If you attend one of the Jenks Vocal Music performances of the “Wizard of Oz” on March 2-5, you won’t see Michael Fling in costume, but you will see his vision come to life on stage. Only six years removed from graduating from Jenks High School, Fling has returned to the place where he first fell in love with the theatre to direct the JHS spring musical and inspire the next generation of young performers. In this week’s “Where Are They Now? Wednesday” profile, Fling reveals more about his path to becoming a director and why it means so much to him to be able to give back at Jenks.
How did your time at Jenks Public Schools prepare you for a career in theatre arts?
Fling: Simply put, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the Theatre Department as well as the Vocal Music Department at Jenks High School. Kevin Hurst, who is still the Head Director of Theatre, absolutely pushed me to work harder and read plays & books. He really cultivated my love of theatre and in many ways can take credit for the foundation of my directing education. Meanwhile Larry Downey, former Director of Vocal Music, was making me fall in love with music and dance and how that could all work together to create a musical. So there is no way I would be where I am without their inspirational teaching.
What are some of your favorite memories from your time as a Jenks student?
Fling: You know, I always loved getting to perform in the musicals and my senior year musical “Curtains” remains one of the highlights of my life. As well “Much Ado About Nothing” which was the play my senior year. I had such a fun time with both of the characters I played in those. It might be stereotypical, but my best memories all revolve around my peers and the teachers that I was lucky enough to be around every day.
Did you dream of being one of the actors/performers on stage or did you always have ambitions of becoming a director?
Fling: When I was younger, I knew ultimately I wanted to direct and I figured that the only way to do that was by performing first. As I grew up, I learned I could start directing at a much earlier age if that is what I said I wanted to do and so I really doubled down on it and went to school for it. Actually, I don’t really miss performing. It really can be fun, but I find it immensely more stressful. And I can’t imagine doing it as my career. I think even if I had pursued it, I would have quickly moved to the path I am on now.
How would you describe the rush or the sense of gratification you feel from watching your work and your vision take shape on stage?
Fling: There are few things in this world that I love more than getting to watch a show. Any show. So when I’m with people who are engaged in watching a production I’ve directed, By the time we actually get to performance, I am so ready for people to see what we have in store that in some ways I think I am more excited than the actors because I can’t wait for them to show off THEIR performances and their show, because really it belongs to them. All that said, the easiest way to describe it is my brain goes into overdrive. I notice every little thing and it is as if I am watching the show for the first time. I usually end up watching the show SO HARD that I have a headache at the end because I have been so hyper-focused on what was happening on stage and how people are reacting. It really is the most wonderful and horrible feeling in the world.
What was your favorite play/show to direct and why?
Fling: Well, I have many favorites…and each production is special for its own reasons, but I have to say that I am still enormously proud of my Senior Capstone Project while I was in college. I directed “HONK!” which is a small, heartwarming retelling of “The Ugly Duckling” and I continue to be proud of that one. It was really my directorial debut in a lot of ways and we did it on no money and it is just such a beautiful little show. I love that one with my whole heart.
How did you wind up back at Jenks to direct “The Wizard of Oz”?
Fling: I have been helping produce the musical for about 5 years now, and so when Reagan (the current head of the Vocal Music Department) knew she was going to be on maternity leave she asked me if I would be interested in coming back to finally direct the show. I couldn’t resist!
What has it been like working with the JHS students?
Fling: It has really been an eye opening experience. I’m constantly blown away by their commitment and talent. Plus they are such hard workers and there really is no substitute for that. At the end of the day, they’re all good and kind young adults. So it really has been a pleasure to create this production with them.
What can people expect when they come to see “The Wizard of Oz” performances on March 2-5?
Fling: People can expect to see a show like they have never seen on the Jenks High School stage. Between the flying and the New York designed sets and costumes to the incredible students onstage and off, it really is confirming that there is no place like Jenks!
What is next for you both personally and professionally?
Fling: I go back to New York after the run of the show and I am there for a couple weeks to get caught up on everything Broadway, and then I go to Goodspeed Opera House to be the Associate Director of a brand new production of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” which will be directed by Denis Jones who just finished the Broadway production of “Holiday Inn.”
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