When Maxim Vinogradov took his first steps in the theatrical world at West Bloomfield High School, he thought he wanted to be an actor. But as time went on and his other creative sides began to emerge, Vinogradov gravitated toward a different role and he stopped acting like an actor.
A junior at the University of Michigan, where he is trying to juggle a double major, Vinogradov will be back stage this week in Ferndale for the world-premiere of his original play “A Night of Stars with Tennessee Williams.” Slipstream Theatre Initiative is presenting the play from Aug. 26 through Sept. 17 (see below for show details). It’s an original play about an original American playwright written by a young writer still learning how to turn his creative imagination and artistic side into something, well, original.
Vinogradov says he’s always found Tennessee Williams and his life “very interesting” and “it went in so many different directions.”
Tennessee Williams is considered one of the foremost American playwrights of the 20th century and is known for such dramatic works as “The Glass Menagerie,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” and “Sweet Bird of Youth.”
Vinogradov took one of those “many different directions” and came up with something, well, original.
“It was not hard to come up with a few plays about him,” he says. “He had an interest in horoscopes so we wanted to play with that and the cliché of using the star as both a celebrity and a star in the night sky, and he was guiding the audience through a tour of all the stars that he made and broke and all the stars that made and broke him based on their horoscopes.”
Vinogradov also co-directs the play, which features a cast of high school students and consummate professionals put together by Slipstream Artistic Director Bailey Boudreau, who also stars as Tennessee Williams.
It’s certainly a dramatic play, but what Vinogradov likes most about it is the comedic way the story portrays the vulnerable side of some very famous people.
“It starts out as a very fun tour of him going through all the stars that he knew,” he says. “Him and Marlon Brando became famous off the same play (“A Streetcar Named Desire”), he helped Elizabeth Taylor get her start and Paul Newman his start. It’s a lot of fun seeing your favorite stars when they were really young and very self-conscious and afraid and seeing they were just like us before and after they became stars.”
Vinogradov’s road from actor to writer began in New York City – well, kind of. He was applying for admission to Juilliard, one of the most famous schools in the world for drama, dance and music. It’s also one of the most difficult schools to get into with an acceptance rate somewhere between 5.5 percent and 8 percent.
“When I was auditioning for Juilliard as an actor they asked me in the essay prompt, why are you an actor,” he said. “This was during our fall play and I was trying to come up with something while I was backstage but I just couldn’t because I was so nervous. So I just came up with this wild story about I was an actor in a circus and all these wild things and when I was out on stage, my friend read it and told me that what I had written was really, really good. That was the first time I actually thought that I could write something people would like.”
His road to Ann Arbor also went through New York City – kind of. Remember the acceptance rate at Juilliard. Yeah, not great odds no matter how great one is on the application.
“One of my brothers went to Michigan and we’ve always been fans of the school and I just wanted to stay in-state,” he said. “It was kind of the safe step for me at the time.”
Safety aside, Michigan has been more than a step, it’s been a giant leap and a revelation of sorts just how good the programs Vinogradov was interested in pursuing are at Michigan. He couldn’t be happier to be a junior in Ann Arbor and is enjoying every step he’s taking in learning and developing his skills as a writer and as a person.
“I’m majoring in English with a sub-con in creative writing and also majoring in film with a sub-con in screenwriting and a minor through the theater school in playwriting,” he said. “And I have been blown away by each of those three programs because going in I had no idea how good they were. For example, the screen writing is the best undergrad in the country. In the first weeks there I met the president of Comedy Central. We got to meet one of the head writers of the Big Bang Theory and the writer of Arrow. It was amazing.
“And the creative writing program is just awesome. There are so many talented people in that program. All the stories people come up with are so amazingly good.”
“Amazingly good” is a good way to describe “A Night of Stars with Tennessee Williams.”
“He (Vinogradov) is the most talented person I have ever known,” says Boudreau, who first met Max at WBHS and ended up directing him in two shows before he graduated. And he certainly saw something in Max’s creative side.
“I had long talks with him and his parents about letting him pursue theatre/film,” he says. “I coached him for his college auditions and his first summer out of high school I cast him in two back to back shows at Slipstream. At the time, he wanted to go into acting but had a crazy knack for screenplays, film editing, directing and playwriting.
“After his first year at U-M, playwriting won. He and I worked together to adapt Shaw’s Pygmalion last year where the character of Eliza Doolittle was actually a male transitioning to female. It was a huge success. He has also acted with us in Midsummer, Lysistrata, Romeo and Juliet, and currently plays the lead in The Seagull. So our relationship has been very collaborative.”
Vinogradov said meeting Boudreau at West Bloomfield HS changed his life and showed him a path he may have walked right on by if not for that collaborative relationship.
“My initial plan was to go into some kind of business,” he said with a laugh – not that there is anything wrong with that. But it clearly, at least now, would have been wrong for Vinogradov.
“Bailey has been a big inspiration to me. One thousand percent,” he says.
“If you are a little bit expressive you gravitate towards some kind of arts. My friends and I did plays together at middle school and then in high school it was more just a fun thing to do. It wasn’t until Bailey came along in my junior year that it became a real thing to pursue.”
Vinogradov is still trying to figure out a game plan for after college. He’s still trying to find that road he wants to take and hoping it jumps out at him in a clear and present way.
“I have no idea at this point,” he said. “I hope I strike gold before I graduate. I think it’s going to be writing. Directing is fun but stressful and acting is simply a fun thing to do. But writing really allows me to express myself.”
What: “A Night of Stars with Tennessee Williams,” by Maxim Vinogradov
When: Aug. 26-Sept. 17
Time: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.; Sundays at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $12, in advance only
Where: Slipstream Theatre Initiative, 460 Hilton Road, Ferndale