When he was 15 growing up in South Norwalk, Conn., the future didn’t look all that bright for Mike Banks. A decade later, however, he is a successful and hardworking adult, his passion for lacrosse and then the theater turning around his once troubled life.
A 2011 graduate of the University at Albany, where he spent four years playing Division I lacrosse, Banks is now an employee of the city of Albany. He works with children, helping them avoid the many pitfalls that made his young life so perilous. And, when he’s not working or playing lacrosse, he is on an area stage somewhere in the Capital Region, taking a turn at acting.
On Friday, he begins a two-weekend run playing Capt. Richard Davenport in Charles Fuller’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, “A Soldier’s Play.” Directed by Karen Christina Jones, it is a production of the Classic Theater Guild and will be held at Proctors’ Fenimore Gallery.
‘A Soldier’s Play’
WHAT: A production of the Classic Theater Guild
WHERE: Fenimore Gallery, Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady
HOW MUCH: $17.50-$14.50
MORE INFO: 346-6204, www.proctors.org
Banks most recently was in a production of “Camp Logan” at Schenectady County Community College, the event put on by the Soul Rebel Performance Troupe. He also played the lead in Our Own Production’s “A Raisin in the Sun” in March of 2012, and while still a lacrosse player at the University at Albany he had a small part in the movie “Crooked Arrows,” the story of a Native American lacrosse team.
“A Soldier’s Play” became “A Soldier’s Story” when Hollywood made the movie version in 1984 starring Howard E. Rollins Jr. in the Capt. Davenport role. In the Classic Theater Guild production with Banks are Patrick White as Capt. Charles Taylor and Michael Lake as Sgt. Vernon C. Waters.
Banks said he would love to have taken up the theater earlier, but it never really occurred to him, even after he successfully read a complete rendition of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech at the age of 10 for a church play. It wasn’t until he was in college and had begun taking a few theater classes that he started getting the acting bug.
Q: When did you start playing lacrosse?
A: I didn’t start until I was a junior in high school, and it helped me turn my life around. To make a long story short, I got into trouble growing up, and it was the lacrosse coach who pulled me aside and asked me to play. I had been hanging out with a bad crowd, and I used lacrosse to give me some focus.
Getting my grades up was the only way to play on the team, so I had to do that, too, and through that discipline my life got better. I was good enough to get a scholarship to Albany, where I had a wonderful four-year experience. Until I have my own family and kids, it will always be the best four years of my life.
Q: What about acting?
A: I always had an interest, and when I was young, around 10, I did a church play and memorized all of Martin Luther King’s speech. But I never really followed that up. At UAlbany, I was pretty busy playing lacrosse so I didn’t have a lot of time for the theater, but I did start taking some classes.
Then my first real production was this monologue piece I did for the Sand Lake Center for the Arts in Averill Park, “Five on the Black Hand Side,” and then I did a staged reading of “Defiance” with Theater Voices and Yvonne Perry, and that was a unique experience.
Q: In January of 2012, you played the lead, Walter, in Our Own Productions’ “Raisin in the Sun.” What was that like?
A: That was my first really big role, and it went well and I loved it. I loved the character from the movie I had seen quite a while ago with Sidney Poitier, and he’s always been one of my favorite actors. I don’t want to take anything away from how he portrayed Walter in the movie, but it actually took a lot for me to figure out who Walter really was, and what were his motives.
He was in a lot of pain, and I saw that kind of pain in my own family. But working through that and going through the whole process of finding the character was a lot of fun.
Q: Why did you want to do “A Soldier’s Play?”
A: It’s a great play, and I really enjoyed watching the movie a few years ago. It kind of fits right in place for me after doing “Camp Logan” in Schenectady last month. That was World War I and this is World War II. It was a good transition for me, and when I started reading the actual script for “A Soldier’s Play,” I loved it and I knew I wanted to play the Captain Davenport character. It was the only role I wanted.
I liked the way he carries himself, and as a youth program facilitator working with kids and young adults myself, I have to help guide them and open their eyes and help reveal things to themselves. I think they see me as a leader, someone who looks into things and tries to find justice, so I felt like I really understood the character of Captain Davenport.
Q: How do you handle the anxiety that comes with acting?
A: I really don’t get nervous. I guess God gave me a gift for acting, and when I’m on stage it’s all or nothing. I don’t get nervous because it’s such a unique thing and I’m really into it. It’s like an escape for me, so I’m not worried about the people watching. That character and that moment on stage become real for me, so I don’t have stage fright. My mother was a singer and she performed in front of people, so maybe that helped me a little.
Q: What’s in your acting future?
A: Well, I’m going to take a little break after this show, but at some point I’d like to audition for something a bit bigger. I love community theater, and if I see a good play or part I’m going to audition for it, but I’m also thinking about something bigger, something like Capital Rep. That would be great.