Mark Isler

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When I graduated from theatre conservatory, I was thinking I would be performing a hell of a lot more than I am now. This is by no means a knock on my talent or my school, I was and still am quite confident in myself as an actor, and my conservatory with its amazing teachers taught me volumes so it wasn’t that either. Hmmm…Oh yeah! It was the day I died that threw everything, what some might call, “a little out of sorts.” 

On November 18, 2008, I slipped and fell while shopping in a drug store. I hit my head and needed emergency brain surgery. I wish it were a sexier story but it is not. I flatlined on the operating table twice but was successfully revived both times (obviously). My poor family was told that if I woke up again (which doctors did not believe I would do), I would never make a full recovery and would need to learn to walk, talk, and go to the bathroom all over again. 

I will always be a stage performer; my stage and my audience have simply altered a bit is all.

Mark Isler

Well I woke up, and once the excitement of that settled, I began the long road back. After one particularly difficult day of rehab I was laying in bed rueing my situation, waxing poetic with the stereotypical, “why did this have to happen to me” crap, when a package arrived for me. It was from an old high school friend who had heard what happened and wanted to cheer me up. When I opened the box, I saw that it was full to the brim with his favorite books, crossword puzzles and word searches, a Rubik’s cube, the whole nine. When I got to the bottom there was a very simple note from my friend that stated, “Enjoy Your Brain.”*

I decided at that point that I was going to change my outlook on my position. I was not unlucky to be rehabbing, I was extremely lucky just to be alive. My brain was not supposed to be fully functioning, but it was (anyone who knows me, feel free to make your “Mark is stupid joke here,” hahaha), so why not use it. I decided to go back to school and become a teacher. Of theatre of course.

One Bachelor’s degree, one Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, and one Master of Fine Arts degree later, and I have been teaching in the Applied Drama/Theatre for Young Audiences Program at Eastern Michigan University for the last five years. I absolutely love everything about what I do. I never intended to go down a path of pedagogy or education, but life is what happens when you are busy making plans, I guess. I will always be a stage performer; my stage and my audience have simply altered a bit is all. I still stand center stage, delivering monologues, breaking the fourth wall, and positing relevant, important, difficult questions. There really is no possibility of fame or fortune in this profession, but let’s be honest here, that was a pretty long shot to begin with. I no longer receive an applause which I must admit I do miss a little more than I thought I would, however the alternative will forever be infinitely better. Students tell me they like school because of my class, or my class is the only one they do not ditch. One student said it best: “You make me like school.” 

Theatre is still my life and my career, the vehicle with which it is conveyed has simply changed. I thought I would be performing onstage at the Belasco, or BAM, instead I am teaching about the history of those theatres, shows that have been produced there, actors that have performed there, and sharing my passion for the greatest art there is. 

Change happens, and when it does it must be embraced. After all: The Show Must Go On!    

*  Not only do I still have this card framed above my bed, I got the text tattooed on my arm!

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