Willis to perform in The Foreigner
PLATTEVILLE - When former University of Wisconsin-Platteville theatre professor Robert Sporre discovered young thespian Mike Willis on the stage at Platteville High School, who knew almost 40 years later Willis would not only still be acting but pursuing creative ventures in a number of theatrical fields. Now, this Platteville High School artistic and technical director and published playwrite returns to the stage in the Heartland Festival production of The Foreigner at UWP.
"I'll be playing Froggy, a cockney English military demolition expert with a zest for life," Willis said. "The thing I enjoy most about acting is the challenge of giving a character the identity that the director envisions. To prepare for a role, I read my part carefully and try to identify the mood and emotions that I think the character is feeling at a specific time in the script and then I try to connect it with a time or instance when I, personally, may have felt the same emotion."
This life-long love of theatre may never have come about for Willis, however, if not for a football injury sustained during his sophomore year in high school.
"I was hanging out in the hallway one night after school (since I couldn't practice football) and they were having tryouts for the school play," Willis said. "They asked me to read since there weren't any boys there, and I ended up with the part. Professor Sporre saw me in the play and approached me about being in Richard II at the University."
Willis performed in Richard II and subsequently performed in a number of University productions, playing juvenile roles. When he graduated from high school in 1967 and began attending UWP, he continued acting with the theatre department. Although his college career was cut short when he enlisted with the U.S. Army in late 1968, Willis' passion for theatre continued and spread to areas of writing and directing.
"I started writing plays about 15 years ago when I was having trouble finding suitable material for my high school theatre kids," Willis said. "My wife encouraged me to submit one of my plays to a publisher, and to my surprise, they published it."
Since then, Willis has written around 25 plays and currently has two full-length and 14 one-act plays published. His plays range from a full-length Vietnam Agent Orange drama to a one-act comedic spoof on Shakespeare. His latest play, THE ELEVENTH, was published by Heuer Publishing and deals with the events of the September 11 terrorists attacks. While much of his free time is now devoted to writing, he is still actively involved in local theatre.
"I was approached by Platteville High School to be drama director in 1987 and have served in this capacity ever since," Willis said. "I have been artistic director and also served as technical director for the past seven years. In that time, we have done 24 plays, a number of which I have directed and also designed sets and lights."
When Willis is not involved in theatrical endeavors, he works for the city of Platteville as the utility superintendent. He and his wife, Sandy, have been married for 34 years and have three children and five grandchildren.
The Foreigner will be performed at 8 p.m. June 13-14 and June 18-21, with matinee showings at 3 p.m. June 15 and June 22 in the Center for the Arts Theatre. Tickets for The Foreigner are $15 for adults and $8 for students and children under 18 years of age. Tickets are available from the University Box Office, 608-342-1298. Information on other Heartland Festival performances can be obtained through the Heartland Festival website at www.uwplatt.eduhttp://reslife.saf.uwplatt.edu/finearts/heartland.