After fleeing Ypsilanti for Chicago several years ago to pursue fame and fortune in the lucrative field of birthday party entertainment, the man who now calls himself Misha Tuesday has returned home to Michigan. This is his formal re-entry interview.
MARK: What’s your name?
MISHA: For me, that’s a complicated question. I used to change it every day. It’s currently Misha Tuesday, and has been for a while, but I still use a lot of different stage names, like Magister Freud, Dizzy the Clown, and Rathbone the Pirate.
MARK: Can we trust you?
MISHA: I think to some extent all words are lies, in a “map-is-not-the-territory” sense. As an actor and magician, I make my living through lying and deception. I think truth is overrated, and often what people mean by “truth” is merely a petty devotion to facts. But, yes, you can trust me.
MARK: What’s your first memory?
MISHA: I remember hanging on to my dad’s shin, sitting on his foot like a sit-and-spin, and having him walk around like my own personal amusement park ride. He was a potato farmer, and this happened when he got home from a day of working in the fields. He tired of it way before I did.
MARK: Where did you grow up?
MISHA: I grew up in eastern Pennsylvania, then spent about 7 years in Pittsburgh before moving to Michigan.
MARK: What did you think of Pittsburgh? I quite like it there.
MISHA: Pittsburgh is a great town. I think of it as a town, or a town of towns, rather than a city. The hills keep the neighborhoods very distinct, and they all feel like towns. I lived there when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup two years in a row, and it was hard, even for a non-sports-fan, to not feel the camaraderie and civic pride.
MARK: So what brought you to Michigan from Pittsburgh? Did you come to EMU for school?
MISHA: I originally moved from Pennsylvania to Ann Arbor because my son’s mother went to U of M for grad school. But I soon found that most of the artists and musicians I got along with lived in Ypsi. I was spending all my time here anyway, so I stopped going to Ann Arbor, or paying rent there. After brief sojourns to Pittsburgh and Arizona, and a long one to Chicago, I’ve realized that Ypsi is where my heart and my people are.
MARK: Do you remember your first experience in Ypsi? I’m curious as to what brought you here from Ann Arbor the first time.
MISHA: My earliest memories of Ypsi are going to basement art parties and playing at house shows. I met Emperor Chadness and Adam Winnie at a show at the Trumbullplex in Detroit. They played on stage with me without knowing who I was or what we were going to play and that’s pretty much the definition of instant friendship in my book. They were both living in Ypsi at the time, so I started taking part in some of their shenanigans, which is how I met and started occasionally collaborating with Pat Elkins. Parallel to that, I had close friends from Pittsburgh who lived in Ypsi and kept talking about this cool art space called Dreamland, and, since Naia is so welcoming, I started doing shows there. Short answer: the names I wanted to drop turned out to be Ypsi names instead of Ann Arbor names.
MARK: What kind of kid were you?
MISHA: A dreamer, and robotically rebellious. I always wanted to do things that caused consternation in grown-ups.
MARK: Was life in rural Pennsylvania difficult for you, given your interests?
MISHA: If it was, I didn’t realize it at the time, and now I think bitching about it would just be the beginnings of a bitter old man. Every time I fix something around the house that’s broken, I’m thankful of my farm upbringing. And even though my high school football field was literally right next to a cornfield, there were still musicals and marching band and even stage magic classes at the community college.
MARK: Why did you leave Ypsilanti? I have a very vague memory of you yelling at me dressed like a giant rabbit. And then you were gone.
MISHA: I left Ypsi for one part love, one part adventure, and one part ambition. My wife lived in Chicago when I met her and I got tired of driving to Chicago twice a month. Of course, when I moved I still had gigs booked in Detroit so I ended up still driving back and forth until my own practice got off the ground.
I have yelled at a lot of people in a lot of costumes. I delivered a breakup letter (to a pawn shop employee) dressed as a circus clown. I have been hired to do wedding proposals as both a giant squirrel and a clown fish. I’ve been pulled over as a pirate, Santa, and the Cat in the Hat. I’ve seen on-duty police officers crack up a lot.
MARK: What, in your experience, is the best outfit for getting out of a speeding ticket?
MISHA: Santa is best if it’s December. Otherwise it’s a risky venture. When you get pulled over in a costume or wearing face paint, the cop usually has his hand on his sidearm as he approaches the car. It’s only after explaining that you just entertained a classroom or whatever that they have a laugh and lighten up with you.
MARK: What’s the biggest mistake one can make when performing in front of kids?
MISHA: Trying to dictate what they should be interested in. Rules and structure are for class time, not fun time. If I have a magic show prepared and the kids are more interested in singing songs, I’ll sing with them the whole time. To paraphrase Roald Dahl, a kids’ entertainer should be in conspiracy with the kids against adult authority. That’s why so many kids magic acts have the magician repeatedly failing until the kids say the magic word. Seeing grownups as fallible, and seeing themselves as being able to fix things, is an important part of growing up.
MARK: The last I heard, you were running some kind of birthday party entertainment empire in Chicago, or something. Do I have that right?
MISHA: That’s right. I started booking myself as a clown and magician when I moved to Chicago, and quickly had more demand than time, so I started booking other people as well, and a few years later I was an entertainment agency. I still have people that I book in Chicago, and I’m working on building a clientele for my own act here in the mitten.
MARK: And what is your current act?
MISHA: I have a lot of different skills, and I usually customize my character and presentation based on the expected audiences at the events I perform for. For kids, it’s most often magic and balloon twisting as a clown or pirate. For adults, it’s usually straight-ahead magic, or mind reading and fortune telling.
MARK: What called you back to Ypsi?
MISHA: In my experience, there’s no place weirder (in a good way) or friendlier than Ypsi. Chicago has lots going on, and tons of opportunity, but it’s a little impersonal. Everyone gets lost in the shuffle, and, if you didn’t go to school there, it’s hard to make lasting friends.
MARK: I’ve heard that you’ve recently created a child. How are you enjoying fatherhood?
MISHA: That was a big reason to leave Chicago. My wife and I both grew up in small towns, and want the same for our daughter, at least for her little little years. She’s my wife’s first child, but my third. My other two kids are adults (a magician friend of mine sardonically calls me “Tony Randall”). This time around it’s pretty easy. My wife and I both work from home most of the time; she’s a grant writer for an arts organization, and I sell entertainment (being a working entertainer is mostly a phone sales job). I can’t imagine how people do daycare, logistically and economically.
MARK: How is the new Misha different from the old Misha, who used to live here?
MISHA: The old Misha wouldn’t have followed through with this interview. The old Misha didn’t pay his bills or carry car insurance or care about the future. The old Misha thought he was a creative genius, but he was just yelling at people from a bunny suit.
MARK: What would you like to accomplish over the next five years?
MISHA: I’d like to put together a semi-regular magic and mystery variety show featuring local and touring magicians and variety acts. I’d also like to join or start a homeschooling cooperative, where parents take turns hosting all the kids and teaching what they know. There’s another difference for you: the old Misha never planned more than five days in advance.
[Still wondering why people are moving to Ypsi? Check out the Ypsilanti Immigration Interview archive.]