By Madeleine Barbeau
Roosevelt University is blessed to have many impressive professors on staff and the Theatre Conservatory is no exception. Not only has Michael Lasswell received acting training with Hogwarts Professor McGonagall and X-men’s Magneto, he has had a rich and diverse career in theatre as an actor, director, scenic designer, and playwright. Lasswell also happens to be the scenic designer and props master for CCPA. So if you happen to catch a theatre production in the O’Malley Theatre, you will be thrust into the environment Michael Lasswell has created. I sat down with him to talk about his rich life in the theatre.
How long have you worked here and what do you do?
I’m in my 16th year here. I am the resident set designer and props master for the CCPA Theatre Conservatory and I teach set design and scene painting class. I’m also the resident substitute teacher for pretty much any CCPA theatre class.
How did you get your start?
You know how some kids have theatre moms? Yeah, I had a theatre mom and I started out as a child actor when I was four. I played a little prince who at the end of this play, gets thrown over a wall by the bad guys and dies…and so my sister came to see the play and screamed to the audience ‘They killed Micky!” and I thought anything that could get that much sympathy and attention from my sister was worth it, so I kept doing it! I later studied acting in London with Dame Maggie Smith, Sir Ian McKellen, and Sir Patrick Stewart. I started working in New York as a carpenter and set painter for theatres and my career built from there.
Who inspired you the most to pursue a life in the theatre?
When asked who inspired him the most, Lasswell speaks fondly of his dad, “My dad, Tom Lasswell, was an actor and director and he ran the theatre program at the University of Portland. He had a ton of small parts in movies in addition to theatre roles. He even has a funny bit in the Free Willy movie! He always supported me in my career choice and I was even able to direct him in a few shows once I established myself in the theatre business.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on the set for the CCPA production of Little Women. I wanted to create an environment that feels musical, so I suspended panels for the doors and windows so they would feel like musical notes on a staff.
Do you have any advice for your students about being versatile artists?
The Italian director Franco Zeffirelli once said, “Imagination is a muscle.” It’s not enough to just be good. Level beyond good. Imagination is set free when you’re bored. I think with this new technology era, we are desperate to be set free and entertained all the time and we don’t allow ourselves to daydream. Notice the trees. Choose entertainment that you wouldn’t normally go for. If you want to be versatile, you need to make a conscious effort to understand people who are different than you and notice things you wouldn’t normally notice.