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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

Coach Takes Center Stage at Theatre Bristol

Locke in <em>Much Ado About Nothing</em>. Also appearing and seated stage right is Locke's father.  Photographs courtesy of Theatre Bristol.
Locke in Much Ado About Nothing. Also appearing and seated stage right is Locke's father. Photographs courtesy of Theatre Bristol.
Additional photos below »

Reprinted by permission from Bristol Herald Courier (Jan. 18, 2007)

By Allen Gregory | January 27, 2007

BRISTOL, Va. — Mike Locke studied his notes, hustled to his spot and executed his assignment. Instead of Gene Malcolm Stadium, the stage was Theatre Bristol.

Football fans of Virginia High School (VHS) and the College of William & Mary have come to expect such versatility from Locke. This 38-year-old Bristol resident simply loves to step into a new and challenging role.

Renaissance Man

Locke first tasted the exhilaration of performing before an audience during spring festival productions at VHS. After earning a scholarship to play football at William & Mary, Locke soon found a new niche. In fact, Locke was the subject of a USA Today feature story which profiled his work at a comedy club in Williamsburg. Locke handled every role from waiter and emcee to warm-up act for the headliner.

"I've always enjoyed performing," said Locke, who devised a 30-minute routine based on life as a college student. The comedy act was fun, but nothing compares to live theatre."

Locke answered the curtain call in 2002 when he successfully auditioned for a role in the Theatre Bristol production of Chicago. While Locke didn't land the role of leading man in the Tony Award-winning musical based on greed, murder and show biz, he did catch the bug.

"I played the roles of policeman and judge," Locke said. "I had a good time learning the basics of acting and working with my cast members."

Team Player

Locke earned regional fame as a multi-sport athlete and honor student at Virginia High School. In fact, Locke was selected for the Gene Thompson Award given annually by Bristol Herald Courier for high school seniors across the Mountain Empire who excel in athletics and academics.

The 6-foot-2 Locke played tight end on the William & Mary football team from 1987-91, then returned to VHS where he eventually became head football and soccer coach.

After leaving education for a couple of years, Locke felt the urge to work with teammates for a common goal. Acting served as the perfect outlet.

"I missed many aspects of athletics, and theatre has filled that void for me," Locke said. "There are so many parallels to athletics and acting. You have the preparation and study, the mental and physical aspect of the production, and then the feedback."

It all adds up to a satisfying experience for Locke. His acting credits include staples such as Annie, The Gift of the Magi, Music Man, Oklahoma! and Much Ado About Nothing. Locke's favorite roles were Curly in Oklahoma! and Benedick in Shakespeare's comedic classic Much Ado About Nothing.

"I guess my size dictates that I play the heavy role, but I enjoy all aspects of theatre," Locke said.

Regional Treasure

Theatre Bristol was founded 41 years ago as a theatre company for children by Catherine DeCaterina. The Bristol institution has made dramatic strides over the past four decades. Children from 60 counties and five states now annually travel to the State Street theater to see an array of youth-oriented and adult productions. The 2006-07 season also includes five productions for adults.

According to Theatre Bristol producer Emily Anne Thompson, contributions from civic-minded citizens such as Locke are the lifeblood of any community theatre.

"The best thing about Mike is that he is such a team player," Thompson said. "No matter if he has the lead or supporting role, Mike brings the same enthusiasm."

Thompson can also relate to Locke's athletic background. She played volleyball, basketball and tennis at King College in the mid-1980s.

"I can definitely appreciate Mike's sense of discipline and commitment," Thompson said. "Everybody here is a volunteer, and they are giving up 6-8 weeks at a time away from family and friends for rehearsals and shows. It's vital to have versatile folks like Mike around who support their cast members and bring a passionate approach to the stage."

The Big Picture

Locke must make time for his hobby. In addition to his duties as a history teacher at VHS, Locke serves as an assistant coach in football and basketball and will be the head coach in boys soccer this spring.

On a recent night, Locke was attempting to bathe his six-year-old daughter Rachel while giving an interview and talking to a parent over the phone.

"I probably have too many irons in the fire, but I feel fortunate to be involved with an organization that has such a lofty mission as Theatre Bristol," Locke said. "If I'm fortunate to land more roles, I plan to continue my stage work and share it with my family. I was really proud to see Rachel perform last year in The Sound of Music."

With talents that include singing, juggling and comedy, Locke has the range to work for a larger theatre company. He has attended a couple of open auditions for Barter Theatre productions.

"I have several friends who work in theatre on a regional and national level, and I have a great deal of respect and admiration for people in that profession," Locke said. "I've just had a little taste of live theatre, but it's helped me to appreciate all the work and dedication that goes into it. There's just nothing like live theatre."

A! ExtraTopics: Theatre

Locke as Curly in Oklahoma!

Locke in Gifts of the Magi

From Annie in 2004

A dress rehearsal for Music Man in 2003