Mike Mosallam returns to Boston Conservatory at Berklee in fall 2017 to direct the mainstage play Sons of the Prophet. Mosallam, who graduated from the Conservatory in 2006, discusses his career path and offers his advice to students looking to build a career in the industry.
Describe your path from being a student at Boston Conservatory to your career on Broadway, film, and television.
After I graduated from the Conservatory, I became heavily involved in Middle Eastern and Muslim-themed content, from the Arab American Comedy Festival in New York to a show on Comedy Central called The Watch List. In addition, I sold a show called All-American Muslim to The Learning Channel (TLC) shortly after graduating, which ran on the network for the 2011–2012 season. Most recently, a movie that I wrote and directed, Breaking Fast, screened at the Cannes Film Festival as well as at a couple dozen other festivals and screenings in 2016.
What challenges did you encounter on this path that turned out to be key to your growth as a professional artist?
I was doing all of this work in a post-9/11 New York City, while the world was still trying to figure itself out, and talking about Arab/Muslim topics wasn't commonplace outside of the media or slanted toward one political angle.
How did the Conservatory prepare you for the work you’re doing?
I was literally forced to do my graduate thesis on the topic of being Arab in a post-9/11 New York City. I didn't want to. I left New York City without much closure. Being forced to deal with those issues really helped shape my point of view and gave me a voice and something—hopefully profound—to say.
You will be directing the Conservatory’s production of Sons of the Prophet. What drew you to this work?
Stephen Karam is one of the great playwrights of our time. His work, while so specific, feels so incredibly personal and universal at the same time. Also, it's not often we meet Middle Eastern-American, in this case Lebanese-American (which is what I am), characters in plays without having to talk about politics. This is not a play about politics—in fact, politics are never mentioned. It's about the human experience and how tragic and hilarious it can be.
What can the cast and crew expect from you in terms of your style as a director?
I'm a pretty over-the-top person. I like to feel things, and if I'm not feeling something, you'll know it. I love to laugh almost as much as I love to cry. We'll have a lot of fun, as long as we get the work done, first and foremost.
What advice would you give current theater students looking to build a career in the industry?
Find your voice. Find what makes you authentically and uniquely you and embrace that person wholeheartedly. You're going to have a lot of people having opinions about you, but let your opinion of yourself matter most. Make friends with people outside of the industry. Have hobbies outside of the industry. Don't just go to New York City or Los Angeles to work—go there to live—and really learn what it means to live there.
See Mosallam’s work this December in Sons of the Prophet. Tickets and information are available here.