Mike Ward’s year of living/dying dangerously

Consider the last couple years in the life of local director Mike Ward. He received a San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Award nomination for best director and he was nominated for the prestigious Ockrent Fellowship for Broadway. Oh, and he almost died several times.

Ward says he had a “white light” experience during what he calls his “Year of Living/Dying Dangerously.”

“I didn’t realize it was one because I would have never lit or costumed the scene that way!” Ward says, his sense of humor still clearly intact.

While continuing to work in theater, Ward has fought a number of cancers, and this past fall, he had major surgery described as “curative” for his surgically targeted cancers. Ward is still living with hepatocelluar carcinoma, but the disease has been in remission for more than two years. He continues to work as a mentor to actors and writers and is creating what he’s calling an “absurd tragicomedy” that deals with his adventures with cancer. The project, as he puts it, is “more comedy, less tragi.”

The Ockrent nomination, named for British director Mike Ockrent, who died in 1993 from leukemia, was a big deal for Ward.

“The nomination allowed me to take a good look at what being in the theater means to me,” he says. “The process of the Ockrent Fellowship involves an essay, and I was able to review what I’ve done and where I am. It helped me realize that this is my time and that there is much ahead for me. Being engaged in the act of creation is life-renewing, life-affirming, and it helped pull me through a very harrowing year.”

An accomplished writer, director and choreographer, Ward has worked at the Magic Theatre and TheatreWorks among other theaters, and Ward he had his own company with San Francisco playwright Tom W. Kelly called Isis Arts Collective.

Ward recently found out that he was not selected for the Ockrent Fellowship for Broadway, which would have put him to work on the Broadway revival of Promises Promises. But he says he’s grateful for the process.

“It allowed me to sit with what theatre means to me, where I belong in it and where I’m looking at going,” he says. “It made me realize how vital theater is to my life.”

George Furth, a mentor and friend to Ward, would frequently remind him, “It’s not enough to have talent. You have to have a talent for having talent, and you have that.”

While Ward ponders what Furth means by that, the director is satisfied with his journey of late, even with all its ups and downs. “The Ockrent Fellowship and the BATCC let me know that I’m where I should be,” he says, “and I’m heading toward the next place I’m going to.”


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