Next time you go to the theater in New York City and see an enormous backdrop, delight in the fact that a Gardiner resident was part of the team making your experience visually exciting. Michalyn Monson, known to all as “Mikey,” was twenty when she wandered into a scene shop—think theater, movies, concert backdrops. Her passion was born.
As a child she spent hours “coloring,” later studied art at Pine Bush HS, and then moved on to the SUNY New Paltz painting department. In her final year at SUNY she decided to take an introductory theater course. This new artistic vocabulary evolved into an enduring fascination when she met Joe Forbes at the Scenic Arts Studio in Newburgh; she found her métier when she discovered that theater arts allowed her to do any type of faux painting, and even to reproduce old masters.
Not many people are aware that almost every Broadway backdrop originates right here in Newburgh, at the Scenic Arts Studio. Mikey took the studio’s vocational course, which leads to becoming a member of Local 829-United Scenic Arts, and she soon also became a substitute teaching assistant there.
This multi-talented painter is proud to be part of the collaborative teams that execute a set designer’s vision. Their “canvases” are usually 30 x 60 feet as they bring a potential Tony Award-winning set to life. Her 11-year career has included work for theater, film, TV and concert tours. For Broadway plays she has been a scenic artist for Mary Poppins, Young Frankenstein, White Christmas, Shrek the Musical, Legally Blond and Radio City Christmas. She was lead scenic artist on Bridge and Tunnel and Lin Miranda’s award-winning In The Heights. She worked on Firebird and Vienna Waltzes for the New York City Ballet, and on the sets for Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Tour and Lady Gaga’s World Tour-2010. She also painted for Eat, Pray, Love; The Private Lives of Pippa Lee; and worked on “Boardwalk Empire” in 2009.
Mikey had independent contracts at the Children’s Museum of the East End in Easthampton, and was an on-site interactive muralist at a Converse sneaker convention. Her individual work has been shown at the Quicksilver Gallery in London, and at Gallery 506 in Beacon. She will tell you that her scenic work takes the ego out of art and that is why she is sold on collaboration. She teaches her kids that ‘nobody wins unless we all win!”
Right now Mikey is taking time off to raise her daughters: Elle, 6 and Robin, 3, while her husband Joe is teaching art at Red Hook High School. She still works summers and substitute teaches set painting at SUNY Purchase. As soon as Robin is in school she will be going full tilt at the Scenic Arts Studio. With her scenic painting collaborators, she is part of an artist’s group with an online gallery outsidethelinecollective.com. Mikey suggests looking at scenicartstudios.com and studioandforum.org to better understand her world.
If you happen to be taking a “scenic” drive through Montgomery and notice a 90-foot mural on a horse barn, think Mikey Monson. Her challenges are over-sized and should not be overlooked.