Michael began his career more than sixty years ago in his hometown, working professionally at the St. Louis Municipal Opera.
Other than the “Muny,” as it was called, there weren’t many opportunities for a nine-year old to pursue. So his backyard was turned into an outdoor theatre (not unlike the Muny but fewer seats) where he produced, directed, wrote, and starred in a number of productions, including an adaptation of King Midas that was his first big hit. The young actor went on to appear in a number of high school productions (Bye Bye Birdie, Carousel) while also doing community theatre (Critic’s Choice), resulting in an impressive resume to apply for the best acting schools in the country.
He landed at the Goodman Theatre School in Chicago which prided itself on rigorous training with a renowned teaching staff including Eugenie Leontovich and Bella Itkin.
Next stop, Hollywood, where it seemed he was destined for stardom. But there was one roadblock: He could not be an actor known to be gay.
His first play in Los Angeles, The Dirtiest Show In Town, proved to be an antidote to the homophobia that loomed. He credits Tom Eyen with giving him a palette on which he could act, be himself, and tackle the political landscape.
That experience stuck in spite of dozens of auditions for television and film that were clouded by this voice that said, “Don’t let them know…” He was cast in non-gay roles (The Waltons, The Fall Guy, Body Double, Murder She Wrote, and Kentucky Fried Movie among them) but couldn’t play the Hollywood game and came out in the mid-Seventies.
“It wasn’t like the Miss Congeniality Contest,” he says, facetiously. “There weren’t a lot of contenders.”
As his TV/film work lessened, his work in the theatre gave him stature as an actor that he desired. With that confidence, he wrote his first solo piece, The Truth Is Bad Enough, which he performed hundreds of times, locally and throughout the country.
When the country was broken by the onslaught of AIDS, Kearns was posited to apply himself to the plague’s emotionality in a series of solo pieces (intimacies, more intimacies, Rock, Tell-Tale Kisses) that put him on the map as a gifted theatre artist.
I’ve never seen a performer with a firmer grip on the audience’s affections from the moment he entered.– Playwright Robert Patrick
Kearns used all the actor’s skills to bring to brief life these six diverse characters, from the most famous to the least, from the divine to the doomed. The work was chilling, the performance brilliant, in conception and intensity. Kearns is and has been a superb technician and a powerful voice.– Alan R Hall, CVNC