For Pittsburgh Theatre
Point Park's Micah Stanek
February 10, 2018
Micah Stanek does not look like every other Heathcliff born from Brontë’s classic novel Wuthering Heights. Unlike the famous movie portrayal by Laurence Olivier, Stanek’s costume is modern, and his dark hair has been shaved for the show into a mohawk. At first, Stanek says, he was supposed to put his hair, which had been slightly long, up into a man bun. He laughed, though, and said that it didn’t look good and instead his hair had been cut into a Mohawk. “I like it, though,” he says.
Stanek has been playing the famous Heathcliff in Point Park University’s production of You On the Moors Now. You on the Moors Now takes four famous literary couples, Heathcliff and Cathy from Wuthering Heights, Laurie and Jo from Little Women, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, and Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre. The show is set in a mythical place called the Moors where the women all come together and decide that they do not want to marry their men and instead band together and run away. The men, upon realizing this, form their own posse and chase the women. Though these are well known characters, they are far from their literary world, the dialogue mostly modern and the women even dropping the f word.
The stage of the black box theatre is set in a way familiar to a Bronte or an Austen novel. There is a piano in the back corner and a candelabra. The backdrop has large windows painted on it with wooden window seats in front of them that open up and store props. At some points the window seats are moved and used in several different ways. The floor looks tiled, and every detail has been attended to.
Stanek recognizes the difficult job in front of him: to play a beloved character who is very different from the book from which he sprung and a character that many associate with Laurence Olivier’s 1939 film.
“Going against Olivier is hard,” Stanek says. “He’s considered one of the greatest
of all times. He’s so good. To go up against that, I had to block it out a little bit. I took a little from him, but I had to block it out early on.”
He continues, “I brought in relationships nowadays too. I actually looked at a lot of abusive relationships compared to relationships I’ve been in and relationships that I’ve seen. I had to basically sync those together because relationships now and then aren’t that different. It’s just a standard of what was allowed. There are certain things Heathcliff wants to do in this show but he can’t because it’d be too visceral.”
Originally Stanek auditioned thinking that he would be best suited to play Laurie, the most youthful and hopeful of the characters. However, he was called back for the role of Heathcliff and during the callback he talked with the director Shelia McKenna about Heathcliff. He watched all three of the movie versions of Wuthering Heights and read the book. To create his Heathcliff he looked at what he could take.
“I found character traits that they had and the ones that they had missed. I had a really good talk with Shelia when she called me back for Heathcliff. The night before, I watched the movie, read up on him, figured out what happened in Wuthering Heights because I’d never read it before. It’s so good. So that day I had a big talk with Shelia during my callback. She asked me what I thought about Heathcliff. And I told her that he didn’t have anything but this passionate anger. He’s never learned any other way.”
His version of Heathcliff became quite angry. Throughout the show, Stanek’s Heathcliff was an imposing presence. From Stanek’s booming voice and physically demanding movements he had an intense passion about him that ignited the conversations between Heathcliff and Cathy.
“All Heathcliff has left is Cathy. Everything he does, even self-destructive, is to keep her in his life. Even if at some points he’s trying to dig at her, and he even literally sucker punches her at one point. He has no way of holding it back or covering it. He just lets it all go, and actually one of the biggest problems I’ve had as an actor is not letting it all go, because I’m not an angry person. I’m a very calm person. But Heathcliff’s anger is very passionate. Love is just passion. It’s the fire that’s just swirling in his stomach.”
“Everything he does just spurts that fire out and destroys something in front of him, whether that’s his chance with Cathy or to keep her in his life. When Cathy dies, he has nothing left and thinks that no one cares about him. I mean, she left and didn’t care to stay. That’s how he feels about it. He feels neglected and like he didn’t matter to her. But he also knows that they are the same person. It’s a lot of these things he knows and is blind to.” Stanek says. He leans forward and despite the sparkling Christmas lights and the Christmas music playing behind him, he commands the Bagel Factory where we’re sitting.
It’s clear as Stanek talks that he truly loves what he does and takes great pride in his craft. His eyes sparkle when he talks about his cast mates. He has nothing but kind words about every person he’s worked with and attributes much of his success to his training both at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School where he went to high school and at Point Park University. The cast is clearly very close to each other, and Stanek loves it. He talks lovingly about his friends involved with the show and tells stories about how they spend their free time together because they enjoy each other’s company.
“Shelia is a loving and caring director, and she’s really given this show to us. She put envelopes on the wall for everyone with our names on them to empower each other. We leave each other little messages, sweet stuff, from paragraphs to one-liners.”
Off stage Stanek is just as charismatic as he is on stage and far more relaxed. He has an easy-going nature that makes him approachable. He loves talking about his pets, two dogs Daisy and Max and three birds. He laughs when he says that his friends make fun of him for having birds, but he says breezily that birds are funny and his cockatiel Coconut is very affectionate. Stanek searches through his phone until he finds a photo of Coconut which he eagerly shares. He’s modest and friendly, the opposite of Heathcliff.
As Heathcliff, Stanek shines. He knows exactly when to let Heathcliff’s temper overtake his calm exterior and when to pull back and let subtle expressions and movements speak instead. McKenna’s production of You on the Moors Now relies heavily on movement. In almost every scene a character is moving in some way, whether it’s a simple hand gesture or Heathcliff dropping to the ground and doing pushups in the center of the stage.
The first day of rehearsals the cast developed a vocabulary for the physical movements and the lifts in the show. They worked out lift partners and the different physical aspects. The assistant director Charlie then took down the lifts and wrote a vocabulary list for everyone. The physical movement was an incredibly important aspect of the show. A big scene in the show is a long battle between the men and the women. The men lift the women and the whole scene looks so physically taxing that even the audience is left feeling tired.
“You on the Moors Now has been the best experience ever,” he says. “It’s a shining light in my life. At first, I was unsure about it because it’s a weird play. It’s weirdly written, but we fleshed it out and worked as a family. Every one of us was able to give to the production.”
Stanek grew up in Evans City, Pennsylvania. He’s a junior at Point Park University majoring in acting. He was originally a Musical Theatre major but switched this year. He says that the BA is a little bit freer in the courses that he can take, and he wants to explore other subjects like directing. “I love musical theatre, but I found passionate plays and more freedom and opportunity to work on it.”
Stanek has been in five shows at Point Park, Stone Soup, The Who’s Tommy, Pinkalicious, and You on the Moors Now, which has been his favorite of the many shows he’s done. He tries to do as many shows as he can. His senior year in high school he was only supposed to be in one production. However, after auditions and some re-casting Stanek ended up cast in three productions: The Who’s Tommy, Godspell, and You Can’t Take it With You.
Eventually, Stanek would like to open his own theatre company. There is a huge immersive movement going on, Stanek says. He wants to create work that inspires and moves people and evokes emotions. It’s a theme that Stanek comes back to repeatedly. He views relationships as the basis of acting and the best way to communicate with an audience.