Meet the cast of The Normal Heart: Michael Griffiths
In 2022, State Theatre Company South Australia presents our production of Larry Kramer’s groundbreaking, multi-Tony Award-winning play, The Normal Heart. We’ll be interviewing the cast to chat about the importance of this play in the landscape of modern theatre and for LGBTQI+ communities. Read all the interviews.
We chat to Michael Griffiths, Helpmann Award-winner best known for his Cabaret and Musical Theatre roles including Jersey Boys, who portrays several roles in The Normal Heart, as well acting as pianist for the production.
Pictured: Michael in rehearsals for The Normal Heart
What was your first ever encounter with The Normal Heart?
It sounds too farfetched to be true but my first encounter was back in 1997 when my new best friend (and fellow first year wide-eyed student) Dean Bryant suggested a bunch of us WAAPA Musical Theatre kids get together and have a read-through on term break as a little ‘project’. He proclaimed it as an important AIDS play that we should be aware of. This is back when he had grand ambitions of being a ‘director one day’ and here we are full circle.
What does this role mean to you?
I get the good fortune of playing two smaller and happily quite distinct roles as well as providing some incidental piano music throughout. Being able to marry my first two loves – sharing music and telling queer stories and doing them both as my first foray with STCSA is a dream come true. It also means getting to work with Mitchell Butel for the first time after being friends and an admirer for 20 years.
How do you identify with your character? Have you faced any obstacles in your own life similar to those of your character?
As a queer person I’ve spent my life exploring and coming to terms with my identity, both on and off stage. There’s a current misconception that since gay marriage was passed, things are pretty much ‘the same’ for everyone but I know from working with current high school students and seeing firsthand bullying and their struggles for acceptance that we still need to tell stories that celebrate diversity and ‘otherness’. I think art serves as a reminder that there is no such thing as ’normal’ and we’re all as peculiar and troubled as the next person and to take consolation from that knowingness. I grew up with such terrible fear of AIDS and keenly remember the grim reaper ads in the 80s, it seemed like some kind of gay curse. When I came out to my family, their fear of me catching AIDS was a quick response. It must be acknowledged that between education and modern medicine, AIDS is a far less terrifying scenario these days and the fact that culturally we do celebrate queerness so widely (just scroll through Netflix to see what I mean) means things have improved immensely. This play serves as a reminder how far we’ve come and that there’s still much work to be done.
The Normal Heart is very much about the power of community – what’s a time where you personally experienced/witnessed the power of community?
At the risk of stating the obvious, COVID has served as a stark reminder that community is all we have. I’ve never felt so directly connected with my neighbours as I have during the last couple of years and I know that has been a common experience. We have Sunday evening front-lawn drinks that started during lockdown and continue to this day where the street gets to have a friendly check in. Like so many of us, I’ve lost some special people in my life to COVID and it feels insensitive to talk about the positives that have come from it but almost any scenario can be reduced to ‘glass half empty’ or ‘glass half full’. We never stop needing to remind ourselves of how much we have to be grateful for.