Biography of a Playwright: Mr. Hollinger’s Opus
Posted by Kinsley Suer | 08 April 2011
Michael Hollinger was always interested in the arts, but it took awhile before his interest turned to theater. He was classically trained
in viola performance at Oberlin Conservatory and heading for a career as a professional violist when, at age 22, the notion of a lifetime of practice practice practice suddenly didn’t seem very appealing. Instead, he took a sharp turn into the theatre realm at Villanova University, where he got his Master of Arts and is now an associate professor of theatre
Throughout his playwriting career, Hollinger has drawn heavily on his background as a musician. In fact, Hollinger considers his plays to be compositions. Opus is no exception.
“Plays are music to me; characters are instruments, scenes are movements; tempo, rhythm and dynamics are critical; and melody and counterpoint are always set in relief by rests—beats, pauses, the spaces in between.”
Interestingly enough, although Hollinger’s background as musician did influence his writing, none of his earlier plays were actually about
music. Tooth and Claw
dealt with environmental conflicts in the Galapagos Islands. It was preceded by Red Herring
, the portrait of a Boston marriage during 1950s McCarthyism. Before that was Tiny Island
, which concerned two estranged sisters and their faded movie palace on the Philadelphia Main Line of the early 1980s. Then there was Incorruptible
, which took place in a French monastery in 1250 and focused on the holy-relics market. An Empty Plate in the Café du Grand Boeuf
, his first full-length play, was about culinary and bullfighting arts in 1961 Paris. In addition to Opus
, all of these plays world-premiered at Philadelphia's Arden Theatre Company. They've gone on to enjoy
numerous productions around the United States, in New York City, and abroad.
On second thought, "not being about music" seems like an understatement.
It was only in the last few years that Hollinger finally picked up the instrument again – 20 years after giving it up – and started playing with a quartet near his home in Wyncote, Pennsylvania. One thing quickly led to another, and soon the words that would make up Opus began pouring out of him like volcano lava.
The fact that Opus came so easily to him continues to surprise Hollinger. "This play came very quickly," he admits. "I think part of the reason is it takes place in a contemporary world — one that I know well, one that I'm very passionate about — so I didn't have to, as I've done with some of my plays, do five or ten years of research on it.”
His most recent work, a new musical titled A Wonderful Noise,
chronicles a battle between barbershop quartets on the eve of WWII. It received the Frederick Loewe Award for Musical Theatre, the “In the Spirit of America” Award from the Barbara Barondess MacLean Foundation, and a developmental production at Creede Repertory Theatre in the summer of 2009.
In addition, Hollinger has written three short films for PBS and co-authored the feature-length Philadelphia Diary
. He has also written seven touring plays
for young audiences, including Eureka!
, Hot Air, Boxheads
and Clean Getaway
, a musical. Today, Hollinger is a proud alumnus of New Dramatists.
Most recently, Hollinger was awarded a 2010 LA Drama Critics Circle Award
for Writing for Opus
. His other awards
include a Harold and Mimi Steinberg New Play Citation from the American Theatre Critics Association, the Roger L. Stevens Award from the Kennedy Center's Fund for New American Plays, two Barrymore Awards for Outstanding New Play, the F. Otto Haas Award for an Emerging Theatre Artist, a Mid-Atlantic Emmy Award, a commission from The Ensemble Studio Theatre/Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Science and Technology Project, and fellowships from the Independence Foundation, Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation, and Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.