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Q & A Series: Hugh Bickley

1. What was special about the Montana Repertory Theatre experience you had?
I was lucky enough to double as a proud Montana Repertory Theatre Actor and Projection Designer for both the 2014 National Tour of the Miracle Worker and 2015 National Tour of the Great Gatsby. Thus, I had the rare advantage of working both on and behind the scenes. This perspective afforded me a breathtaking glimpse into the staggering attention to detail that is poured into every facet of an MRT production: The thread count of the sheets on a bed onstage that is never even unmade; the fitting and heartbreaking origin story of a piece of music tucked away into a transition; the authenticity of a period-specific pocket watch. The Montana Repertory Theatre is a well-oiled machine; a group of passionate professionals that thrive on substance, not illusion.

2. Where did your work with Montana Rep come in your career? Student? Equity? What effect did it have on your trajectory?
Since I was lucky enough to embark on three national tours with the Montana Repertory Theatre, I had amassed forty-seven equity points by the time I moved to the big city––thirty of them before I even graduated. This positioned me to be able to network freely and volunteer my time, while having the option of joining the Union when I see fit.
MRT is to the University experience what AP or IB classes are to high schools. The latter provide young students with college-level experience and actual credit. MRT provides college students with real-world experience and actual Equity points. I hear a lot of alumni from other schools lament that their education failed to ready them for the harsh reality of the real world. Thanks to the Montana Repertory Theatre, I got real-world experience before I even graduated.

3. The Rep has long since had a tradition of producing American Canonical texts. What is your favorite classic? And why?
The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald’s requiem for the American Dream is proving more and more prophetic by the year. With its rich tapestry of characters and timeless metaphors, bringing Gatsby to the stage seemed like pinning wings on the Titanic. But under Greg Johnson’s adept direction and knack for theatrical momentum, this classic stormed across the country like a portent of coming strife amidst our nation’s escalating financial tensions and class stratification. The Rep never fails to commemorate the legacy of classic storytellers like Fitzgerald. Now, more than ever, we need the voices of our literary giants. Now, more than ever, we need artists like the Rep to champion them.

4. If you could tell a student actor hoping to work for The Rep one thing – what would it be?
Pay attention. Don’t think of this as a chance to use your voice. Think of it as a chance to listen. The country is now your classroom. Study it, soak it up, revel in its awe––and listen as intently as you expect them to hear you.

5. Looking back on your work with Montana Repertory Theatre, which singular memory stands out the most?
Toward the end of our tour with the Miracle Worker, we had the privilege of playing for the Helen Keller School for the Deaf & Blind in Talladega, Alabama. The deaf students in particular were a uniquely terrific audience because they showed little vocal restraint when the play resonated with them emotionally. Their laughter was uninhibited, their gasps were audible, their etiquette was of another paradigm.
For those unfamiliar, the Miracle Worker tells the story of Anne Sullivan teaching a young Helen Keller about language itself––that things have words, that words have meaning. The moment that Helen understands her first word is the ‘miracle’ that the title refers to. It happens toward the end of the play, and every night we could measure our audience’s adulation in sniffles, gasps, and finally unbridled applause come time for the curtain call.
The students at the Helen Keller school showed no such restraint. The miracle happened and there was an uproar. Wailing and declarations of love (“Thank you!” and “I love you, Helen!”), clapping, cheering, howling and astonishment––a clamor that hit those of us on and backstage like an avalanche.
I’m not sure that I’ll ever again witness the power of live theatre to such a raw, tangible and measurable degree. That audience understood the story we were telling on a level that we could never claim to. But somehow, we validated their story. And in turn, they validated mine.

(Bickley in Biloxi Blues – seen being restrained left)

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