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GETTING ‘SWOLE’ FOR THE ROLE

by Lenise Willis

When actor Michael Ackerman heard about a chance to be on stage in his underwear, he didn’t just take it; he took it above and beyond.

The role is part of Twin City Stage’s Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, an adult comedy about three two middle-aged sisters and their brother (Vanya), two of which never left the confines of their childhood town. And then there’s Masha, who’s been traveling the world as a successful actress and has now come home with a delectable young boy toy.

That’s where Ackerman comes in. He’s performing as the confident 20-something stud, which means he first needed to whip himself into shape. As soon as he heard that Twin City Stage was doing the show, he started hitting the gym to develop his physique before the auditions.

“Christopher Durang makes it plain in the script that Spike looks good sans clothing,” Ackerman said. “And Billy Magnussen, the talented School of the Arts alumni who originated the role on Broadway, set the bar extremely high in the body department, so I felt like I had to get in decent shape to do the part justice.”

Director Jim McKeny said that it was a requirement for actors to remove their shirts as part of the audition.

“Michael had no compunctions concerning removing his shirt so that we could assess his ‘characteristics,'” McKeny said. “I must say the females in attendance were quite vocal in their appreciation.”

Although Ackerman already lifted weights at Gold’s Gym downtown about two to three times a week, he increased his workouts to five to six times a week a few months before auditions and gave up junk food, too.

“I miss chips and cookies, he said. “I grow wistful at the mere thought of pizza, but we had to part ways. No more late-night trips to Cookout for burgers and milkshakes either. Instead I stick to healthy, protein-packed foods like chicken, eggs, and peanut butter.”

From his extra efforts, Ackerman lost about 15 pounds and put on a bit of muscle, too.

And although he intends to keep eating relatively healthy after the show, he has his sights on a few junky favorites that he can’t wait to chow down on.

“I’ve actually written down a list of all the different kinds of junk food I’m going to gorge on the week after the show closes,” he said. “It will be glorious. Picture a grown man sobbing tears of joy as he stuffs his face with pizza.”

The surprising factor about the man behind the charming hotshot isn’t his dedication, but that he’s actually a librarian.

“I’m nothing at all like Spike,” Ackerman said. “We’re complete polar opposites. He’s this outspoken, confident, hypersexual stud

muffin and I’m more of the shy, self-effacing bookworm variety. He’s the life of the party and I’m the wallflower.”

And although this “shy” guy may keep a low profile by day in the library, apparently he can flip the switch to quite the colorful character by night.

“This ain’t my first naked rodeo,” he said. “I’ve been down to my skivvies on stage a couple of times before and went the full monty in a production of Equus at UNC Asheville back when I was 18. My friends have a hard time grasping the idea of mild-mannered Michael running about all-the-way, balls-out nude on stage in front of hundreds of people, but it happened.”

“I think there are many introverted actors and actresses out there for whom theatre provides a crucial outlet,” he explained. “If I didn’t have a means of venting all those pent-up emotions, exorcising those personal demons, I’d either burst or quietly go insane.”

As for what the audience can expect, it’s going to be a very thrilling, funny and sexy show, intended for adult audiences only, of course. The girls in the crowd are definitely going to get an extra treat from this wild performance. And as for Ackerman’s family, well they have something else in store.

“It’s going to feel a mite odd performing this role in front of my mom and dad and my big sister Janelle,” Ackerman admitted. “They’re all coming to see the show opening night, and they have no clue what’s in stor e for them.” !

WANNA go?

Performances of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike run May 29-31 and June 4-7 at the Arts Council Theatre, 610 Coliseum Drive, Winston-Salem. Ticket are $25. For tickets and more information visit twincitystage.org or call 725-4001.

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