Barrington actress in Chicago radio play
Mickie O'Donnell (from left), Renee Matthews and Michaela "Mickey" Nelson in AFTRA-SAG's "Twist of the Dial."
Comedy Double header
AFTRA/SAG Senior Radio Players, Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, 77 E. Randolph St., Chicago
7 p.m. Tuesday, July 31 (doors open at 6 p.m.)
Free, reservations are not required
Updated: July 27, 2012 10:09AM
Michaela “Mickey” Nelson will be taking a trip back in time on Tuesday, July 31 — and she will be in good company. The Barrington resident is a member of the AFTRA/SAG Senior Radio Players.
The group, comprised of older members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists and the Screen Actors Guild, was formed in 1997 to present re-enactments of radio programs. Nelson joined in 2004 and has performed in numerous shows, playing everything from a radio operator in “War of the Worlds” to a jingle singer in “Death Takes a Holiday” and the dual roles of Mary’s mother and little Zuzu Bailey in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” She also works behind the scenes for the group.
The next show is a comedy double-header, featuring “The Bum,” from the series “The Fabulous Dr. Tweedy” (originally broadcast June 30, 1946) and “Jane Thinks Mink” from the series, “Easy Aces” (originally broadcast Nov. 30, 1939). Nelson will play a college girl in “The Fabulous Dr. Tweedy.”
Nelson, who was born in Omaha, lived in Barrington from the time she was 8 until she was 18. She returned to Barrington with her husband in 1997.
“I’ve always been performing — starting with a hairbrush microphone — always imitating the vocalist of the minute,” Nelson said. “My mom was in theater and I just slipped right into it. In fact, she was in an off-Broadway production of ‘Guys and Dolls’ that was performed at our high school and three years later, I had the lead in our high school musical with the same show.”
Nelson earned a music teaching degree in college but “filed it in the circular file,” she said, because all she wanted to do was perform and work in the business.
Initially Nelson worked at an ad agency but she soon landed a temp job at WLS Radio. It was supposed to last a week but she was there for 9-1/2 years. “I worked in almost every department,” she said. “They wound up bringing me back full time as the general manager’s assistant.”
At the same time, Nelson was singing around town. Then she acquired a part-time musician’s union job at the radio studio with responsibility for keeping the music library organized. “I kept looking at all these great records that were not being played on the air,” she recalled.
That led to Nelson forming a large show band called Mickey & The Memories in 1983. “Me without any sight reading background,” she admitted. “But I learned promotion and marketing.” She also did graphic design and worked on the band’s contracts.
The group had two other singers besides Nelson, Roxanne Schiavo and Molly Jones. Between the three of them, they were able to cover all the voices of a wide variety of woman singers in what they billed as “The Ultimate Rock ‘n Soul Reunion.”
Some group highlights include performing for Mayor Richard M. Daley’s 1989 inauguration, Rahm Emanuel’s 1994 wedding and the 1996 Democratic Convention at Navy Pier. “I’m very proud of what we accomplished,” Nelson said.
Nelson retired the band in 2008 to take care of her ailing parents until they died. “Now we’re talking about a 30th reunion for next year,” she revealed.
Last year, Nelson moved in with her mother-in-law, caring for her until she passed away. While there, Nelson gathered all of the woman’s photos, made copies of them which she numbered and recorded her mother-in-law describing who was in each photo and the history behind it. She plans to make a photo DVD with edited audio for the family, something she thinks other families might be interested in doing.
Currently, Nelson is putting together demos with hopes of doing additional voiceover work. The versatile performer proved she’s a natural by briefly reprising her roles in “It’s a Wonderful Life.” One minute, she was Mary’s stern-voiced mother, the next George Bailey’s sweet-sounding little girl.
“I feel honored to be in this group,” Nelson said of the AFTRA/SAG Senior Radio Players. “I’m learning from the best of the best.”