Today we’re branching out and featuring a theatre couple!!!!
Mitch Ellis-Yapp is a local actor residing in the Metro East with his husband Jeffrey and their ridiculous cat Syriana. He is a 2005 graduate of East Central College with an AA in theatre and a very proud recipient of Grace Austin’s tutelage during those formative years. He has also the winner of the first ever Arts for Life Theatre Mask award “Best Leading Actor in a Drama” which he took for his role of John Merrick in The Elephant Man at Looking Glass Playhouse. When not exercising his theatrical craft, he can be found supporting his latest addiction at Eckert’s Garden Center in Belleville, IL where he feverishly grooms and maintains a host of various plants available for purchase. He is a self-proclaimed plant hoarder and Jeffrey will attest to this.
Jeffrey Yapp-Ellis has an extensive background in theatre and production, including a degree in theatre performance from SIUE. Most recently he was nominated for an AFL BPA award for his choreography in CHICAGO with Curtain’s Up Theater Co. in Edwardsville. He has consulted with several themed entertainment projects through U-Studios in Illinois and Paidia Parks in Louisiana. He lives in Fairview Heights, Illinois with his husband Mitch, their cat Syriana, and several hundred adopted plants and flowers.
Q: What was your first experience in theatre?
Mitch: My very first experience I can recall was all the way back in 1st grade. My class performed a short musical in front of the other students. I don’t remember the show distinctly, but I recall it involving a train and I think I played a farmer. (Something appropriate for a tiny farming community.) I also remember having a solo in that performance, which was a big deal because I was one of the ONLY males who was bold enough to sing in front of others and I could actually match pitch!
Jeffrey: I was five years old in a church Christmas play. I had one line and I was supposed to spill a glass of milk. I was so excited to be on stage- I forgot to do both.
Q: What is the best piece of career advice anyone has ever given you?
Mitch: I remember it was after one of the dress rehearsals for “Beauty and the Beast” – which you directed, Grace. I was playing Gaston. Marci Franklin, our costumer, approached me. Marci was always kind of reserved around me and hadn’t really said much other than what she needed to. I expected her to tell me that I had ripped a seam on the costume she had spent countless hours preparing or that I looked like an idiot waving these fabricated muscles around, which were necessary since I didn’t have any of my own, so it really took me by surprise when she grabbed me by the shoulders, looked me straight in the eyes and said, “You need to keep doing this. PLEASE. Please.” I was so taken aback by her insistence! Like I said, Marci hadn’t really said much to me on a personal level before that moment that I wasn’t even sure that she liked me as a person or even took notice of my performance. I was immediately touched and I can still hear her voice ringing in my head from time to time. Thank you, Marci. I very much intend to heed your advice.
Jeffrey: Always treat every single person you work with- onstage, offstage, backstage- with the utmost of respect. Today’s stage hand is tomorrow’s producer. And besides- it’s the best way to live your life.
Q: Tell us about a backstage or onstage mishap you lived through.
Mitch: Oh, boy. This one was actually just last year… Jeffrey and I were both working on the show “Chicago” with Curtain’s Up Theater Company in Edwardsville, IL. Jeffrey was the choreographer and I was cast as Billy Flynn – the scoundrel lawyer. During the conceptualization process, Jeffrey had a moment where he had a bright idea, turned to me and said, “Ooh! Wouldn’t it be cool if during Razzle Dazzle, Billy Flynn was performing all these magic tricks?” Knowing full well that I was going to be responsible for said magic tricks, I was not convinced. However, Jeffrey pitched the idea to our producer, Carol Hodson, and she immediately LOVED it and I knew I was screwed. The next the thing knew, there were several little packages sitting in front of me, filled with the objects which would undoubtedly be my demise onstage. I opened them to find several strange items which either contained instructions written in badly broken English, or simply left in Chinese with crudely drawn pictures as a method of demonstration. From one box, a spray of faux flowers came erupting and I spent several minutes picking them up only to have them burst out again because I did not know how to properly fasten them. From another box, a magically appearing cane erupted and flew across the room with enough force to harpoon a whale. At that moment, I was ready to just turn on the oven and place my head inside. Jeffrey must have sensed my distress because he came to find me with a shower of paper flowers around my feet and an exasperated look on my face. While most people would expect an offering of sympathy or at least encouragement, he looked at me and in his best Tim Gunn impression he shrugged and said, “Make it work!”
Let me tell you, there was fear amongst the crowd that Billy Flynn might just turn Roxie Hart at that moment. But time progressed, Jeffrey was allowed to live, and I practiced religiously with those accursed contraptions. It was truly harrowing. Every time I thought I had it figured out, something else would go wrong. Even during our final dress rehearsal one of my canes malfunctioned and I had to improvise right in the beginning of the song! So, on our opening night I mentally prepared myself for the disaster that was sure to follow and tried to prepare ways to play off mistakes as though they were part of the show. The cues lines were delivered, the music began, I held the appearing came tightly in my pocket while sending up a multitude of prayers to whatever gods would listen, and then the tricks went off… perfectly… Every. Single. Night. I still can’t believe it. When the final trick was delivered for the final time, I couldn’t help but feel a slight smile creep across my lips and I felt my heart do a tap dance of pure joy and celebration. And I vowed to never attempt those damned tricks ever again!!!
Jeffrey: I’ve had so many- but I did 104 performances of JOSEPH…DREAMCOAT on the Goldenrod many years ago. One performance happened during a particularly stormy night- tornadoes spotted North, East, AND south an hour before curtain. They passed by, but the stormy night would cause the boat to rise and fall pretty sharply. You’d go to do a turn or a jump, and the stage floor wasn’t “where you left it”
Q: What is your dream role?
Mitch: Hedwig of Hedwig and the Angry Inch. I like dark and edgy Theatre, and I have always been deeply attracted to characters with a tragic story. Call me morbid, but I feel more strongly for them than I do for the happy-go-lucky types. There is something about them that just seems so much more real. I have never been interested in performing in drag, even though I have had to do it a couple of times, it just doesn’t really suit me. I have spent my entire life trying to carve out a masculine identity that everyone can recognize with one glance that dressing up as a woman seems counterintuitive. I was fairly androgynous as a child. Who isn’t? But in my case, it was a bit of a lasting problem. I have some deep psychological scars from those years when people would tease me and call me “queer”, or “girl”. I knew I wasn’t a girl and I had no interest in being one, and I wanted everyone else to recognize that as well. And then to realize during my college years that I WAS queer… Such a roller coaster!
I think this role would be good for me, not only because I feel I somehow identify with the character, but because my experience has led me to feel compassion for those who feel trapped in the wrong gender, those who identify with no gender, and those who are tragically caught somewhere in between. Plus, the score is totally bitchin’ and it is right in my range!!!
Jeffrey: I’ve played most of them, but right now I really want to play Nixon in Frost/Nixon.
Q: What is your current guilty TV Pleasure?
Mitch: “Stranger Things” was recently released on Netflix. I have already binge-watched the entire season in a single night. I adored it! If you like suspenseful shows with a supernatural horror twist, the 80’s, Winona Ryder or just need something to keep you entertained before the next season of Orange is the New Black, I offer you this sci-fi gem to keep your attention satisfied for a week, or – if you’re like me – for a night!
Jeffrey: Just about any Netflix original. Sense8, Stranger Things, Orange is the New Black, House of Cards. I day dream about guest starring in any of them.
Thank you SO much for being our first couple feature!!!
Grace Austin is an STL area director and educator. See her work at gracemaustin.com