Michael Learned has asked herself more than once why she’s agreed to stand on a stage and answer questions about her work and her life.
The four-time Emmy award winner who is currently at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia playing the lead in Driving Miss Daisy will take to the stage – alone – July 27 to 29 in Miss Michael – A Conversation with Michael Learned.
During the height of her success as Olivia Walton in family drama The Waltons, Learned says she didn’t get too involved in the Hollywood scene. She even turned down an opportunity to be interviewed by Johnny Carson – even thought she felt pressured to do it – because she didn’t want to be in the spotlight.
And now, in the age of celebrity and social media, Learned still struggles with opening up to her fans.
“Part of me says its narcissistic,” she says adding she now chooses to look at it in a different light. “Part of me says it’s sharing myself with people..that’s what’s life is about.”
Learned says she’s very comfortable talking about her work, but says Artistic Directors David Hogan and David Rogers tell her the fans “don’t want to hear about the work, they want to hear about the legend.”
So, when she’s not on stage, Learned is pouring over notes about her life and times for her one-woman show, which is also a fundraiser to replace the seats at Victoria Playhouse.
And while she’s nervous about the idea, Learned is thinking about it as a true conversation “sharing a little bit of my life and career with an audience…and they get to share a little bit of their life with me.”
There is a lot to share. Learned grew up in England where her parents were part of the foreign service. She attended a dance school and was told she “wasn’t much of a dancer” and was encourage to specialize in acting.
Amid the dance, there were acting lessons, learning about Shakespeare and practicing the art of mime.
At 17, Learned married and moved with her husband to Stratford where they both had roles at the Stratford Festival. They had three sons and for a time lived in Toronto – a place Learned hated to leave. But, she packed up her sons and went to the US to continue her acting career along side her then husband. There were divorces and a struggle with alcohol “I was drinking for the wrong reasons…it wasn’t helping.”
In the midsts of it all, she landed the role on The Waltons where she became a household name.
“I’ve lead an interesting life really,” she says. “I’ve been in a lot of pain and despair but my children brought me joy. And I’m so lucky to do a show like The Waltons.
“I’m willing to share that because there may be people out there going through that. I want to reassure them if they stay the course, they’ll come through it, because my life is great now.”
Learned is hoping to connect with her audience and make the event memorable and maybe pass a long advice to those who want to follow in her footsteps.
“Go and study acting, study technique, study the craft, work hard and you stick to it… don’t do it to be a star, do it because you love the work. That’s the truth of it for me; I loved the words – that’s why I did it. I loved being transporting to another world.”
Miss Michael – A Conversation with Michael Learned runs from July 27 to 29 at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia.