Pro Series: Monologue Masterclass with Michael Patrick Thornton

Before the final bows, before the preview and rehearsal processes and getting the job in the first place, there’s a step we often overlook: the opportunity to quietly and firmly articulate for ourselves why we are even going out there in the first place.

Why? And for whom? In the blur of a career largely out of our control, where is our art?

In this one-night-only masterclass, students will work on a monologue, identifying and utilizing the powerful and maddeningly obvious hiding-in-plain-sight synchronicity in both their personal present-day reason for showing up and under imaginary circumstances.

We will discuss humbling ways of viewing your audience. We will illuminate how to gently use your great love of your loved ones, especially the departed, as your fuel and fabric; ghosts and memories pulling the very best You out of “you.” We’re reminded over and over that all we can really do is prep for the first entrance so that subsequent work will feel like a journey of hard-hitting emotional surprise.

Here’s a hint about our first entrances: almost always, they have everything to do with love.

More about Michael Patrick Thornton:

Michael Patrick Thornton is the co-founder of Chicago’s renowned The Gift Theatre and served as its artistic director for twenty years. He has appeared on stages throughout the world, most recently on Broadway with Jessica Chastain in the acclaimed and Tony-nominated production of A Doll’s House, directed by Jamie Lloyd, for which Michael’s performance as “Dr. Rank” won the 2023 Actors’ Equity Foundation Joe A. Callaway Award. Michael made his Broadway debut in Sam Gold’s production of Macbeth with Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga, and was seen prior to that in The Gift’s production of Doubt at Steppenwolf. Other select productions: Will Eno’s Title and Deed (Lookingglass Theatre—Time Out Magazine Best Actor Award) as well as Eno’s Middletown (Steppenwolf) the inaugural premiere of Andrew Hinderaker’s Colossal (Olney Theatre, Kennedy Center) Othello (The Gift, where he played “Iago”) Our Town (Actors Theatre of Louisville) and the world premieres of Hinderaker’s Dirty and Suicide, Incorporated for which Thornton was nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award. During his 2016 performance in the title role of Richard III (The Gift at Steppenwolf) Thornton became the first actor to ever act onstage while wearing a robotic exoskeleton, pairing not only an actor with a disability with a character with a disability but furthermore using cutting-edge technology in order to theatrically complicate the character of Richard III and its discussion around disability, ableism, and representation. The production has since been the subject of podcasts, published essays, and academic papers.

Michael won the 2006 Jeff Award for Solo Performance for The Good Thief (The Gift) an hour-long monologue that marked Thornton’s return to the stage after two spinal strokes nearly killed him in 2003. Years of physical and speech therapy thanks to The Shirley Ryan Ability Lab (then R.I.C.) put—in Thornton’s words— “Humpty Dumpty back together again.”

On camera, Thornton has acted opposite Oscar Winners Hilary Swank, J.K. Simmons, and Oscar nominee Demián Bichir. For two seasons, he played the love interest of six-time Tony Award winning legend Audra McDonald on Private Practice.

As a writer, Thornton recently scribed The Gift’s radio series Mud City and its spin-off graphic novel Kid Winchester, illustrated by Martel Manning. His plays have been workshopped in New York through Young Playwrights, Inc. and in Chicago through The Second City and American Theatre Company. His play The Princess And The Bear was performed at Western Michigan University and published in excerpt along with his creative non-fiction in Third Coast Press and The Packingtown Review. He was a staff writer for The Paper Machete and has written a novel called A Low Hum. Thornton has directed dozens of productions, including the world premieres of fellow Gift ensemble member David Rabe’s Good For Otto (Jeff Nomination—Director) and Cosmologies; the 75th Anniversary production of War of the Worlds, the Chicago premiere of fellow Gift ensemble member Will Eno’s Oh, The Humanity (and other exclamations) and Rabe’s Hurlyburly all at The Gift; Of Mice and Men (Steppenwolf) the world premieres of Sean Graney’s IS N UR B1UDS7REEM and Mark Harvey’s LA 8AM (Collaboraction) and Picasso at the Lapin Agile (Noble Fool). Thornton also served as assistant director for Steppenwolf’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award-winning production of August: Osage County. In addition, his acclaimed improv show, You & Me premiered at Steppenwolf Theatre and has since played on stages throughout Chicago, in Louisville, and in Dublin, Ireland. The Chicago Reader called the show and Thornton’s improvisation “masterful.”

Thornton is one of many co-authors of the cultural plan for the city of Chicago.

Michael has taught at Second City, Acting Studio Chicago, Black Box, Green Shirt Studio, Columbia College, DePaul, Roosevelt, and Northwestern University. He was the Improvisation instructor (with mentor Sheldon Patinkin and comedy-partner-for-life Susan Messing) at The School at Steppenwolf for a decade.

Select Awards: Actors’ Equity Foundation Joe A. Callaway Award; Irish Books and Music Festival (iBAM!) Award Recipient; Best Actor: 2017 Midwest International Film Festival (The View From Tall); Tree of Life Award: Shirley Ryan Ability Lab; 3Arts Artist Award; Northlight Theatre’s Jack Springer Award for Outstanding Performance; The Tim Meier and Helen Coburn Meier Foundation Achievement Award; The Second City Foundation’s Jim Zulevic Chicago Arts Award; The Joseph Jefferson Award for Solo Performance, and induction into The University of Iowa and St. Patrick High School Halls of Fame.

Selected TV/Film Credits: NCIS, The Good Doctor, Let The Right One In, 61st Street, A Million Little Things, Away, Chicago Party Aunt, Madam Secretary, Grow Old With Me, All Rise, Counterpart, The Red Line, Elementary, The Exorcist, The Chicago Code, Jeri’s Grill, Private Practice, The View From Tall, and The Dilemma.