By Billy Finn
A voice rumbles through the dimly-lit hallway leading to the dressing rooms beneath the stage of the Alice Jepson Theatre. It is a deep and clear baritone, reciting vocal exercises and running lines for tonight's dress rehearsal of "Amadeus." The words seem unintelligible.
The voice belongs to Michael Goodwin, this season's Equity artist-in-residence at the University of Richmond. He is starring as Antonio Salieri in "Amadeus," as well as teaching a course in acting.
Goodwin has been offering his talent and services to the University for several years and has performed in UR productions of "Gypsy," "All my Sons" and "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" Fortunately for him, his acting credits go far beyond the stage of the Alice Jepson Theatre.
Though you wouldn't necessarily recognize him on the street, Goodwin has made a successful living as a working actor. Since high school, he has traveled throughout the country, performed in repertory companies, Broadway shows, television and film. He has worked with everyone from less talented theater students to award-winners Anthony Hopkins and Clint Eastwood.
He has been on TV shows such "Law and Order" and "St. Elsewhere" and in movies including the recent "New World."
Goodwin is a man teetering on the edge of obscurity and fame, although that is not what interests him. Tucked in the corner of the men's dressing room in the Modlin Center running lines and waiting for the costumers to finish the alterations on his pants,
Goodwin is focused on his character, his work and his job as a professional actor.
Life as an actor is never easy and Goodwin admits that luck and chance play an unfortunately large part in the business.
"You go to New York these days and unless you're plugged in with a major agent, you're going to have a tough time," he said.
Every actor's journey is different, he said. Each artist must struggle to create a life for himself and to decide how important that art really is. For Goodwin, he made that decision longer ago than he will admit and has never looked back since.
Born in Virginia, Minn., Goodwin moved with his parents to Seattle at an early age.
While attending Ballard High School in Seattle "some time during the 50's," he came across Earl Kelly, the school's drama teacher.
Kelly instilled the actor's passion in Goodwin and became, as Goodwin describes it, "one of those great inspirational types." Kelly taught Goodwin and his peers the basics of acting and turned the group into a sort of miniature repertory company.
After high school, Goodwin enrolled at the University of Washington and began studying theatre there. Shortly after, however, Goodwin realized he didn't see eye-to-eye with the school's theatre department and dropped out.
Goodwin's departure from school coincided with his enlistment in the Air Force.
"I got a notice for a physical for the Army," he said. "This was during Vietnam and so I enlisted in the Air Force."
Goodwin's plan was to serve in the Air Force before moving to England to study and try his luck as an actor overseas.
Before leaving for service, Goodwin heard that the Seattle Repertory Company was auditioning for new members. Quickly, he went back to Earl Kelly and asked him if he should audition.
"[Kelly] didn't tell me what to do," he said. "But, he did tell me €˜don't come back in 20 years and complain to me about how you never auditioned.' So I went."
Stewart Vaughn, then the director of the company, auditioned Goodwin and was impressed with the young actor's work.
"He asked me where I had studied and I said, €˜Ballard High School,'" Goodwin remembered with a laugh. "He said, €˜no, I mean what conservatories have you worked in?' I said, €˜I haven't really worked anywhere.' He couldn't believe that."
Shortly after, Vaughn offered him the job, a job which Goodwin had to decline.
"I told him I had enlisted in the Air Force and was leaving the country for at least a year,"
Goodwin said. "He threw me out of the theatre and told me never to waste his time again."
A week after getting thrown out of the theatre, Goodwin got a call from Vaughn, who apologized and told the kid to keep in touch when he got back in the country.
After a year of service in the Air Force, Goodwin returned to Seattle and Vaughn quickly added him to the company.
"I never did get to England," Goodwin said. "I got the job and went to work right away."
Goodwin worked steadily with the company for a short time before leaving with Vaughn for New Orleans early in 1966, where he earned membership in the Actor's Equity Association, the national actor's union. After a year in New Orleans, Vaughn matched Goodwin with an agent in New York City.
The agent, Sean Cistene, put Goodwin to work as soon as he got to New York in the spring of 1967. The fledgling actor's first TV gig was on Walt Disney's Wide World of Color.
"I never stopped to think if I was getting in easy or what was going on," Goodwin said.
"I just figured €˜that's the way it is.'"
Goodwin's career in the City from 1967 to 1992 was a steady rise from summer stock theatre to residences at repertory companies to off-Broadway and some Broadway productions and finally to television and film.
Since 1967, Goodwin has been engaged in what he calls the "agent dance." Since Cistene's retirement, the actor has had six or seven agents in his career.
"It's all part of it," Goodwin noted after struggling to remember his latest agent's name.
"These days I'm so far off the path being down here in Virginia that they're not working too hard for me. Every once in a while I'll get a call. They have nothing to lose by keeping me around."
Goodwin's first expedition to LA was in 1974. In six months, he had managed to grab one part, a small recurring role in the well-known series "Kojak," before returning to New York disillusioned.
Back in New York, Goodwin landed a recurring role on the popular soap opera "Another World." Though some actors scoff at the time they had to spend on soaps, Goodwin remembers his almost two-year stay on the show with satisfaction.
"Working on soaps is pretty exhausting," he said. "We shot those shows like it was live theatre. It was the first show of its kind to run for an hour and we were mostly Broadway actors working on this thing. It was a good bunch of people and we had fun with it."
Goodwin said that first experiences with television is the reason why he feels a course on the subject is so important and one that he is happy to teach at UR.
"I almost tossed my cookies the first time I saw myself on film because I thought I was so over-the-top," he said with a laugh. "So I really had to edit myself and sort of €˜earn while you learn.'"
Goodwin said that the show itself required so much rehearsal and work that most of the film actors quit, leaving only the Broadway actors, who were used to the pressures of a live show.
"We shared the tape machine for that show with the evening news," he said. "I think in about a half a year of taping the show we maybe stopped filming three or four times in that entire span. It was a great training school for me."
By 1978, Goodwin had begun to make LA a regular stop again. He landed a role on the new series "Strike Force," a police drama, in 1981. The show only lasted a year and afterward Goodwin found himself bouncing around roles in some of the famous 80's TV series such as "Remington Steele," "Magnum PI" and "Dynasty."
During his time in LA, Goodwin abandoned the stage. For six years, he devoted his energy to TV and some film before finally returning to New York in 1991 to a production of "Betrayal" at the Longwharf Theatre. The production received critical praise and renewed in Goodwin a love for live theatre.
After the show's six-month run ended, Goodwin got an offer from Theatre Virginia in Richmond to do the play "Other People's Money." Though Goodwin thought his stay in Richmond would last as long as the show's run, he immediately fell in love with the town.
After a year's residency at Theatre Virginia, Goodwin found himself without a job when the company was forced to close in 1992. Left without steady work, he relied on a "fair amount of film work" during the 90's that came through the area.
"I had always planned to go back to New York," he said. "But I kept getting these film roles around here and my wife and I just sort of settled in here."
After a few years of living and working in Richmond, Goodwin was contacted by the University of Richmond and was asked to take part in a pioneering program at the school.
Dr. Dorothy Holland, a retired actor now serving as an associate professor of theatre at UR, remembers her first encounter with Goodwin.
"I first met Michael in 1999 at a departmental meeting," she said. "That was my first year at UR so we both had that "new-guy" sensibility. I liked him immediately."
In addition to his affable personality and sharp sense of humor, Holland was impressed by Goodwin's intense professionalism and extensive talent.
Goodwin and another working actor, Irene Zeigler, were the first Equity artists in UR's history to assume residencies at the university. In 1999, the pilot program began with the two actors teaching courses in acting basics and performing in the school's productions of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and "All My Sons."
"We were the guinea pigs," he said. "Me and Irene. That show ["Virginia Woolf"] ate us alive, man."
Holland remembered Goodwin's work that first year with admiration.
"He just nailed his role in "Virginia Woolf,"' she said. "That spring I directed "All My Sons" and Michael played the father. [He] brought such breadth and integrity."
Goodwin returned to UR three years ago and performed in "Gypsy" while teaching basics of acting and acting for the camera.
"I was thrilled to be able to teach that class," he said. "There's such a huge difference between the two mediums. In film, everything's scaled down and you really have to work off yourself and trust yourself."
Goodwin spoke passionately about the need for the course and how well UR students have received it both times he has taught it.
"The kids here really pitch in and make it a lot of fun," he said. "This issue certainly has to be addressed because two-thirds of the stuff you're going to go audition for is in TV and film. Stage has diminished greatly and I continue to be impressed by these kids' ability to jump in and switch gears like that."
UR junior Sean Hudock took the course this spring and starred alongside Goodwin in Amadeus as the title character.
"At first, I was very intimidated by him," Hudock said. "He was built up as this big-time actor and he has that voice. The first time we met, he congratulated me on my work in the production of "The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial" earlier in the semester and said that he was proud of me.
"That was when I realized what he was about. He is so nurturing of young artists and just so supportive. He challenges you to trust yourself and grow and I think every person in that class this year came away with a lot from him."
Goodwin's journey is in some ways the journey all actors must take and Goodwin is more than happy to give some hard-earned advice.
As for his own career, Goodwin doesn't have much planned at the moment.
"We'll see what becomes available for me," he said. "Even though you never retire in this business, I kind of see myself winding down a bit. Part of me wants to work my way back to New York and start building some credit with my agent again. Who knows?
"You get used to the lifestyle down here," he continued. "I mean, look at this spring we've got down here right now. The beat goes on. I preach to these kids about selling themselves and getting out there so I probably should follow my own advice."
Though the instability and pressure of life as an actor would scare most away, Goodwin seems to relish it.
"Like I tell these kids, if this is what you want, do whatever you can," he said. "That's the life of an actor."