Co-stars in Smith Street Stage production of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’
By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
It’s never too late to pursue your dreams. And if you’re middle aged, still chasing after a dream, and haven’t yet reached your goal, don’t give up.
That’s the advice Brooklyn-born actor Michael Vincent Carrera has for fellow actors whose lofty dreams are bombarded by the tough reality of life as a struggling artist.
Carrera, who grew up in Bensonhurst, is a middle-aged actor who has been living the life of an artist for more than 20 years. “Being an actor means doing other jobs. You have to pay the rent. It’s a hard life, but it’s also so rewarding,” he told the Brooklyn Eagle over lunch at Hinsch’s in Bay Ridge on Thursday.
His ship may finally be coming in. He is one of the stars of a new PBS children’s show, “Moochie Kalala Detectives Club,” which begins airing in September. He plays the father of two children who turn into detectives to uncover the truth behind wild stories their grandfather tells them. The show is produced by Dreaming Tree Productions.
In addition to that, “Avenge,” an independent film he appears in, is starting to gain attention at film festivals.
And he is performing Shakespeare this summer.
Carrera, who currently lives in Queens, plays “Leonardo,” the paternal figure in the Bard’s comedy “Much Ado About Nothing,” in a Smith Street Stage production in Carroll Park in Carroll Gardens. Smith Street Stage, a Brooklyn-based theater company, has been presenting Shakespeare in the park for five years. The play opens on July 25. The show is free.
“It’s exciting to be performing in Brooklyn,” Carerra said between bites of a turkey burger. “And the cast is superb. They’re all young people. I’m the oldest person in the cast. It’s great to be surrounded by such young talent.”
Carrera was born in Dyker Heights. He lived on 14th Avenue. “I know that it’s now called Dyker Heights. But we always said that we lived in Bensonhurst,” he said. He attended Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic School and then enrolled in Bishop Ford High School. “It’s so sad that it closed. I spoke at a Career Day event there two years ago. I could see that things had changed. The enrollment had gone down considerably. The school was a shell of its former self,” he said.
When he was a teenager, he saw “Saturday Night Fever” starring John Travolta and was inspired. The movie was filmed in Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst. “I saw that dance could be a masculine art form,” he said. He also started watching old movies on PBS and was enthralled by Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.
Carrera started taking dance lessons at a studio on Gelston Avenue in Bay Ridge. He didn’t tell his friends. Tough-guy Bensonhurst was not a place that fueled artistic dreams. “Where I came from, nobody wanted to be a dancer,” he said.
Still, he persisted. “And I got a late start. I didn’t start dancing until I was 17,” he said.
Around this time, he was also inspired by the movies of Al Pacino and Robert DiNiro. He enrolled in HB, a well known acting school. “But I didn’t enjoy it. It would be a long time before I found an acting teacher that I liked,” he said.
Carrera attended Brooklyn College. After graduation, ‘I decided that I wanted to do commercial theater,” he said. He performed in summer stock productions and toured the country with musicals. “You would be in North Dakota one day and in Houston the next. It was good because I was starting to find my acting legs,” he said.
But when he reached his early 30s, he felt that he had hit a wall. “I realized that I had gone as far as I can go with musical theater,” he said.
Carrera decided to leave singing and dancing behind and “go full force” into acting. He enrolled in the University of Iowa, which had a graduate program in drama. “I went there on a wing and a prayer. I packed up all of my things, got in a car, and drove across the country to Iowa,” he said. It was the summer of 1994.
It was a culture shock for the Brooklyn boy. “Literally five miles outside the campus, you’re in cornfields,” he said. It was a busy time. During his years there, he performed in 25 plays and taught classes.
He returned to New York in 1997. ‘I did some plays. I got to worm in a few independent films. I found that I loved film acting. It was more fun for me that stage acting,” he said.
Following the death of his mother, he decided to leave New York again and moved to Los Angeles. “You’re never prepared for someone’s death. But her death was a shock to me. It took me a long time to recover,” he said.
“I moved to L.A. with $83 in my bank account,” he said. “But I started to create a life out there.”
He started getting theater work and was cast in roles in independent films.
And he met two women who would influence his work. He took acting lessons from Diana Castle, a well regarded acting teacher in Los Angeles. Another acting teacher, Lynn Kilroy, became a friend and mentor.
Opportunity came knocking in the form of a friend from graduate school.
“Things happen in a roundabout way,” Carrera said. His graduate school buddy, who was making films in Chicago, had an idea for a children’s show and asked Carrera to help with the casting process. “We auditioned actors for the role of the father. But finally the producers said to me, ‘Why don’t you play the father?’ And that’s how I got the role,” he said.
For information on the Smith Street Stage production of “Much Ado About Nothing,” visit www.SmithStreetStage.org.