Profile Q&A: Theater veteran Cassie Mann talks acting, directing and community theatre

Cassie Mann has been either on the stage or behind the curtain in the Ann Arbor theatre scene decades. She retired from the position of Program Director at Ann Arbor Civic Theatre and currently works part time as the marketing coordinator for Therapeutic Riding, Inc. Mann, 60, who recently directed A2CT’s production of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike,” answered questions for WLAA about her acting, directing and community theater. 

Let’s start at the beginning. When did you catch the acting bug?
“I was 16 and tried out for A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Pioneer High School, and I was hooked!”

What is it about acting that makes your heart pump and soul jump?
“Acting is an opportunity to explore the world from another person’s perspective. It is also a way to dig into another’s soul and figure out what makes them tick. I was very shy as a kid, so for me, it was a way to express myself without having to BE myself.”

What is the most recent time you’ve been on stage?
“My most recent acting role was Emily in Redbud Productions’ A Small Fire. Most recent directing gig was Sylvia for A2CT in 2016. Alas, I have not played Peaseblossom since high school, but I did just see Pioneer’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the same theater (Pioneer’s Little Theater).”

Favorite role you’ve played?
“Bunny in The House of Blue Leaves with A2CT.”

What is the state of acting today compared to when you first stepped on the stage?
“I think acting is timeless. What I do appreciate is that more women are writing plays that are being produced, and consequently there are more roles for women that are deep, realistic and thoughtful. I also like the trend now of gender-blind casting.”

Where do you see community theater and where is it headed?
“Community theater is in a tough spot right now. Most community theaters have low budgets and used to rely on newspapers for promotion and exposure. Locally, we’ve basically lost our print newspaper, and even the online version has no local arts coverage. Ann Arbor Civic Theatre is a valuable resource for our community. It offers lots of opportunities for people onstage and backstage, and is totally open to anyone. It also offers classes and workshops, and the Junior Theatre program gives kids of all ages and income levels the opportunity to learn about and experience live theater, which is often a life-changing experience for them.”

What advice would you give your younger self – like the song, “wish I knew what I know now, when I was  younger”?
“I think I would tell my younger self to take more chances. I would often shy away from auditioning or applying for a job unless it seemed like my chances for success were good. I think I missed out on opportunities by second-guessing myself.”

What are you most proud of with Ann Arbor Civic Theatre?
“I’m most proud of the almost 15 years I co-managed A2CT with Suzi Peterson Steward.”

What were your roles with A2CT?
“Suzi and I were on the Board as employees of the organization—I was the Program Director and Suzi was the Managing Director. I think retiring as the managers was positive for me, at least; non-profit work is stressful and not monetarily rewarding, so burnout is inherent. I think Suzi and I left before we became bitter, and we still love A2CT and volunteer a lot.”

What are your theater goals and have they changed over the years?
“I used to feel I always had to be involved in a theater project to feel fulfilled, but over the years I’ve learned to pick and choose projects more carefully. It’s really important to me now that I have a good time with whatever project I’m involved in, and when I direct, it’s really important to me that my cast and crew enjoy themselves as well.”

Tell me about directing and the rewards and challenges that come it?
“I love directing! I think I’ve come to enjoy directing more than acting. I love reading a script and having it speak to me; the process of bringing a script to “life” is extremely rewarding. I think the challenges are in balancing the vision of the playwright with my own vision. It’s important to me to honor the intentions of the playwright while putting my own “stamp” on the production.

For more information on Ann Arbor Civic Theatre:

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