“My first play was in grade school, third grade or thereabouts,” he said. “I was cast as the prosecuting attorney in a show called ‘The Case of the Missing Comma,’ I think. The teacher cast me, I believe, because I was the loudmouth in class — always speaking out of turn and getting in trouble for it. Fortunately for me this young teacher didn’t ostracize me for being a pain and instead found a place, on stage, where I could be myself. I don’t remember her name, but I probably owe her my thanks … and an apology.
“To this day I truly feel at ease on stage. I try to tell myself that running the show — as a producer or director— is just as important as acting, but it’s not quite as satisfying as being up there under the lights. Hopefully, after The PHP members come to their senses and vote me out, I’ll have time to audition again.”
Name: Mike Harris
Occupation/title: Corporate training instructor
City of residence: Canton
Family: Wife, Teresa — local actress, met 38 years ago while performing in college theater (UCF, Orlando). Children: Alex, 28 — photographer at Walt Disney World. Aurora, 24 — supervisor at Pop Century Resort at Disney World.
Education: Associate of Science degree, Polk State College, Winter Haven, Fla.; Bachelor of Arts, Belmont Abbey, Mount Holly, N.C.
How long have you been working at Mazda North American Operations? What are your responsibilities and what led you to this line of work?
A: I’ve worked in technical training for Mazda North American Operations for over 26 years. I switched college majors — from theater to education after discovering how poor most actors were. Then I found out how little teachers made. I have been lucky to have an occupation that allows me to educate others in a field that is essentially my hobby. I grew up loving cars — my first was a broken 1956 Plymouth that I received as a Christmas gift from my parents when I was in sixth grade.
When did you become president of The Pumphouse Players and what are your responsibilities?
A: I was elected president of The PHP this past July after serving as vice president for the previous two years. As president, I oversee all areas of our membership, business functions, theater maintenance and — oh, yes — produce plays occasionally. Fortunately I work with an outstanding board of directors. We, the board and I, divide up all the responsibilities for marketing, fundraising and production of shows. I rely on the board and all of our members to make our shows happen. The Pumphouse Players are a totally volunteer nonprofit corporation. As such, nothing can appear on stage without an unbelievable amount of time spent by our volunteers.
Heading into The Pumphouse Players’ next season, what do you look for when selecting plays to present?
A: The board of directors has put together an outstanding selection of plays for next season, which begins in July. The process that we now use involves our general membership submitting plays to the board and the board choosing the season based on member input. This past winter the board read over 40 play submissions — some fantastic, some with limited appeal. At a board meeting a few months ago we sat down for hours and discussed, argued and made deals based on what we thought would offer the best season of shows. We had to select shows that would not only appeal to our patrons, but would also offer our actors and directors opportunities to express themselves on stage in new and unique ways. So we have a few comedies, an old favorite, a murder or two, and a Christmas musical — something for everyone.
Describe Cartersville’s strengths and where it needs to grow as far as its arts community?
A: The great thing about Cartersville, in regards to live theater, is that there are more actors, directors, crew and producers in this small town than in cities 10 times our size. We, the theater community at large, have so much going on that we sometimes bump into each other. This wouldn’t work without cooperation between the production companies like StageWorks and The PHP, as well as The Grand Theatre, working together. Leslie McCrary, with StageWorks, and Terri Cox, at The Grand, see the big picture for live arts in Cartersville. We all respect what the other is doing and help whenever it’s needed. We all have to work together because there are so many other diversions for families. The trend for young families now is to stay home, stream videos, download movies and play online games. The live arts require families to get out of the house and go to the theater. We’ve got to offer something real that they can’t get at home.
What is the climate right now concerning small theaters trying to survive and thrive in today’s economic times? What are/has The Pumphouse Players doing to help The Legion Theatre stay open?
A: We (The PHP) have diversified into many different areas. If patrons want to see live shows, we offer them. If parents want their children involved in plays, we offer that. If you just want to come out and see a comedy show, improv, whatever — we’ll do it. We have successfully sought out groups that have rented the theater for parties and concerts. Basically, we will do whatever it takes to keep the doors open at the theater.
In recent years other small theaters have found themselves over their heads, with too much debt and too little income. At The Legion we have cut operating costs to the bone, while still increasing memberships and ticket sales. This austerity will allow us to start improvements to the theater, such as remodeling the lobby and upgrading the seating, but this is all being done within a very tight budget.
What is your greatest professional and/or personal achievement?
A: I hope that everyone around me can see how hard I work at keeping our theater open and everyone working together. It’s tough, because like a family, any organization is made up of individuals with different priorities. I continue to try to bring inthose different opinions to work towards a consensus. I know that some personalities will never see eye to eye but that will never stop me from trying.
If you were not in this line of work, what would you like to do?
A: When I was in school, I always saw myself as a photojournalist — traveling the world, capturing news in an old-fashioned, black and white kind of way. Just like teaching or theater, it’s about storytelling. A really talented photojournalist can tell a story in a split second. The great photographers of the 20th century could explain an entire war on one frame. That’s all they needed. Then Time, or Look, or Life would run a great photo on the cover that really didn’t need any text to describe. There’s so much information inundating us in the information age. I miss the one good photo that told the whole story.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
A: I’m a romantic. I believe in inspiration and awe and love stories.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
A: From my dad, “Enjoy yourself.”
What do you like to do in your spare time?
A: Someday, if I ever have some time to myself, I’d like to get back to my car and motorcycle projects.