Wolfville thespian reaches memorable milestone

Carole Morris-Underhill editor@hantsjournal.ca
Published on December 30, 2016

Mike Butler reached a memorable milestone in 2016. The 37-year-old thespian was involved with his 50th play.

©Carole Morris-Underhill

WOLFVILLE, N.S. — If you enjoy live, local theatre, chances are pretty good Wolfville's Mike Butler has entertained you.

Within a span of seven years, Butler has either acted in, directed, or stage managed 50 plays. That's 50 plays, all while working full-time as a cafe manager and writing for The Grapevine.

“I get a great sense of accomplishment,” said Butler when asked why he does it.

“I didn't start doing this until I was 30. I'm now 37 and I've been able to pull off 50 plays, very convincing characters,” he continued.

“I don't do it so I can leave a mark, but I've met some of the most amazing people, which has led to some of the most rewarding experiences just by learning some lines and going on stage in a costume.”

When Mike Butler takes the stage, he often steals the scene.

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Butler grew up in Kentville and attended Acadia University, but wasn't involved in the theatre program. While he dabbled in acting during his high school years with an after school program, he didn't actively pursue it until his first role sort of fell into his lap.

“I loved being in front of crowds; I don't have stage fright. I have emceed, like, 25 weddings and I love public speaking and I just work in the public so that was never an issue. And I've got a really good memory, so learning lines was no biggie as well,” said Butler.

When his friend, who had a small role in A Brand New Year, had to back out two weeks before opening night, Butler agreed to learn the part and slide in.

That was when the acting bug took hold. Flash forward to the fall of 2016, and Butler came full circle, reprising the same role for his 50th production. This time, however, more scenes were added for his part.

Mike Butler is a versatile actor who has been cast in a variety of roles — everything from comedy to drama to suspense. Pictured here is Butler in Creely Mountain Law.

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“Comedy, I find, is actually harder than drama. I do. For the simple fact that it takes the same three things to make people cry, you know? But it takes a million things to make people laugh." Mike Butler

At ease on the stage

For the most part, Butler takes on roles that are volunteer with little to no honorariums. He does it for the love of making people laugh or cry — or both.

“I always believe that if I was getting paid for it, some of what I love about it would be gone. When you volunteer, when you're surrounded by volunteers who are just doing it because they love it, it's not work,” said Butler.

“It's 'I can't wait to go to rehearsal, I can't wait to do this, I can't wait to put this on in front of an audience.' I would never want to pursue it professionally, I don't think, because I'm getting so much more out of it just as a volunteer.”

While Butler is known for his comedic roles, in recent years, he has branched out to tackle hard-hitting plays and heart-wrenching dramas. He's been involved with Tuesdays With Morrie, My Boy Jack, Death of a Salesman and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? to name a few.

“Comedy, I find, is actually harder than drama. I do. For the simple fact that it takes the same three things to make people cry, you know? But it takes a million things to make people laugh,” he said.

“I have done some of the funniest plays on the planet and everyone is laughing in the audience except for this one man in the front row, because he just doesn't find that kind of humour funny. All of them would cry if an animal passed away. It's just one of those things,” he continued.

He said you need to have comedic timing in order to get a rise out of an audience. As for drama, Butler said he researches his role thoroughly and dives right in.

Mike Butler starred as Biff Loman in the play Death of a Salesman.

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“My Boy Jack was a World War One play based on a true story, and I had to play a soldier who had PTSD. I don't have any problems with character development, I don't have any problems with remembering lines, but researching the background to create that character was the most difficult thing,” said Butler.

He watched countless hours of historical archive footage and interviews and even learned an Irish accent for the role.

“I was only in two parts of the play — one set in the war and one set after the war – and I was the only surviving member of my troop and I had to return to one of the homesteads of the main character and tell his parents what happened to him,” explained Butler.

“It was pretty much 15 solid minutes onstage of me having a complete breakdown and it was the most difficult thing I've ever had to do, to maintain that for an audience who were used to seeing me dressed as a woman or falling down to make them laugh.”

Tuesdays With Morrie, which is about a man who is suffering from ALS and his student/friend, was a recent two-person performance that Butler said was incredibly rewarding.

“We've all dealt with some illness in our families, but I've never actually had to work through it in an hour-and-a-half in front of an audience, going from the process of knowing my teacher, through learning about his illness, through watching him die in my arms,” he said of the show.

Butler generally performs with Centre Stage Theatre in Kentville or Edalene Theatre in Wolfville, however, he also performs with Quick As A Wink Theatre in Windsor, participates in Valley Ghost Walks, and signs on for other projects that interest him.

This scene from Quick As A Wink's production of Rumours shows Len Ganz (Wolfville's Mike Butler) pretending to be Charley Brock, the owner of the house, as he explains the crazy events of the night to Officer Connie Pudney (Karen Court). His wife, Claire Ganz (Linda Levy-Fisk), listens intently.

©Carole Morris-Underhill

Mike Butler is sliding into the director’s chair to take on the beloved musical Grease this January.
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Upcoming shows

Butler is starting the new year off on the right foot.

He's directing Quick As A Wink Theatre's rendition of Grease.

“I'll be at Grease every night in the audience, crying and screaming,” said Butler.

“Grease is the first musical I've ever directed,” said Butler, noting it's only his second time in the director's chair. “But when I was asked to direct Grease, I didn't even hesitate.”

Grease will be held at King's-Edgehill School's Fountain Performing Arts Centre Jan. 27-28 and Feb. 3-4 at 7 p.m. and matinees will be held at 2 p.m. on Jan. 28, Jan. 29, and Feb. 4.

Quick As A Wink Theatre is getting ready to entertain audiences with their rendition of Grease. Pictured here are the Pink Ladies (Hilary Webb, Kate Hubley, Becca Guilderson, and Jemita Buchanan).

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Danny (Peter Mackey) and Sandy (Georgia Bauer) are ready to dance and sing their way into the audience's hearts.
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Butler said people will be floored by the talent.

“They're all going to steal the show. They work so well together... and when they're all on stage you cannot take your eyes off of them. It's just the energy and the smiles and their eyes,” said Butler.

“I can't say there's going to be a standout, because just when you think there's a standout, somebody else comes on that just blows you away. It's just one of those kinds of shows. Everyone has their own little moment to shine, even the ensemble. I don't think anyone's going to go away with a favourite, they're going to go away with multiple favourites.”

In March, Butler will be teaming up with his pal Bryen Stoddard for another run of Tuesdays With Morrie. That performance will be held March 6-11 at the Al Whittle Theatre in Wolfville. The pair performed the same show with Centre Stage last year.

“We've been in a couple of plays together but we've been in two two-hander plays... where it's just the two of us up there, learning 80 pages of script, relying on just that person that's standing across from you,” said Butler. “It builds an amazing friendship, theatre relationship. Just the trust you have to put in somebody when you're up there and if you screw up there's only one person who can save you.”

Butler will then take the director's chair again, this time for a dinner theatre April 7-8 for Centre Stage Theatre. He said in the summertime, he'll be involved with their production of The Long Weekend as well.

Mike Butler at Soldier's Social - A Kings County Museum fundraiser.

©Justine MacDonald

Did you know?

Mike Butler has taken the stage with Windsor's Quick As A Wink Theatre six times. He's been in Golf: The Musical, Rumours, The Little Princess, The Long Weekend, The Odd Couple, and Don't Dress For Dinner. Now, he's directing Grease.