Mike Elkins has been interested in acting since high school.
Photo by William Cracraft

Mike Elkins started out as a lot of theater people do, performing in high school. “I did all sorts of theater. I was one of those people who was blessed, in the early seventies, with a high school program in a school district in Sacramento that supported a summer musical theater program for students.

I’m one of those classic cases or whom performing and getting into drama class in high school was a way of dealing with a whole bunch of personal changes. Our family moved a lot. I was in many different schools, moving from Indiana to Sacramento to L.A,” he said.

His mother recommended he take a drama class. “Well, that was it. By the end of the semester I was doing scenes and started a drama club. There was very little question from then on that was going to be my major co-curricular activity,” said Elkins.

The transition from performer to organizer came one roasting hot afternoon. While enrolled at Sacramento State University he found himself constructing huge trees for a production of Peter Pan in a cement quad that was 110 degrees during the day. “We actually had to stop work between noon and five o’clock, then we’d come back,” he said.

Meanwhile, a buddy was working the publicity office. “I would go in on my break and he would be sitting there in the air­conditioned office looking at publicity photos and typing up press releases and I said, ‘So, who’s stupid,’ ” Elkins said.

“The following year I made sure I got my application in early and got a job in administration, but more importantly I found that I had a real curiosity and a knack for the work. People would say, ‘How do we get publicity for our show?’ and I would say, ‘Why don’t I pick up the phone and call the TV station.’ “

Elkins’ curiosity about arts management grew. He followed his buddy, Bob from the publicity office, to San Francisco State. “When I found out that it was an enormous, wonderful theater department, I was excited as anythimg,” Elkins said.

“I was house manager for all the events, string quartets, anything.” Elkins supported himself in the traditional manner by working as a short-order cook and delivering one of the university’s two newspapers.

Elkins ran across a man named Kip Bacon, who became his mentor. Bacon was theater manager for SFSU’s theater department, supervising the box office, house management and promotion, and teaching arts management classes. “I just thought his job was sent from heaven,” said Elkins.

The practical side of Elkins began to be heard “I realized this was more than just romance. There were a lot of nuts and bolts that I did not know.” He took business and public relations classes, and qualified for a minor in business.

He had also met the woman he was to marry and together they began looking for a graduate program in arts management. “Out of the blue another college from Sacramento came walking through the Little Theater lobby at State,” said Elkins.

That chance meeting led to his attending Penn State University’s arts management program on a scholarship and assistantship. His assistantship of 15 hours turned to 60 hours and he was to be publicity director with the added bonus of his own off­set press. Theater continued to draw him along. He made a trip to New York to help staff a Broadway audition. Driving in from Pennsylvania, he arrived near midnight on an unseasonably sultry April night.

“I was staying at the Taft Hotel which was right across from the theater that had The ‘I King and I in it, with Yul Brenner. I remember running over to the window, opening it up, calling my wife and saying,

‘Listen!’ “

On the same trip he was called into the theater from his post outside the door to read with an actor Elkins had seen on stage in San Francisco.

“What that said to me was that a little human being, who grew up in suburban Sacramento, from Mira Loma High School, can read Anne with Stephen Lehew in Equity Auditions at the Ansonia Hotel on Times Square. It can happen,” he said.

At Penn State, Elkins changed courses and took more classes to compress the three-year program into two. Along the way he and his wife married.

They loaded up the car and returned to the Bay Area, only to find that Proposition 13 had dealt a serious blow to theater programs in the area. He came to CND as an admissions counselor.

“I fell in love with the college,” he said, but, “after all the time I put in to theater I was dead set on finding a theater position.” He spent a year at the American Conservatory Theater helping with publicity and management, but his job duties changed and he began looking around.

In 1978, CND offered him a position managing the auditorium. It wasn’t a full-time position, so he filled out the other half taking care of special programs and recruiting new students.

“At the same time when I re­turned from ACT, theater department head Don Titlow told me when he had occasional teaching opportunities he would see if I could fit into the schedule. The first thing I taught was theater history,” Elkins said.

Kathi Sigelman is a drama department graduate and a drama teacher at Carlmont High School. She started in drama as a senior in high school.

She started at CND as a liberal studies major, but was drawn into the drama department. While a drama department a friend from high school was sweeping stages in Los Angeles, she was stage managing at CND.

That’s when she decided to switch her major. “Mike took over as head of the theater department in my junior year. He’s challenging; he makes you really examine where you’re going,” she said.

Sigelman did a stint with the American Conservatory Theater and turned down an internship in San Diego at the Old Globe Theatre. Instead she went to Idaho to work at the Idaho Shakespeare Festival.

“Mike and I talked a long time about it. I’m from San Diego, so I could have lived at home and the Old Globe is one of the top national theater companies, but I needed to go away and Mike really supported that,” she said.

“Mike is very geared to his students and to what his students’ needs are,” Sigelman said.

This article was written by William Cracraft/Freelance News Service and first published in 1998 in the 75th Anniversary Edition tabloid published by Alameda News Paper Group. Any accompanying photos were also taken by William Cracraft. It is reproduced here as a portfolio piece.


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