Working without a net, playing with fire

It is not unusual to find a college student working to fund his college education or to have dreams of the theater. But there is something about how Islander grad and UW junior Mickey Rowe is going about it that makes it rather unique.

Instead of waiting tables or wielding a rake for a landscaper, Rowe stays high above the action. He works while standing on stilts or juggling while riding a six-foot unicycle. On his perch, he uses all of his skills and talents to help pay for a chance of a lifetime; a chance to work with a prestigious theater company that has trained the likes of Meryl Streep and August Wilson.

Rowe has been accepted to the National Theater Institute, a highly competitive program at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center. Rowe credits his high school education acting here at home at Mercer Island High School, as well as his work at Seattle Children’s Theater, Seattle Opera, and the University of Washington. That work he said, “has helped to get me every opportunity I have received.”

The Eugene O’Neill’s National Theater Institute is a 14-week program with classes seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Two weeks of the semester are spent abroad or in New York City with Royal Shakespeare Company in London, in Russia training with master teachers from the Moscow Art Theater School, the Vakhtangov School and the St. Petersburg Theater Arts Academy; or to New York City to work with Anne Bogart’s SITI Company.

Named for the playwright, Eugene O’Neill, the theater school was the recipient of the 2010 Tony Award for Regional Theater and has created such Broadway shows as Avenue Q, In the Heights, Nine, Fences, and Ma Rainies Black Bottom.

To raise money, Rowe has been twisting balloons on stilts and juggling lit torches on his unicycle all summer to attend the program which starts early September. So far he has come up with $13,000 of the $20,000 tuition for the Institute

Rowe’s philosophy fits right in with that of the institute who’s motto is “Risk. Fail. Risk Again.”

“I am definitely at risk juggling fire on a unicycle taller than I am,” he said without irony.

Rowe is also a student at the University of Washington. He cannot use standard student loans to pay for the Institute training. “Because the acting program is a conservatory that does not deliver a degree on top of my degree from UW where I am a student at the School of Drama,” he explained. “Student loans can’t be used towards the National Theater Institute.”

“I am hoping beyond hope I will be able to make the rest of the tuition before the program starts September 2,” Rowe said.

Rowe has been busy since he graduated from Mercer Island High School in 2007. He has performed in eight productions with the Seattle Opera: Barber of Seville, Billy Budd, Tosca, Fallstaff, Turn of the Screw, Der Rosenkavalier, La Boheme, and I Puritani. He has also been in four productions with Seattle Children’s Theater, the second largest professional theater for young audiences in the country: High School Musical, Star Girl, The Wizard of Oz, and Night of the Living Dead.

He has also created original work at both the Edinburgh Fringe Festival winning best newcomer award, and with the Washington Ensemble Theater of which in an article on the company in American Theatre Magazine Lane Czaplinski said “…some of the freshest theatre in the Pacific Northwest.”

As well as being a skilled trained actor first and foremost, Rowe, also has singing and, as they say in the theater, “extensive movement experience.” He is a skilled tumbler, stilt walker, unicyclist, juggler, tight rope walker, fire breather, and puppeteer.

Through it all, Rowe is humble and hopeful: “I am so lucky and grateful to have been accepted into the National Theater Institute.”

Want to help?

If you are interested in hiring Mickey to work a birthday party, or other event, contact him at: or 206 954-6568.

Visit his Web site at: