Go Break A Leg: The Impact of Theater on DaShawn Mitchell


Photo courtesy of DaShawn Mitchell

READY FOR MY CLOSE UP – Despite his preference for dramatic roles, Mitchell notes the character-building elements of comedic acting. He specifically singled out Mike Myers and Adam Sandler as actors who can form and embody a character.

Harry Stine

NMU theater major, DaShawn Mitchell, joked that he’s “probably the worst musical theater major” in reference to the very limited number of musicals he’s actually sat down to watch. Also, unlike many musical theater majors, he initially found his way into musical theater as an opportunity to prove someone wrong. 

In sixth grade, Mitchell joined the school band and played the trombone, an experience he described as awful, soon joining choir as well. In high school, he wanted to be in the orchestra pit during a production of “In the Heights,” something he had no desire to act in. However, when he was told by a director he’d probably be dismissed even before trying out, Mitchell decided that if he was going to be passed over from the pit, he would stand over them on the stage, and a passion was born.

Still, his decision to become a musical theater major would take some time. He recalled one Friday in his junior year of high school where he sat in class, watching the time go by, when he had a realization. There were no rehearsals on Fridays, and after sitting through an entire school day, there would be no chance to act at the end. He didn’t like band anymore, he didn’t like choir anymore, and most of all, he wasn’t as excited about the people he had met in music as much as the people he had met in theater. He wanted to do theater.

Mitchell noted other mental hurdles. He remembered people his age who could afford private acting coaches, voice lessons, who had been in plays since they were three – and most of them only saw theater as a hobby. But at the end of the day, Mitchell added that nothing beats hard work.

“It’s a rich man’s game, but it doesn’t mean poor people can’t break in,” Mitchell said.

Fast forward to present day, and Mitchell has put plenty of roles under his belt, big and small. He pointed to his favorites being dramatic roles – especially down-to-earth ones – even though he’s found that comedic roles often come easy to him. 

“I always want to play something like a person and not heightened,” Mitchell said. “Yeah, I do well in musicals. That’s what my degree is, and that’s where most of the work I want is. But at the end of the day, just about any time that you can sit me down with a dramatic character, I find it more interesting … than most of the comedic work that I find.”

Mitchell dove into some of the work he has to do for a dramatic role, specifically when playing an antagonist. To Mitchell, one of the biggest hurdles is embodying someone who says and does things that he would never say or do. He added that occasionally he’ll find some part of himself in one of these characters, and that’s when acknowledging the similarities but remembering the differences is important.

“They are written to be bad – you are not written,” Mitchell said. “You are still a person. You can be whatever.”

At the same time, he noted that occasionally mannerisms from a character will stick with him. For instance, after playing Max Bialystock from “The Producers,” he’ll now sometimes talk higher and faster when upset.

“My girlfriend will look at me and go ‘you sound like Nathan Lane right now,’” he said. “Like, that’s there now.”

Despite his preference for dramatic roles, he named Max Bialystock as his favorite performance. After years of shooting for certain roles during auditions and landing in others, he saw “The Producers” would be held at Northern and told himself he would play Max Bialystock. After hard preparation for what Mitchell called “the perfect audition,” he eventually got a callback, and he had the role.

“I went up there,” Mitchell said. “I put my heart into it, and I came out with the role I wanted. And that’s a lot of why I look back so fondly on it.”

For the future, Mitchell hopes to one day play Aaron Burr in “Hamilton,” a favorite character of his. Outside of acting, he also hopes to either start a company or work as a college professor, anywhere that he can reach out to young people who may not have thought of theater as a passion before, specifically Black youths. He added that there’s a huge push for people of color to get into theater, and with countless theaters in the United States, there’s plenty of job opportunities.

Mitchell said that at the end of that day, acting has been a huge positive influence on himself, and it’s helped him push for things in his personal life that he wouldn’t have otherwise.

“There’s so much I’ve started to do for myself now that I’ve never done before,” Mitchell said. “And it’s because I want to feel better about myself. I want to be a better actor, and to do that I need to be in tune with myself. So how can I do that? And it’s easily created the best version of me.”