Profile

Q&A

What is your full name?

I was born Michael John McGuinness … but when I came to join SAG, I was told there was already a Michael John McGuinness. So I became Michael Sean McGuinness, since Sean is Irish Gaelic for John.

When and how did you first know you were an artist?

Career-wise, I always wanted to be an archaeologist, but when I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark, I thought pretending to have exotic adventures looked like more fun than spending ten years digging a one-inch hole in the Sahara Desert with a teaspoon — so I decided to become an actor instead.

What’s the first theatrical experience you remember? Why did it stick with you?

I remember I was dragged to a production of MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING at The People’s Light and Theatre Company in Philadelphia, and at that point, I HATED Shakespeare. If you had told me as a teenager that I would grow up to earn my living as a Shakespearean actor, I would have never believed you. But those actors made me understand the language, and more importantly, understand the feelings of two older people who were exactly like teenagers: so afraid of rejection that they made fun of the whole idea of romantic love. That play changed my whole outlook about the theatre in general, and about Shakespeare in particular.

Do you have a favorite Shakespearean role?

My favorite role has to be Malvolio in TWELFTH NIGHT (which I recently played for the Pig Iron Theatre Company in Philadelphia). Malvolio gives you a wonderfully complete arc to follow: from insufferably judgmental prig in the beginning, to romantic clown in the middle, dancing around in yellow tights, to tragically reviled sympathetic figure at the end. What a gift of a role!

Describe your writing process.

Whenever I get so obsessed with a situation or an image that I can’t stop thinking about it, then I know I have something I want to write about. Or that I need to take a walk in the park. So, when I come in, I start free-form scribbling until I figure out the characters and the conflicts (that’s what it’s all about for me), and then I spend a lot of time outlining to shape all that scribbling into a plot. Once I have an outline, then the script seems to write itself, in spite of the inevitable bouts of weeping and self-recrimination.

Describe your inspiration for ON WITH THE SHOW, your play in GHOST LIGHT.

I’m Irish, so I grew up with fireside tales of supernatural beings inhabiting every nook and cranny of the visible world. The theatre is as haunted as any castle or gloomy forest in Ireland; how could it not be? Everybody, from the actors to the audience to the stage hands, wants to be part of an experience that’s more exciting, more romantic, and more fun than their ordinary lives. How could you not want to go back to such a place that gave you those heightened experiences, even after you had “shuffled off this mortal coil”? So I just wanted to write a ghost story about show business, and all the divas, the idealists and the nymphomaniacs that love the theatre so much that they never want to leave. Never.

If you could have dinner with any three artists, who would you choose and why?

I can’t think of anybody in particular. I just know that there’s nothing better than sitting at a bar after a show with other theatre people, talking about art and laughing about all the embarrassing mistakes we’ve all made on stage.