Missy Whitis: Teacher and Storyteller – Theatre People
By Mitch Stark
Hello again, Theatre People! We’re back again, this time celebrating an incredible storyteller and teacher, Missy Whitis. I first met Missy as a teaching artist on tour, and I was struck by her passion and incredible attention to detail concerning how to tell a great story across many media.
Missy currently teaches at the University of Cincinnati, and is known nationwide for her comedy workshops and improv. I hope you enjoy this conversation with Missy as much as I did!
Missy Whitis, teacher of writing for the screen and stage at the University of Cincinnati.
What’s a show that inspires you? (explain away!)
This might put me on some “watch list” somewhere, but I dig Assassins. Had the absolute mind-blowing experience to see the Tony Award-winning cast back in 2004. Michael Cerveris, NPH, Becky Ann Baker, Denis O’Hare! Unbelievable! You want an acting challenge? Portray some of the most hated men ever. That score is so catchy in parts, that you almost feel weird singing along with the subject matter.
What’s one of your happiest moments in theatre?
That same week I saw NPH in Assassins, I saw Wicked for the first time. The show had lost, yes, LOST the Tony, only a few weeks before, and Kristen Chenoweth was leaving in a little over a week. The night I was there was the last night that she, and the Elphaba understudy, the powerhouse known as Eden Espinosa, were going to perform together. During “For Good,” we as an audience did not get any harmonies during the last third of the song. Kristen was crying so much that Eden had to do it. And do it, she did. She stood there, one hand holding Kristen’s, the other wiping Kristen’s tears.
Why is this my “happiest” moment in theatre? Aside from showing what obvious emotions theatre can stir up, it showed that those rockstars were human. Think of who has been in that cast over the years?! Stephanie J. Block, Ana Gasteyer, Megan Hilty, Jessica Vosk, Nicole Parker, Teal Wicks, Annaleigh Ashford, Kate Reinders, Lili Cooper! Not to mention Norbert, Aaron Tveit, Taye Diggs, Sebastian Arcelus, and of course Joel Grey, Fred Applegate, Mary Testa … I could do this all day!
The point is, watching Kristen unable to control her emotions made her and the show, seem real—maybe one of us peasants could one day be in that cast. (Though who are we kidding?! You have to be a freak of nature to land one of those roles.)
What’s the biggest ‘fail’ or goof you’ve seen on stage? (do tell the story)
One night, during the last 20 minutes of Pippin, an ensemble student, led by the Leading Player, went behind the curtain to show Pippin that he would disappear. (*Spoiler alert*) The tech director decided to use a flashpot (Don’t get me started), and just as it went off, the curtain fell off the rod. The student, trying his best to catch the curtain, and not catch himself on fire, lost his balance, tripped, fell over, and made a horrific clatter. The student playing the Leading Player, waited a second, then, in typical magician fashion, threw his arms open to present that no one was there. And just then, ever so weakly, but just loud enough to be heard throughout the theatre, we heard a voice say, “Ow.” I was conducting the pit, and tears were streaming down my face so fast that my glasses filled up, and I couldn’t see a thing. Of course now, the curtain, you know, the one we need for Pippin to consider, is broken. So the student who fell, chose to stand behind it, and just hold it up. These kiddos are in their mid-thirties now, and when we get together, one of us, at some point, will fake a fall, look back at everyone, and say, “Ow.”
Why do you love theatre?
Theatre is like getting married over and over and over again. You fall in love, get engaged, plan, rehearse, get dressed up, invite all your friends, and before you know it, the ceremony is over. Then instead of getting divorced, you get a t-shirt, a souvenir program, and you get to go do it all over again.
Theatre is for…
No matter what you end up doing with your life, you are truly shaped by your time on stage—in whatever capacity. Be you a banker or shepherd, there’s always something you take with you from your time doing a show.
More about Missy
After 15 years in the High School Choir and Theatre classroom, and even a short stint as a principal, Missy moved into the collegiate scene. Currently, she teaches at the University of Cincinnati, where she created classes in television, screenwriting, and how to create web content. However, you may know her best from her nationwide Improv and comedy workshops!