by Lorie Lewis Ham
As we continue our profiles of local actors and directors here in this Valley, Chris Mangels is a name that has been on my list to profile for awhile now—ever since I saw his amazing one man show of A Christmas Carol at the Enchanted Playhouse in Visalia.
Chris Mangels was born in Exeter and had his first acting role in third grade; however, he didn’t really get into theatre until high school. “I had intended to become an English teacher but theatre grabbed hold of me and I realized I could pursue many avenues of artistic exploration.” While in high school he also directed his first show, a one-act play he had written in his creative writing class.
Life has taken Chris on quite the journey with his work. His theatre resume is not only varied, but long. After receiving an AA in Theatre from College of the Sequoia’s in Visalia, then a BA in acting at Fresno State, he moved on to get an MFA in Musical Theatre at San Diego State. From there he moved to Chicago and Milwaukee where he pursued a career as a professional actor for several years. About to make the move to Manhattan, 9/11 happened and he decided to put his move on hold and return home with his parents for a year to save money. “I was almost immediately hired to teach acting part-time at COS and shortly after that, I became Artistic Director of The Fourth Wall Theatre. I wound up living in the area for about three years, where I met my wife, Diane.”
Due to cutbacks at COS, Chris found his teaching opportunities dwindling so he and his wife decided to move to Los Angeles in 2005. As fate would have it, in 2007 a full time position opened up at COS, he applied and got the job and is currently a Professor of Theatre at COS. “I have been doing the weekend commute ever since. I live in Visalia during the week and return home to Santa Monica to be with my wife and child on weekends and holidays.”
“It is the best job I could ever ask for, with the best group of artists I could ever hope to call colleagues and friends,” said Chris. “I feel like we are really making a difference in the arts in this community, and I am both honored and humbled by the responsibility we share.”
Though he hopes to get back to directing and acting professionally at some point, Chris loves teaching. “It is my career and one that I never cease to feel amazingly lucky for having. One day, I hope to teach in an area where I can do all three simultaneously. AND see my family every day, too!”
Thanks to his work at COS Chris stated that he has also become fairly prolific as a set designer—recently working on StageWorks Fresno’s production of Ragtime. At COS, Chris is the Fight Choreographer, along with being the resident Scenic Designer and Director, as well as teaching Introduction to the Theatre, Intermediate Acting, Shakespeare, Stage Craft, and serving as the mentor/advisor for the student-run Experimental Theatre Ensemble.
As to his acting, Chris loves the way acting rewards the soul, but his first love is directing, even though he finds it the hardest of the two. “I am very driven by my own artistic visions. I feel compelled to share them with others. It is probably the control freak in me.”
A challenge that combined all of his talents was the one-man show at Enchanted Playhouse. According to Chris, originally Enchanted wanted him to produce a full-scale production of Christmas Carol in 2007, just as he had done in 2003, but he didn’t have the time. His friend and Enchanted board member Karen Kirkpatrick wasn’t sure what to do. Chris laughed and said it would have to be a one-man show (like Patrick Stewart had done in the 90’s) to be ready in time. “Karen laughed, too, and then we both got kind of quiet and I said, Okay. That’s what we’ll do.”
Chris adapted it, designed it and acted in it, with Karen’s help in directing. “We began probably the most stupidly ambitious thing I had ever conceived. If I recall correctly, the entire process from writing the first words of the script to opening night spanned less than one month. I don’t think I have ever been as terrified in my life as I was when the lights came up on that first performance.”
“Chris Mangels is, for me, the most creative mind in local theatre for ages,” said Karen. “He is unbelievably imaginative, progressive and daring when it comes to challenging actors and audiences in thrilling ways. He could mount a full-scale production on a shoestring budget using liquid nails and masking tape if necessary (However, we all prefer a BIG budget!!) and it would blow your socks off. His set designs are always interesting to the eye and yet economical and spare. . . meaning. . . no space is wasted on stage, and nothing is there that is not necessary). He is genius because he cares equally for every show he directs, designs, or performs in.”
“I have had the great fortune to work with Chris as both an actor and director, and he is incredibly talented in both areas,” said Terry Lewis, who played Phantom in COS’ production of Phantom of the Opera earlier this year. “He is a man of many talents, and I try to work with him any chance I get.”
“Very few people have such passion for theatre, and Chris is able to use it to inspire others around him, which is one of the reasons he is such a wonderful professor,” said Nick Terry who has worked with Chris as an actor, designer and collaborator.
For those aspiring to a career in theatre, Chris warns that it is an exhausting and demanding career. “Pursue it because it makes you happy but never forget that it’s not WHERE you are doing it that counts, it’s WHAT you’re doing with it that matters.”
What he feels has helped him grow the most as a performer and director is coming to the realization that people are neither good nor bad, they’re just people. “Tell a story. Make it accessible. And never condescend to your audience.”
While Chris loves all theatre, he said he is partial to musical theatre for its ability to educate while getting an audience to lower its guard. Next summer Chris is taking on a new musical theatre challenge as he prepares to direct the musical Avenue Q for Fourth Wall, where he is finally returning as both a board member and director. “Avenue Q is probably the best thing I have seen on stage in the last 10 years and I am absolutely chomping at the bit to bring the real, un-censored beauty of it all to the Valley. If I do my job right, no one will know what hit them!”
David Lemon, President of Fourth Wall Theatre Company, has worked with Chris many times over the years and is acting in COS’ current production of the Grapes of Wrath. “In my over 25 years of theatre experience, Chris Mangels stands alone atop a long list of creative people I have had the pleasure to work with.”
“His creativity, vision, and extensive knowledge is unmatched in our area,” continued David. “I can honestly say that I am humbled and honored to count him a friend. Visalia and the College of the Sequoias are beyond lucky to have Chris as he continues to create amazing live theatrical productions.”
Chris said he is the one who feels lucky. “I am so thankful for the opportunity and trust that this community has offered me. I am truly honored to be doing what I love in an area that really matters to me.”