Not many local actors can say they’ve gone from Broadway Street to Broadway in New York City, but Michael Stiggers is living his dream.
The native of West Point, Ga., is a Columbus State University graduate and former Springer Opera House star. After moving to New York City less than a year ago, he’s already landed his first major Broadway role in “BEAUTIFUL: The Carole King Musical.”
Stiggers’ resume includes everything from doing voice over for Nickelodeon to playing Donkey in “SHREK” at the Springer. While he might be preparing to make his Broadway debut next week, he said his down-to-earth upbringing is keeping his feet firmly, and humbly, planted on the ground.
Stiggers recently corresponded with arts reporter Carrie Beth Wallace to discuss his local roots, how Columbus shaped his career, and his path to Broadway and beyond. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: When do you remember beginning to sing?
A: I’ve been singing since I was about 5 years old. My mother is a choir director so I really didn’t have a choice. At an early age, she taught us all (me and my siblings) how to harmonize, match pitch and discover our voices. By the age of 10 or 11, I was leading the tenor section on Sundays. I was lucky enough to come from a musical family and after a while, it became second nature.
Q: What was your childhood like? How has that informed the man you’ve become?
A: My father is a pastor. So I was in church most of my childhood. I went to church so much, I remember saying as a kid, “When I grow up, I’m not going to all this church!” My mom and dad are two of the most amazing people in this world but being a preacher’s kid has its challenges. You want to just be a normal kid, but because of who your dad is, it can feel like you have eyes on you constantly. I’m from a small town, and everybody talks.
Even when I went to college at CSU, just 45 minutes away, it seemed like I still wasn’t out of reach from little ol’ West Point, Ga. I was finding myself just like any other kid. That’s when my dad would say to me, “Mike, remember that you are a leader,” A reminder that I always had the choice to be my own person and have my own voice.
The older I got, the more I really understood where he was coming from and what he meant. I wasn’t exempt from making mistakes and nobody ever said I had to be perfect, but I had the potential to do great things if I would focus, workhard, have faith and do what is right.
My mother, being a teacher as well, taught me to nurture the gifts God gave me and to never stop learning and growing. That has really been the foundation of what has molded me into the man I am today.
Q: What led you to Columbus State?
A: I knew I wanted to be an entertainer by my freshman year of high school. I didn’t really know how I was going to do it, but I knew that’s what I wanted to do.
I fell in love with theater and performing through my show choir and thespian society at Troup County High School. I knew thats where my heart was, but I also knew that I needed to have a good secure job after college. So I was originally going to be a nursing major and just try to do theater on the side. (laughs)
I decided to stay closer to home and went to CSU to save as much money as I could. CSU had a great theatre department that some of Troup County High School alumni were apart of as well. I followed my heart and declared a theater performance major, later changing over to theater education so I had that “fall back plan” that everyone said I needed.
Q: Who have been your greatest mentors?
A: I’m extremely thankful for Ms. Brenda May Ito because she got me out of college. Having adviser meetings with her was enough for me to get my stuff together. Sometimes all she had to do was give me a look that said, “I know you can do better.” She really helped me find my way with valuable teaching opportunities.
I’m also thankful for Paul Pierce and Ron Anderson for giving me a chance to discover the beginnings of a professional career in theater. Paul taught me that the actor is an athlete and that you’ve got to approach a show experience like its Game 7 of the NBA finals. Ron gave me my first professional teaching job with the academy. I remember him saying something in rehearsals for “SHREK” that stuck with me to this day. He said, “If you want a life, go work at a bank.” They have both taught me what it means to dedicate your life to theater and community.
Rearcous Smith, who I considered my big brother in the business. I learned a whole lot about power and presence from watching him in shows. I carry his spirit with me in every show that I do and just think about how proud he would be.
And Cameron Bean — who has been one of my best friends from freshman year, day one at CSU. In some of my toughest times, Cam is still always there with words of encouragement and sound advice.
Q: How was your time at the Springer? What do you miss most about it?
A: The Springer will always be home to me. It was like a professional internship experience straight out of college for me. I learned so much from my time there. I miss the friendships. I miss No Shame on Friday nights.
Most of all, I miss the students at the academy. As teachers, we got to see so many of those students grow up from the junior program to high school seniors and the transformation is a testament to the legacy Ron Anderson created there. Those kids taught me to be fearless, relentless and approach every challenge in this business with an open mind and a “Yes, And.”
Q: What major professional productions have been your favorite?
