Mike Wiley is a North Carolina-based actor & playwright whose compelling works of documentary theatre yield rich and powerful journeys to milestones and turning points of a cultural history. With a remarkable ability to inspire dialog, his creative vision and talents are broad and magnetic, and he shares a gift that helps audiences and communities start to peel layers of misunderstanding. When a curtain comes down on a Mike Wiley performance, the experience has far from “ended.” It’s much more likely that light may have seeped through, that a stubborn door may have just nudged open…
His plays include THE PARCHMAN HOUR, DOWNRANGE: STORIES FROM THE HOMEFRONT, DAR HE: THE STORY OF EMMETT TILL, the theatrical adaptation of BLOOD DONE SIGN MY NAME and more. The film adaptation of Wiley’s DAR HE, in which he portrayed 30+ roles, received more than 40 major film festival awards around the globe. THE PARCHMAN HOUR was selected as the closing event of the official 50th year anniversary commemoration of the Freedom Riders in Jackson, MS and his plays have been selected for showcase by juries at a majority of performing arts conferences across America.
Wiley has fifteen years credits in documentary theatre for young audiences plus film, television and regional theatre. An Upward Bound alum and Trio Achiever Award recipient, he is an M.F.A. graduate of the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and is a former Lehman-Brady Visiting Joint Chair Professor at Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies. He has conducted numerous educational residencies funded through grant programs of the North Carolina Arts Council. During 2014, he completed a 20+-performance tour in Ontario, Canada. Wiley’s overriding goal is expanding cultural awareness for audiences of all ages through dynamic portrayals based on pivotal moments in African-American history and, in doing so, helping to unveil a richer picture of the total American experience.
All Mike Wiley Productions’ theatrical adaptations are offered in abbreviated versions for student audiences (approx. 45-min. plus post-show audience talkback), in addition to full-length productions (approx. 80 min. running time plus post-show audience talkback) for general audiences.
Current Touring Productions
- JACKIE ROBINSON: A GAME APART
Glimpse into baseball legend Jackie Robinson’s life during a bygone era of separate and unequal locker rooms, whites-only hotels and restaurant back doors. Witness the hopeless humiliation of a star player showered with adulation on the field --but a second-hand citizen outside the stadium. Meet compatriots fighting the same battles between end zones, inside the ring, around the track. JACKIE ROBINSON: A GAME APART is a powerful lesson of courage through dedication, perseverance and leadership. (student version recommended for gr. 3+)
- TIRED SOULS: THE MONTGOMERY BUS BOYCOTT
Montgomery, AL, Dec. 1, 1955: Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat to a white man on a city bus. This action inspires the black citizens of Montgomery to abandon all travel on city buses until they are no longer forced to sit in the back or stand when a white person boards. There were more who came before, brave visionaries who laid the groundwork for this pivotal moment. TIRED SOULS introduces audiences to Jo Ann Robinson, Claudette Colvin and others instrumental in the Civil Rights Movement, changing the course of U.S. history. (student version recommended for gr. 3+)
- BROWN VS. BOARD OF EDUCATION: OVER SIXTY YEARS LATER
In 1952, the Supreme Court heard a number of school-segregation cases, including Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas. It ruled unanimously in 1954 that segregation was unconstitutional, overthrowing Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896) that had set the "separate but equal" precedent. This play recounts the effects of the decision on the families who participated in the original court case, the impact of the ruling on school systems at the time and the challenges still being made today. (student version recommended for gr. 5+)
- ONE NOBLE JOURNEY: A BOX MARKED FREEDOM
A true story of three slaves who overcome seemingly insurmountable odds to gain a life of freedom. Wiley becomes Henry "Box" Brown a black slave who sees no alternative but to mail himself to freedom in a small crate. Brown's life unfolds like a Mark Twain adventure, perilous and somber at times while humorous and heroic throughout. Audience members join Wiley on stage, quickly becoming characters helping propel the historic action. (student version recommended for gr. 3+)
- BREACH OF PEACE
May 24, 1961 was the day 19-year old Jean Thompson’s father had prepared her for her entire life. “My parents always talked about the injustice of segregation, but they were optimistic; they didn’t feel like it was going to last forever,” Thompson recalled. “They raised us to be ready. I remember my dad saying the day will come, and when it does, you should be ready.” On that day, she boarded a Trailways bus in Montgomery, Alabama with 11 other young Freedom Riders bound for New Orleans – and history. Within three months, approximately 300 other riders took up the mantle to desegregate buses, following the path of the first brave few. Mobs bloodily assaulted many. Others were arrested shining a light on a brutal, segregated South. BREACH OF PEACE is based on true accounts of surviving participants of the Freedom Rides as well as many other individuals involved in the early struggle for African-American equality. This solo-play is a living monument to those remarkable young men and women of various races, religions and backgrounds who rose to face the dangers of fighting for just and equal treatment for all. (student version recommended for gr. 5+)
- THE FIRE OF FREEDOM
Abraham H. Galloway (1837-1870) was a fiery young slave rebel, radical abolitionist, and Union spy who rose out of bondage to become one of the most significant and stirring black leaders in the South during the Civil War. Throughout his brief, mercurial life, Galloway fought against slavery and injustice. He risked his life behind enemy lines, recruited black soldiers for the North, and fought racism in the Union army's ranks. He also stood at the forefront of an African American political movement, even leading a historic delegation of black southerners to the White House to meet with President Lincoln and to demand the full rights of citizenship. He later became one of the first black men elected to the North Carolina legislature. Long hidden from history, Galloway's story reveals a war unfamiliar to most of us. This riveting portrait, adapted by playwright Howard Craft, illuminates Galloway's life and deepens our insight into the Civil War and Reconstruction as experienced by African Americans in the South. (student version recommended for gr. 5+)
- DAR HE: THE STORY OF EMMETT TILL
In 1955, a 14-year-old black Chicago youth traveled to the Mississippi Delta with country kinfolk and southern cooking on his mind. He walked off the train and stepped into a world he could never understand -- a world of thick color lines, of hard-held class systems and unspeakable taboos. Young Emmett crossed that line and met his gruesome fate by whistling at a white woman. This riveting play chronicles the murder, trial and unbelievable confession of the men accused of Emmett Till's lynching. (student version recommended for gr. 7+)
Click here for an important statement by Ambassador Andrew J. Young about DAR HE: THE STORY OF EMMETT TILL.
