At the end of his senior year, Michael Wood '06 had the challenging and rewarding theatrical experience to which many Bowdoin thespians aspire; Wood embarked on an independent study in which he directed a production of The Laramie Project, the widely celebrated play about the reaction to the 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay student at the University of Wyoming.
"It really was the culmination of all of my years at Bowdoin," Wood said. "I began working with the piece in Acting I with Professor Davis Robinson during the end of the semester scene work."
Wood said, "I remember going right up to the stacks and holing myself up. I read the play and I completely fell in love with it."
Wood's passion for the play intensified during his time at Bowdoin—by the time he was in the directing class he had developed a real "emotional connection to it."
"Working with the play at that point in my Bowdoin career was especially interesting, as it was tied to the gay and lesbian studies classes I was taking... I became really invested in researching the true stories of Matthew Shepard and the facts of the case," he said.
"By senior year I was ready to go with my proposal to direct the show. Really, I had been formulating ideas for so long now and it all just fell into place."
Having the opportunity to direct, as opposed to act or dance in the production, was a new and challenging role for Wood.
"In some ways, it was more fulfilling because of the amount of work that went into it. I wasn't just in charge of lines but really I had been prepping for two and a half years."
Wood explained that his experience with The Laramie Project was especially rewarding because of the relationship he had cultivated with the arts community while at Bowdoin. The power and importance of that community was one that he had felt from his first days on the Bowdoin campus.
Wood said he also values his years at Bowdoin because they tested and reaffirmed his passion for the arts.
"My junior year was an interesting experience for me because I really took a step away from the arts while studying abroad," Wood said. "At the time it was fine because I was doing lots of other things, but it was so nice to come back to Bowdoin and reconnect with the theater community and have the ability to perform again. At that point I was kind of still testing out my love and passion for performing and doing theatre: I knew I loved it but I didn't know I needed it."
"Looking back, I really didn't know that I would pursue the arts as fully as I did at Bowdoin or as fully as I did after Bowdoin," Wood said of his artistic journey.
Upon graduating, Wood fully pursued his passion for the arts, first capitalizing on an opportunity to study at l'&EACUTE;cole Internationale de Thétre Jacques Lecoq in Paris for six months, after which he moved to Boston and joined a small theater company.
"Boston is a great place to do professional theater in a smaller format. And so I spent two years in Boston and just did show after show after show of acting, dancing, and singing as a company member in the Gold Dust Orphans," he said.
"While at Bowdoin I kept telling myself that if I was going to keep doing theater I needed to make sure it was something I was passionate about. And so I worked myself to the bone and I found out it was something I was truly passionate about," he added.
After two years in Boston testing this theory, Wood returned once again to Paris for a two-week workshop in the company of the world-renowned stage director Ariane Mnouchkine.
"It was the chance of a lifetime," Wood explained. "Every stage performer dreams to be in this space—and it was a dream that continued for me when I was asked to stay on after the workshop for a month and a half to audition for the company."
"Working with that company was something out of a fantasy," said Wood. "I dropped everything I had in Boston to do that. It was just so amazing that this woman, this director and her company that I had so much respect and awe for saw enough in me to keep me around."
"It was one of the most challenging experiences ever. Every day I woke up ready and excited to do what I was doing, which was the ultimate sign to myself that I wanted to be doing theater."
"Eventually, I was told that I wasn't going to be a company member, which was a little heartbreaking, but all part of being an actor. I would never trade in that experience that I had."
Back in the U.S., Wood took the opportunity to separate himself from theater and reflect. Once again he scrutinized if, why and how acting was fulfilling him and keeping him happy.
"This past fall I returned to Boston to work again with the Gold Dust Orphans. They are a great company. I have just as much respect for them as I do for the company in Paris, even though they are just about polar opposites. They have this very loyal audience—and I can honestly say they are one of the best and most original theatre companies you can find in Boston," he said.
"Looking ahead, I have to say I'm just taking it as it comes. My big goal is to be able to travel while performing. I don't know how or when that will happen, whether it will be soon or in twenty years, but it is my dream," he added.
"If there is any advice I can give," Wood explained, "it is to take advantage of the immediate support and encouragement inherent to Bowdoin as a small community. At Bowdoin there will always be people there, people telling you you're doing a good job—people, for example, who're just getting out of a science test who say they are so excited to come to your show. There is this immediate sense of encouragement at Bowdoin that is invaluable and that you have to realize when you are out in a bigger city you don't get as often."
"Bowdoin really gave me a sense of self-worth. [It] gave me the willingness to try new things and the knowledge that I have a lot of people who have supported me in the past so there is no reason not to support myself," said Wood.