A: I actually just did an awesome professional reading of a show called “iLLA: A Hip Hop Musical” with The Eugene Oniell Theatre Centre. It’s a story about a young classically trained dancer who has dreams of being a rapper. It’s a triple threat kind of show with hip hop music as the cherry on top, which is an exciting challenge — any chance I get to mix rap with musical theater, I’m all about it!
I also got to perform in a show called “Born For This” last year. It’s a musical written and produced by gospel and inspirational super star Bebe Winans. Getting to work with him on a story about his life was surreal because I always grew up listening to his music as well as the rest of the Winans family. They are gospel royalty!
Q: Do you have a favorite role?
A: Playing Donkey in “SHREK” at the Springer was so much fun. We just had a blast doing that show. That costume was about 500 degrees on the inside but it was all good because I dropped like 15 pounds.
Q: In addition to live theatre, you’ve also done some voice over work. How did you get into voice over?
A: Voice over was really a blessing that just kind of fell in my lap. When I first met with my agency here in New York, I told them about some experience I had with recording audiobooks while I was living and working in Atlanta. They decided to give me a try with their voice over department since I also sing. I didn’t have much experience, but it was one of those things where I simply learned by doing. I got a little better with each audition.
Q: What was it like working for Nickelodeon? As a millennial, was that a dream come true?
A: Totally! I grew up on Nickelodeon — shows like “All That” and “Kenan & Kel.” When I first started getting auditions from them, I knew the kind of vibe they were looking for. They will send me the silliest auditions sometimes. They are so much fun. I turn into a kid again when I get to rap about SpongeBob Squarepants and Ninja Turtles. I never thought in a million years someone would give me money for it. I’ve started to build a good relationship with them. It’s always a good day when I book a job for them.
Q: Less than a year after you moved to New York City, you’ve landed a role in a Broadway musical. What has that been like? How was the audition process?
A: I first auditioned for “BEAUTIFUL” about a year ago. I was still living and working in Atlanta at the time so I flew up for two days for an audition and callback. It went well but that was it. I didn’t hear from them for months. Fast forward a year later, I’m represented by a new agency and I’ve lived in the city for a while now. I got the appointment from my agent.
We did the dance call first, very similar to what I did a year ago so I knew what was coming. Got a callback that same day. I sang the same packet from a year ago, but with more confidence, more sure of myself, and no limitations of having to hop back on a plane back to Atlanta this time.
The energy felt very good in the room. Sometimes you can’t read the creative team behind the table when you’re auditioning, but they were all smiles this time and so was I. This was on a Friday afternoon. I got the call from agent, Irene saying I booked it first thing Monday morning. That was a great week!
Q: What is your specific role?
A: I am playing a member of the immortal doo-wop and R&B group, The Drifters. “BEAUTIFUL” is the story of singer/songwriter Carole King. She and her former husband, Gerry Goffin were a dynamic team writing many hit songs for many artists, including “Up On The Roof” and “Some Kind Of Wonderful” performed by The Drifters. These guys were smooth as butter with exquisite vocal blend and precision dance moves to match.
Q: You're set to make your Broadway debut on Aug. 10. Describe your emotions about this currently. Where are the greatest challenges of this role?
A: I’m super excited. A little nervous, but I’m ready for this. My mom and dad are coming up to see me so I just want to make them proud that night. They’ve encouraged my journey from day one, and I’m so happy that they get to share this experience with me.
It’s a quick rehearsal process. There will be a lot thrown at me but I feel so supported and safe. I’ve already got a chance to meet the stage management crew, and they gone above and beyond to make my transition as easy as it can be. This show has been on Broadway for about 5 years now, so its a well-oiled machine right. It’s all going to be about how I fit in that.
Q: Where do you see yourself headed next?
A: I would love to do another Broadway show, of course. I don’t want to just be limited to musical theatre. I want to continue to be creative in any way I can. I want to extend myself to TV and film projects as well as still doing the voice over thing. I’m trying to be Morgan Freeman in the next 20 years.
I’m going to continue to work my craft and collaborate with others to put good stuff out in the universe. I’m taking it all in but staying active because the journey can’t stop with one Broadway show. We’ve got to figure out how we can stay there for a while and build on it.
Q: Anything else you’d like our readers to know?
A: I’m just a kid from West Point, Ga. This experience has been a faith walk and it will continue to be. Anything is possible.
Hometown: West Point, Ga.
Formal Education: Bachelor’s of Music Education from Columbus State University
Occupation: Actor, singer, voice over professional and educator
More to Know: Stiggers grew up singing in his mother’s choir with his father serving as pastor for the church.