This summer I’m checking in with theater artists who spent time in Cincinnati. This week it’s a twofer, husband-and-wife director Michael Haney and actress Amy Warner. They became Cincinnati theater mainstays in 2002, when Haney became the Playhouse’s associate artistic director.
“My husband’s job at the Cincinnati Playhouse took me, somewhat reluctantly, from Venice Beach to Cincinnati,” Warner says. She came with the understanding that they would stay for about three years and then return to L.A. “We stayed longer — but that turned out to be pretty great.”
Their 12 years here were a double blessing for Cincinnati theaters, since Warner acted on numerous local stages and Haney directed shows for the Playhouse and other theaters. He and Warner truly cross-pollinated the theater community here — mostly at house parties they hosted for theater artists working for the many different companies in the city, Haney says.
But in 2012, Blake Robison became artistic director at the Playhouse and Haney’s role changed. Although he still directs productions for the Playhouse, since 2015 Haney and Warner have both been based in the Minneapolis/St. Paul region.
“I’m still part of the Playhouse under Blake’s expanded artistic staff, but I’m now one of four ‘artistic associates,’ ” Haney says. “I had more freedom. I no longer had to keep office hours. Amy yearned to be in her hometown of Minneapolis with her mother and three brothers.”
So they now live in the farmhouse where Warner grew up in Wayzata, Minn. on the western edge of the Twin Cities. Haney returns frequently to Cincinnati for work at the Playhouse and other local theaters, and he’s guest directed all over America, from Anchorage to St. Louis to New York City.
And work is coming their way in Minnesota. Warner and Haney were invited to do Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play Happy Days. “That was a shocking, out-of-the-blue, wonderful surprise,” Warner says.
Haney directed and Warner played a chattering woman who talked non-stop for two acts. (They recently exported Happy Days to Cincinnati for a two-week run by the Diogenes Theatre Company at the Aronoff Center’s Fifth Third Bank Theater.)
In Cincinnati, Haney’s greatest artistic feat has been with the Playhouse’s A Christmas Carol, which he’s staged for 24 years (after playing Bob Cratchit in its debut in 1991). He also handled several world premieres there, as well as many recent off-Broadway shows. Haney did equally memorable work for Ensemble Theatre Company, especially Tribes (2013) and An Iliad (2014).
Warner acted with Cincinnati Shakespeare Company, Ensemble Theatre and New Stage Collective.
“I’m grateful for all the plays I was lucky enough to do in Cincinnati,” she says, especially recalling Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Cincinnati Shakespeare, 2005), 33 Variations (Ensemble Theatre, 2009) and The Goat and A Little Night Music (New Stage Collective, 2007 and 2009).
She especially loved playing A Christmas Carol’s Mrs. Fezziwig at the Playhouse for several years, being a part of the tradition and getting to work with her husband.
“I spent 12 years in Cincinnati and they were a lot of fun, and I got to do roles I probably would never have had the opportunity to do elsewhere,” Warner continues. “I formed relationships I will treasure and hopefully continue to enjoy all my life.”
As Cincinnati’s attractiveness as a movie location has heated up, Warner and Haney had an especially great opportunity. D. Lynn Meyers (Ensemble Theatre’s artistic director who has much experience as a casting director) lined them up for roles in the 2016 Academy Award-nominated film Carol as the icy in-laws of the title character, playing several scenes with Cate Blanchett.
Asked to offer some advice for Cincinnati’s theater scene, Haney says, “Be courageous with programming. This theater community is supported by an adventurous audience. Challenge them and keep the quality high. To the audience I would say, ‘You have theater here that rivals the best in the country — go to it, support it and tell your friends.’”
CONTACT RICK PENDER: [email protected]