Curtain Rises: Veteran actor Christopher Patrick Mullen misses ‘Camp Shakespeare’ at Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival
Gigless in the Valley
Last of six parts
When Christopher Patrick Mullen left his Brooklyn apartment to visit his 90-year-old mother for a weekend March 13 all he brought with him was a weekend bag and a script.
Now more than three-months later, the professional actor is still at his mother’s home in Malvern, Chester County, while Pennsylvania has been under quarantine for the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Mullen, or CPM (Christopher Patrick Mullen), as he’s known, a long-time favorite on the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival (PSF) stages, had hoped to spend another summer on the Center Valley campus of DeSales University this year in Shakespeare’s “Henry IV, Part 2.”
A DeSales graduate himself, Mullen has been involved with Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival since it’s first season in 1992.
“I’ve been in the neighborhood of 30 productions there,” he says.
“Henry” had not even been cast when PSF Producing Artistic Director Patrick Mulcahy announced that the 2020 season was being canceled.
“When all the shutdowns happened, within a week, I lost three gigs that would have taken me through the summer,” Mullen says.
“When you’re a freelancer, the next thing you’ve got lined up you’re holding onto for dear life. For artists, work isn’t easy to come by. From young artists to more seasoned artists like me, this was very disorienting.”
Mullen notes that the pandemic is not without precedent. Only then, they were called plagues.
“One of first things you learn in theater history 101 is how there were plagues that shut down theaters in Shakespeare’s time,” he says.
Spending summers working at Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival is something he looks forward to every year and it is “weird” not to be doing it, Mullen says.
Last summer at PSF, he played the Scottish rebel Douglas in “Henry IV, Part 1” and multiple roles in the comedy “The Mystery of Irma Vep.”
“It feels to me like my summer home,” says Mullen. “It’s like Shakespeare Camp, a marvelous place to be during the summer. It’s so much fun.”
Among his canceled non-PSF gigs were Mullen’s first-ever collaboration with a classical music group, Dolce Suono Ensemble, in May in Philadelphia and New York. Mullen was to read Ogden Nash’s whimsical animal verses against the ensemble’s performance of Saint-Saëns’ “The Carnival of the Animals.”
“I’m a huge classical music fan,” Mullen says. “It had been booked a year in advance and I was wild with anticipation.”
He says he’s confident the performance will be rescheduled.
Another project shut down that is close to his heart is his collaboration with fellow PSF actor John Ahlin, who played Falstaff in “Henry IV, Part 1.”
The two men wrote a play, “ChipandGus,” and were to perform it at SPIN New York 23, a ping pong club.
The play takes place at a ping pong table in a rundown sports bar, so the venue was perfect.
“That is going to happen,” says Mullen.
Also put on hold was a web series of the play.
Mullen says some positives have come out of his forced break from the stage, such as discovering interesting new plays through online readings on Zoom, such as the play “Obsessed.”
“[Playwright] Andy Holiday had tried to get me to read it before but I was always too busy,” he says. “Now we’re all just sitting at home. I’m so glad I could be a part of it.”
He also finally got to read “The Idea of a Theater,” which had been recommended to him years ago by the late Rev. Gerard J. Schubert, founder of the Performing And Fine Arts Department at DeSales University and Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival.
The book by Francis Fergusson examines the changing perspectives in the art of theater through an in-depth study of nine plays.
Mullen also is very grateful for the time he’s been spending with his mother.
“I never would have been able to spend a couple months with her,” he says.
Mullen has had some work. Several theaters, including PSF, have asked him to record video clips to help keep them in the public eye.
As for theater in the time of the coronavirus, Mullen isn’t sure how socially distancing will work on stage.
“It’s really going to be different,” he says. “I think there will be more outdoor theater and small ensemble things with audiences pared down.
“Especially comedy is always better in a packed house when people have less inhibition about laughing. It seems like a void if the house isn’t full. It will be an entirely different dynamic.”
Mullen says theaters will have to be creative.
People’s Light, a theater in Chester County of which he is a company member, is considering drive-in theater for its holiday production of “A Christmas Carol.”
“They are moving forward with it,” says Mullen.
But, he says, theater will return one way or another.
“If it goes too long, actors are going to take matters into their own hands and do something out in the grass,” he says. “And when things do start again, it will have a certain electricity.”