Click here for PRX public radio news feature about Mike Wiley’s DAR HE: THE STORY OF EMMETT TILL.
- BLOOD DONE SIGN MY NAME
In the spring of 1970, Henry “Dickie” Marrow, a 23- year-old U.S. Army veteran whose wife was pregnant with their third daughter, was beaten and shot to death by Robert Teel, Teel’s son Larry and stepson Roger Oakley. The men were acquitted of the crime by an all-white jury, despite testimony by two black eyewitnesses. Roger Oakley, the stepson, actually confessed to shooting the gun but was never indicted. But it was the Teels’ acquittal for their hot-headed hate crime that launched the small town of Oxford, NC into a season of violent reprisals. Based on Tim Tyson’s award winning memoir, BLOOD DONE SIGN MY NAME feels frighteningly familiar and relevant. Wiley’s compelling dramatization of the true-life account of this 1970 racial murder is meant to acknowledge America’s painful racial history, “that our freedom and dignity, if we still have any, has been paid for in blood, that we have a contract with our ancestors not to let their sacrifices be in vain.” Features special guest gospel musical artist in full-length version. (student version recommended for gr. 7+)
- And Mike Wiley’s personal call to action & the arts: “WE COULD BE HEROES…”
A motivational commentary by actor/playwright Mike Wiley that speaks to his experiences and influences as a boy growing up in Virginia, a young man finding his inner voice, and his journey to becoming a professional touring artist in America. It is a statement of gratitude to those who incite greatness, and a call to action to those who aspire to… It is a personal sharing about a long-planted seed. Originally written for Arts North Carolina as a message to arts advocates and legislators, the speech has been presented as a commencement address, and at education and arts conferences. The address runs approx. 25 minutes in length, and may be followed by an audience Q&A if desired.
For more information about each of these productions, including study guides, technical rider, fee schedule, promotional resources & more, click the Presenter Toolkit link at upper left.
In a Word…
“This is more than mere versatility – it’s virtuosity.” - American Theatre Magazine
"… a tour-de-force … a riveting evening of theater, one of the year's ten best." - Raleigh News & Observer
"A depth and clarity as distinct as an entire cast of players could make them...so packed that we are rapt from the very first word." - Classical Voice of NC
“Intensely researched, brilliantly crafted…” - Independent Weekly
A Presenter's Point of View
“Mike is the best. We want him back! Our students, parents and staff loved having him with us. This was the best half day PD that I have offered in a long time. I could go on and on!”
Justin Carver, Principal, Cranberry Middle School, Avery County, NC
“You helped our students uncover dimensions within themselves that some of them didn't even know they had. Thank you for being a window into what their future could be… We are changed a bit because of your visit.”
Chatham Elementary School, Pittsboro, NC
“We still can't get over Mike Wiley's incredible and important performance. Mike breathed life, accuracy and humanity into each of the many characters he portrayed with such a seamless embodiment of physicality and an overarching narrative skill within his engaging one-man storytelling. Mike and his art definitely make an impact on all who experience it. The DAR HE premiere performance for a Chicagoland audience was nothing short of magical. Afterwards, I've never witnessed a more powerfully engaging Q&A session. With members from Till's family, other family of characters portrayed in the piece, and several first-hand witnesses from Till's Chicago viewing in attendance, the Q&A got flipped on its head and you saw Mike's utter devotion, respect for the significance of this history and the desire to further enhance his performance as he instead asked these folks for more detail on what it was like and how they felt. The ways in which Mike connected with our audience left us speechless. More than one staff person who was here for the show has come up and said that it made them proud to work here. I could not agree more.”
David Vish, Director of Marketing, North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, Skokie IL
“In my thirty-one years in education, I cannot remember any performance that matches his wonderful blend of humor, history, reflection, student involvement and lasting impact. Mesmerizing…truly a gift. In a matter of minutes, he won undivided attention and taught more history than could be taught in a week. He is doing very important work.”
Dr. B. Redmond, Supt., Newton Conover Schools, NC
“Mike Wiley’s ability to transform himself into many characters carries this film much farther than the usual acting triumph of multiple characters does, because by portraying an entire cast, black, white, female or male, he addresses the heinous nature of hate. His work reminds us in every frame that we are all of one humanity.”
Deirdre Haj, Executive Director, Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, Durham, NC
Christian B. Rothwell, Chorus/Drama Specialist, Apex NC