Living a Billion Nights: An Interview with Michael and Winslow Fegley
This week sees the premiere of A Billion Nights on Earth, the latest work from acclaimed theater maker and performer Thaddeus Phillips in collaboration with artist Steven Dufala. The show—appropriate and ideal for audiences of all ages—follows a father and son as they venture into their fridge in search of a beloved stuffed whale and find themselves on a spectacular quest through space and time. With stunning scenic work by Dufala and Phillips, taking inspiration from the shapeshifting nature of Kabuki theater design, the piece is a dazzling, ever-evolving work of visual art and a touching, imaginative dive into the realms of parent–child relationships, exploring their varying perspectives on reality.
If you find the relationship between the father and son characters deeply palpable, it might be because stars Michael and Winslow Fegley are father and son. And also exceptionally talented performers. Michael Fegley has been working in theater and film for decades now, as has his wife Mercedes, and now all three of their children are following in their footsteps.
I caught up with Michael and Winslow to learn a little more about their experiences performing, how this collaboration with Phillips came about, and what it’s like living in the fantastical world of A Billion Nights on Earth.
FringeArts: Tell us a little about your performance backgrounds.
Michael: I’m a member of AEA and SAG-AFTRA and have been working professionally for over twenty years. I’ve performed extensively in New York and Philadelphia in works ranging from classical to the avant-garde, including the Off-Broadway production of Small Potatoes.
Winslow: I’ve been doing plays and movies for a while now. Plus my whole family acts, and I watch them working all the time. I’ve learned a lot, and I like working with my dad.
FringeArts: Is there a strong theater or performance community in Allentown?
Michael: Allentown has the wonderful, talented people of the Civic Theatre of Allentown, where our family has been a part of productions for years. Winslow, like his sister August and brother Oakes, have all taken many turns on that stage. However, it is a non-equity house, so I have to find work in Philadelphia and elsewhere. Last year I was in the world premiere of The Ballad of Trayvon Martin at Freedom Theatre here in Philadelphia.
Winslow: I like working in Allentown, but it’s cool when we get to go to new places and work in different theaters.
FringeArts: How did you two end up in these roles?
Michael: I’ve known Thaddeus Phillips for almost twenty years, and was part of the 2003 New York production of The Earth’s Sharp Edge which we also did at the Painted Bride here in Philly. We’ve been following Thaddeus’s work, and our family has seen several of his productions over the years. He knew that my wife and I performed together with our children sometimes, and approached our family with the idea of a father-son piece.
Winslow: Thaddeus came to stay with us for a few days at the beginning of the year to get to know me, and by the time he left he was already spinning these crazy ideas with us. So that was like our audition.
Winslow: A lot, I guess. I mean, he’s my dad.
Michael: A Billion Nights on Earth is quite the fantasy piece, but there are moments of parental frustration that any parent can understand. We also touch on the unfortunate disconnect that happens in our busy world, and the importance of connection for both the child and the parent.
FringeArts: What has it been like working with this otherworldly set that constantly evolves as the piece progresses?
Winslow: Awesome, it’s just so much fun to be in so many worlds!
Michael: I also think it’s awesome. Performing on it carries your mind to all new places – you think in new ways, use your body in different ways, and experience things on many levels.
FringeArts: What are each of your favorite aspects of the show?
Michael: That is really hard to answer, because we’ve come to love so much about each environment that we’ve created. Working with Thaddeus Phillips, Steven Dufala, and the music of Juan Gabriel Turbay is like being in a whirlwind of creative genius. Ideas would spring to life in rehearsals. It’s all so fun and amazing!
Winslow: I love all of it, but I think the waves are really cool.
FringeArts: Outside of acting, how do you each like to spend your time?
Winslow: I’m at school. I go to a Waldorf school, so we get to be outside a lot and do really cool creative stuff too. And I play the piano all the time at home.
Michael: Being a father of three keeps you pretty much booked! But in quiet times – I’m a people watcher. I can’t help it, but I find myself quietly imagining what strangers are doing, where they are going, imagining what it is that’s making them smile, and what pains they might carry in their minds.
A Billion Nights on Earth
Thaddeus Phillips + Steven Dufala
140 N. Columbus Boulevard
$15 (student + 25-and-under)