of a desire to be famous, it came from a real need to be seen and heard. It was also a safe way to learn. Learn about writing, acting on camera, working with others. It was like my own little grad school. I recommend it.
4. What has been your biggest career challenge and how did you overcome it?
Self-Doubt. I am not sure I’ve overcome it, but I have learned to make it sit in the corner for a little while. It’s a tricky little bugger. Also, managing expectations. I’ve learned not to have any and just enjoy what I’m doing.
5. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting out?
That it’s hard. That there are ups and downs, and they come without warning. That it’s ok to work a full time job while you have to if it allows you to do the work you want to be doing. That it’s important to have a full life outside of performing. That if you book a vacation, you will definitely get a job that conflicts. That casting directors are not to be afraid of and they want you to succeed. That when it’s good, it’s really good. And when it is bad…it’s probably going to get good again.
6. What are you currently working on?
I just finished writing an hour long pilot that I’m gonna tinker with for a bit. I’ve been writing more and hoping to create something new soon. In July I’ll be doing a reading of The First Wives Club with Audra McDonald, Sherie Rene Scott and Lili Taylor. Other than that, I’m auditioning, looking forward to whatever is next and enjoying life.
7. Anything else you feel like sharing?
I just want to say how much I support what Capes Coaching in doing and am so happy to see all the success they’ve gained. I worked with Jodie when we were both spring chickens at an amazing (but no longer around) theatre company called Drama Dept. It’s there I met some of the most influential people in my life, and I’m so glad Jodie & Betsy are two of them that had a dream and made it happen.