Michael Poisson came to Barter Theatre in 2001 and became a member of the resident acting company in 2002. By Christmas of 2021, he had been in 131 productions and staged readings at Barter.
Before coming to Abingdon, he had a 25-year career on stage.
“I tried to get a drama club started in high school, and we did produce a play for the school assembly but acting wasn’t something I saw myself doing at that age; that was something that Robert Redford did. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but my mother wanted me to be a teacher. I enjoyed history so when I went to college I majored in history. I knew a couple of guys in the theater department, and they brought me to an audition where they were looking for breathing male bodies for a production of William Saroyan’s ‘The Time of Your Life,’ and I got cast. I got the lead in the next play, and the play after that, and then I changed my major to speech and theater.
“Then, I went to graduate school because I didn’t want to graduate, which is a terrible reason to go to graduate school, but I got to direct and act in more productions and experience summer stock. After graduate school, I worked at a dinner theater in Toledo, Ohio, where I earned my Equity Card, which means I became a member of the professional theater actors’ union. Next, I spent three years in New York, and then moved back to the Boston area to help found a theater company with some friends. I did theater, movie extra and stand-in work, and corporate videos in the Boston area for the next 25 years or so, including five or six years in the long-running murder mystery ‘Shear Madness.’”
When not on stage, Poisson worked as a singing/dancing waiter in Ohio, as a waiter in New York and managed a store in Boston.
He connected with Barter at the American Stage Festival in New Hampshire where he was in a production of “Travels with My Aunt,” which Richard Rose (then producing artistic director at Barter) directed. Rose asked Poisson to audition for Barter and subsequently cast him as Dracula in “Dracula” and Edvard in “Impossible Marriage.”
“For most actors work is few and far between which is what makes working at the Barter so special. It is rare for an actor to have long term employment at a single theater and to be able to make a home.
“We work a lot of hours. Our schedule is six days a week, and we always work nights and weekends, so there’s not a lot of time off when we’re working.
“There’s more insecurity than people probably realize, both in terms of getting cast (when you’re not in a resident acting company) and in terms of putting yourself out there in front of an audience.
“At Barter, I have been given the unique opportunity of playing many different characters in many different types of plays, some of which I might never have gotten to play if I wasn’t in a resident acting company. Most actors would consider it a career to have played only a small handful of the characters I have played since being at Barter,” Poisson says.
He says he’s so fortunate to have worked with his Barter colleagues, onstage and offstage, and to have found a home in repertory theater.
“It’s a unique experience. This kind of job doesn’t exist in other places. Being at Barter has allowed me to have a home and a family. I have always wanted to have a ‘theater home’ and Barter has given me that.
“The reward is the sheer volume of work and number of characters I have gotten to play. It’s fun to get to play two different characters on the same day, sometimes in two different theater spaces.
“The difficulty is the lack of time off and the schedule. I have missed a lot of family time and occasions because you can’t just take a day off. A day off means an understudy has to go in which creates an enormous amount of work for others.
“I, honestly, wasn’t sure what to expect when I first arrived in Abingdon, especially having lived in large cities, but it quickly grew on me and felt like home. Abingdon is a wonderful place to live and raise a family,” he says.
His favorite memories include the privilege of getting to play Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and the fun of getting to play Captain Hook in “Peter Pan.”
“Who knew that I would be able to sword fight with my left hand while wearing high heels and going up stairs backwards at 55 years old? And I loved playing Thenardier in our production of ‘Les Miserables;’ getting to perform it with the Symphony of the Mountains was amazing. And, of course, meeting my wife....
“I have a wife, who I met at Barter, and we have a son. We own a home, and our son has grown up here. Now that he is in high school, I find myself at high school and community events. We have gotten to know so many people in the community through Barter,” he says.
Poisson has advice for young actors who are looking for a career in regional theater. “If you love it and have the fire, just keep going. It won’t be easy, but just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Work on your singing and your dancing. Work on monologues for auditions. Work on any other skill you might have because you never know what might come in handy or what door might open in the future.
“I am very excited to see what the future holds for the Barter in the very capable hands of Katy Brown. I hope that I get to continue to be a part of that future.”