Meet Eric Michael Gillett: ‘Go Get the Axe’ Star and Longtime Circus Ringmaster

Most of us have fond memories of an evening spent at the circus. Eric Michael Gillett has more than a decade’s worth of them. The longtime Ringmaster of the Greatest Show on Earth is also a six-time MAC Award-winning director and performer whose long list of film and television credits include Kevin Can Wait, The Blacklist, Daredevil, The Mysteries of Laura, The Producers, Maid in Manhattan, Good God, Out of Order, The Third Testament, My Brother, Law & Order, and Ed. His Broadway credits include the original casts of Sweet Smell of Success, The Frogs, and Kiss Me, Kate (revival) and he’s also an accomplished musician (check out his new CD, Careless Rhapsody). Basically, there’s nothing this guy can’t do. But here are a few things you might not know about Eric Michael Gillett, in his own words.

1. HE WAS THE RINGMASTER OF RINGLING BROS. AND BARNUM & BAILEY CIRCUS FOR 11 YEARS.

Actually, I was the 27th Ringmaster in the entire history of the Greatest Show on Earth.

2. HE WAS AN INTEGRAL PART OF THE BIG APPLE CIRCUS, TOO.

I conceived and directed the 2010/11 edition of New York’s own Big Apple Circus, Dance On!

3. HE MADE HIS BROADWAY DEBUT JUST A FEW MONTHS AFTER ARRIVING IN NEW YORK.

I came to New York City very late in life and made my Broadway debut a few months later in the original cast of the award-winning revival of Kiss Me, Kate.

4. HE CAN REALLY ROCK OUT.

When I was a kid, I was in rock bands and did cover versions of The Mamas & the Papas, specializing in the voice of Denny Doherty (“Monday, Monday,” “California Dreaming”) and, a few years after I moved to NYC, I had the opportunity to be his alternate in the story of The Mamas and the Papas, Dream a Little Dream, when it played the Village Theatre (formerly the Village Gate), only yards away from the legendary clubs where Cass, Denny, Michelle, and John first met and performed in various groups before making it as a quartet.

5. HE SUPPORTS A HOME FOR MENTALLY DISABLED ADULTS IN ELIZABETH CITY, NORTH CAROLINA. 

The Benjamin House is my favorite project and I travel there twice a year to be with the residents and, most especially, Benjamin Hughes, for whom the house is named. We’ve been friends since his mother brought him to meet me when he was in the circus when he was only seven or eight. We’ve now been friends for over 30 years.

6. HE CO-STARRED WITH THE ONE AND ONLY MICKEY MOUSE IN LET’S GO TO THE CIRCUS.

No, really!

7. HE MAKES VOICE LESSONS AFFORDABLE FOR NEW YORK CITY PERFORMERS.

I teach voice (vocal technique) and administer the Singers Forum/AEA Scholarship Fund, which provides subsidized affordable voice lessons for professional actor/singers in New York City.

8. HE READ GO GET THE AXE ON THE SUBWAY, AND BECAME SO ENGROSSED THAT HE MISSED HIS STOP.

When Chris Halladay sent me the script for Go Get the Axe, I was so enthused that I started reading it the minute I got on the subway to go downtown to my voice studio in Midtown. I became so engrossed in the play that I completely missed my stop and just barely realized it in time to get off before we traveled over into Brooklyn. Chris described my character, “Archie,” as “Clarence the Angel… as written by David Mamet.” Turns out to be a very accurate description.