About Michelle Hakala- Wolf
How it started: When I was little I wanted to be a writer. Specifically, I wanted to write ghost stories and mysteries. This was when I was seven and my writing style pretty much looked like the snoopy comic that started with: it was a dark and stormy night. As a child my home was filled with music. The radio was on every day all day, my parents are young so my house was filled with rock and roll, country, bluegrass and blues. But, along with this very cool and very groovy house music my parents loved to watch musicals. We watched all of them and owned the records. I sang along to Julie Andrews and pretty much wanted to be Mary Poppins...the costumes were on point.
I didn’t really think about being an actor or a singer until I was asked to accompany the school choir on the piano. I started with the concerts and then I started to play for the school musicals. This was junior high and the shows were along the lines of: girl lives on a mountain top, falls in love with boy, there’s an obstacle. They save the town and the obstacle is removed. I’m pretty sure that was the formula but I was the accompanist and in the ensemble. Fun. But then one day a competitive edge was born and I decided I needed to have the lead role. I had no other reason but that I’m a fairly competitive person and I needed to win. I got that role and a musical theatre monster was born. A few years and a love of all things Sondheim later and I was singing professionally in a restaurant and had started booking my first professional shows.
For much of my career I danced and sang in musicals. I played a lot of ghosts and fairies and in general loved every minute. As most competitive people do I trained as if my life depended on it and I guess if you really want a professional career it does. So I trained as an actor and as a dancer and of course as a singer.
Fighting the size factor: Probably the biggest obstacle in my career was my size. I’m small...I mean like really small...like small as a child small. I also have a big, mature voice. I bring this up because this problem, this size factor got in my way not just as a performer but as a person. I let it dictate how my career ran. I fought it, I tried to roll with it, I complained about it and cried about it. When I look back I realize that what was in my way wasn’t so much my size as that I was confusing in the room and I didn’t know. Big, mature voice, teeny tiny woman. Instead of working with my size and developing a type that would get me hired I just fought. I fought hard and lost many times. I use this example a lot when I teach because as much as the industry was type specific when I started 40 years ago it’s even more so now. It’s so important to understand how you are seen in the room. What casting problem are you solving by being simply you. I use this idea to help my students navigate the overall perspective of how they are seen. It helps them even if I learned it almost but not quite too late.
A big, big obstacle: Well into my career I ran into an even bigger obstacle. I developed an auto immune disease that almost took me down. It took my dance career. It made me gain weight. Then it took my voice. I could sing but it was not comfortably. I could not afford a teacher, I could barely afford the doctor. It was the recession and we moved from California to Arizona in part because I was sick and the doctors didn’t know with what. It took a long, long time to get a proper diagnosis and more time to get treatment. Even with all of the treatment though nothing changed. I was still sick, still bigger than I’d ever been, my body wouldn’t heal from injuries, I had little to no energy and and even worse my voice was getting more and more troublesome. Soon, it hurt to even speak. Depressed and anxious I took a hail mary save and applied to grad school. The loan that paid for my degree took us out of a recession hit state of Arizona and took us to NYC, also hit but still NEW YORK CITY. I figured that if I couldn’t perform I could at least teach others. I know, I know I’d still need to talk but I decided to ignore that part. I was in NEW YORK CITY.
The day my voice got saved: I graduated from NYU with a master’s degree in Educational Theatre for colleges and communities. Basically, this degree uses theatrical practice as a teaching tool as well as training you to teach in any theatre program. I loved it. It saved me and changed my life and my perspective. But it was still the recession so noticing all my friends were not working as they graduated I took a job in a tech office and got really, really good insurance. While I was with that insurance I met the massage therapists who saved my career. She found scar tissue had wrapped itself around my trachea and was strangling me. This was making it difficult to speak, sing and swallow. She removed it by breaking the scar tissue off. It was the most miraculous thing that I’ve ever been through. I cried. She cried. I could speak and it didn’t hurt. I could sing! Shortly after that as life tends to do I was laid off from that tech job. That was in December 2014. By January 5 I was auditioning. By April I had booked a show. And I was back.
You can’t go backwards: Auditioning in NYC is arduous. I was grateful to be there but by this time I was in my 40s and the roles are just not there. I mourned my lost time but then I realized there was still so much I could do. I built Wolf CIty Voice into what it is now. I built the Wolf Pack. I wrote. I wrote with my students and I prepped to audition for TV where low and behold there are suddenly musicals. Lots and lots of musicals.
Expanding the Universe: It’s so easy to keep pounding the pavement in the exact same way you always did; to never change your tactic or goals because it doesn’t feel like you achieved what you wanted to. But what I believe is you can't go backwards, you can only expand your perception of what you thought you’d do and that is what I’ve done. My studio is a full service creative zen zone. We build amazing voices, we write pieces to perform, we build into the artform that we love so much. And as for me. I follow the next rainbow to wherever it leads.
My Proof of Purchase: I have been singing for 40 years. I’ve studied voice with Edward Sayegh, David Jones and Joan Barber. The biggest influence on my career though was Deena Kaye who coaches repertoire and acting for singers. I studied dance at the University of Utah. I studied acting with Jim Kirkwood, Nan Smithner, BADA, Ariel Baliff and more. I have a MA from NYU in Education Theatre for Colleges and Communities. I studied piano so many years ago. I live in LA, where it’s warm and sunny almost all of the time and on the road with my husband Jeff. We travel, we travel a lot. I still perform and I write. One of my plays is about to be produced. Stay tuned for that cause that’s going to be all kinds of awesome.
I believe anyone can sing but it’s not as easy for everyone. That being said though if you need to sing. If your heart tells you, you have to sing, I beg you Don't Give Up. Even if it’s hard. Even if you feel you will never get there. That voice inside you won’t be silenced.