Spotlight Iowa City: Many theater manifestations


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Michael Sokoloff thinks violence is the answer when it comes to the stage.

Although now a semi-retired freelance writer, director, and fight choreographer, Sokoloff formerly worked in myriad performance spaces, ranging from tents in Chicago to shows on Broadway.

“The theater exists in all manifestations,” said Sokoloff, an Iowa City resident, reflecting on his different roles and locales he’s worked in spanning his decades-long career.

As a fight choreographer, Sokoloff accurately created combat scenes while maintaining the safety of the actors. He collaborated with clothing designers, choosing specific shoes and garments necessary to create the realism of a situation.

But the 66-year-old’s work was not limited to behind-the-scenes choreography. Occasionally, he “fell into jobs” as a stunt double. In a high-budget touring performance of The Phantom of the Opera, the actor playing the Phantom declined to do the more dangerous stunts. Sokoloff swooped in. A particular stunt required him to run down a catwalk lined with stage explosives.

“It was a bit of a rush,” he said. “But someone is always watching off-set.”

Sokoloff’s foundation — that which aids his agility in fights — is in modern dance. He studied modern dance at the UI and later trained privately in New York.

Sokoloff, a married man of almost 50 years who met his wife on the Pentacrest, is also a playwright and fiction author. He has produced as many as a dozen stage performances in Chicago and Iowa City. But the writing doesn’t ever really end.

“You can’t finish writing a play until it’s on its feet,” Sokoloff said. “You’re not going to know until you hear actors instead of reading it off of a page.”

Brenda Christner, a member of the Iowa City Community Theater Board of Directors, currently works with Sokoloff in his productions in the Iowa City area and views his work as a different but elevated art.

“He has a lot of ethic on how a performance should happen,” Christner said. “I have learned so much from working with him in such a short time.”

He approaches his work in the theater as a director by being very prepared and perceptive to what is occurring on the stage.

“He’s a sharp director who is very good at visual depictions to get the audience in a certain direction,” said Rachel Lindhard, an actor who met him in 2000 while working on the show Deathtrap.

Lindhard was not only an actor in Sokoloff’s productions, she worked behind the scenes with him as well.

“I learned many things about directing from him,” she said. “It is a great privilege to work with him. He’s a theater person’s theater person.”

Sokoloff’s passion for the arts has been a long-term relationship, which has taken him to many places and allowed to him to meet many people.

“I think the theater is one of those things that is in your blood,” he said.

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