Who are you, and what do you do?
My name is Mitch Atkins, I have been with Disney for a bit over 25 years, the last number as a Senior Technical Director with Disney Creative Entertainment, where I get to oversee the build of major parades and shows. My wife and I also founded Musical Theatre Orange County, a youth-focused theater company about 13 years ago. We produce one large production each summer. This summer it’s Disney’s Mary Poppins. Our idea when we started was to give youth an opportunity to perform in a very high production value show. And what we have found is that they really rise to the occasion, and quite frankly the audience more often than not, walks away having no idea that they just saw a youth production.
What made you want to do what you do? How did you get to where you are today?
I was fortunate enough to go to a junior high school that had a real theatre. An actual proscenium space with a Technical Director/Teacher. It was just the coolest thing to be able to help bring shows to life, it was magic. Learning stagecraft continued into high school and beyond. I guess I never looked back. Along the way learning electronics, lighting, audio and special effects, I found myself ultimately leading a bunch of really talented people to create magic together.
What has been your favourite past project/performance so far, and why?
Well, since I love them all, I tend not to look too far beyond what we are about to do, or very far back to what we just did last year. I have to say that our production of Tarzan last summer was a beautiful surprise. Not only were we able to premiere a show that doesn’t get done often enough, but had never been done in our county. It was just such a beautiful story of adventure and family. The music by Phil Collins drove the story in a very powerful way. But the kicker was when we had multiple audience members thinking that they just saw the touring version of the show, and wanted to know where we were playing next.
Do you have a “war story” from your performing past that you’d be willing to share?
Well, a couple of years ago we did Hairspray. We like to build our own sets, since it is difficult to find sets of the size and quality that we are looking for. But that year there was another company that wanted to build our design for their production that was to open a few weeks after our show, then we would rent from them. The weeks ticked away with my inquiries for progress pictures, etc. I finally had to drive for 3 hours to get to where they were “building” the sets, to basically find little more than a few pieces of lumber on the ground. They never built ANYTHING. So we ended up having to build our sets in 2 1/2 weeks. The sets and the show turned out amazing!
What’s coming up next for you? Do you have a project on the go, or one coming up in the near future?
Hmm, well I wish I could talk more about the upcoming projects with my day job, but suffice it to say that there are some really exciting things coming up for Disney (and fans of Disney). As for Musical Theatre Orange County, it’s really all about Mary Poppins (which I guess is about Disney too). We are really excited to bring this magical show to the stage. Not only another premiere in our area, but also to be able to give this show the production value it deserves, and with a cast that is on fire to bring the heart and magic of this story to life.
What are your goals for the future?
A very good question that I wish I had a fully fleshed out answer to. But it seems that as I progress through life, the paths that open to me are not always the ones that I originally had in my head. Of course always being the type wanting to control my own destiny, I find it sometimes best to be open to the doors that present themselves as opportunities.
What words of advice would you give to a young person who would like to do what you do and follow in your footsteps?
If they think they want to get into entertainment / theatre, I would tell them to get out and “pay your dues,” work for free, listen, learn. See if this is something they really enjoy. Because the reality is that they actually be doing it for free (or close to it) for some time before it pays off.
The other advice is the same thing I tell my kids, and even my grandson just the other day. It sounds cliché, but find something that you fully enjoy. Do that. The rest will come. I have been blessed to have fallen into something that I truly enjoy doing, that just so happens to have been a respectable living as well. I wish the same for all other aspiring entertainment production folks. Because making magic is kind of rewarding…
Where can we find you online?
Thank you so much for sharing, Mitch!
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