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Author: Jill Kimball

Notes from 1958: Michael Montel

To celebrate the rich history of the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, we’re sharing stories from actors, directors and crew involved in the very first festival in 1958. This story comes from longtime Broadway and off-Broadway director Michael Montel, pictured here on the left as Cassius in “Julius Caesar.” 

I was born in Manhattan. I was always drawn to acting; I found from an early age that there was no question I wanted to be in the theatre, and acting was the most natural way to begin. I think I saw Laurence Olivier in “Hamlet” and said, “Well, that’s it.”

I was at school at Syracuse [University] when I saw a bulletin board notice about auditions for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. I said, “Gosh, that sounds wonderful.” And so I applied. To my astonishment, I got a scholarship.

I remember getting off the plane [in Denver] and thinking, “I’ve never seen so much space before.” The campus was so gorgeous—all those trees. It just knocked me out.

When we got there, [then-Executive Director] Jack Crouch led us through an orientation to Colorado and the festival, and then we started auditioning. That first summer, I played Cassius in “Julius Caesar,” Laertes in “Hamlet” and a Lord in the introduction of “The Taming of the Shrew.” I had just played Cassius at Syracuse, so I was well prepared.

There were a number of New Yorkers in that first festival. I know there were people from Texas and North Carolina, too. And of course there were lots of Colorado locals. Hanging out with students from all around the country was a big part of the draw. There was a lot of hiking up around the Flatirons, trips up Boulder Canyon and to Central City, working backstage at Red Rocks. We spent a lot of time at The Sink after rehearsals, because that was the only place in the area where you could drink. We all bonded wonderfully. It’s a summer camp kind of thing—you swear undying loyalty, but it doesn’t always last.

I haven’t acted professionally since the 1960s. I was an assistant to [director, producer and Hollywood acting instructor] Milton Katselas, and I would often take small roles or be an understudy to supplement my assistant’s salary. But I realized in college and later in that job that I felt most right about myself as a theatre person when I was directing.

I moved out to Los Angeles in 1968 to be a casting director [at the Mark Taper Forum]. But I think my big break was when I was asked to join the Phoenix Theater in New York as artistic director.

I’m deeply grateful to Colorado and the festival; I learned a lot and it was such extraordinary fun besides. It was a really special time—really a highlight of my life.

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