Michael Counts is a 20-year pioneer of immersive entertainment, creating large-scale installations, theatrical productions and innovative media and entertainment experiences, often in unconventional spaces throughout the world. Hailed as a “mad genius” by the New York Times and “one of the most fertile imaginations working in New York theater today” by Time Out New York, the NY Times wrote an extensive profile chronicling his recent work.
In late summer of 2016 Michael created and co-produced PARADISO: Chapter 1. Taking place in Midtown Manhattan, Counts combines his many talents and past successes. The experience elevates the traditional escape room with innovative special effects while bringing a complex storyline to life within a fully-immersive environment, complete with actors embedded in the attraction who add multiple layers of entertainment. The New York Times described the production as “part puzzle, part performance, part technological razzle-dazzle,” while the Indie Theater Guide called it “Groundbreaking” and Zeal NYC described Paradiso as “a total aesthetic triumph,” with Stagebuddy heralding Counts as “unarguably the Stephen Sondheim of immersive theater.”
Also in the summer of 2016, two years of work with an all-star international team of collaborators culminated in the Boston premiere of the Ouroboros Trilogy. The highly anticipated production included the Pulitzer Prize winning Madame White Snake, composed by Zhou Long, as well as two world premiere productions, Naga composed by Scott Wheeler and Gilgamesh composed by Paola Prestini.
Earlier in 2016, Counts lent his talents to the Tavistock Development Corporation to conceive and produce a piece of monumental public art for Tavistocks 7000 acre a $5B development at Lake Nona. Over the year leading up to the artwork’s unveiling in February 2016, Counts worked with the Tavistock team and his team of technicians and designers on The Beacon and the integrated lighting animation of The Code Wall, which combine to form a massive piece of permanent public art that stands as an anchor of the Lake Nona development’s Town Center.
Two of his recent productions (Moses in Egypt with New York City Opera and Philharmonic 360 with the New York Philharmonic) were listed on the New York Times Top 10 Lists for their respective years and his projects in a wide range of media have been critically acclaimed and featured in press and media around the world. His recent brand launch for Michael Kors in Shanghai China was a critical success and garnered an enormous amount of international press for the brand and designer. Counts’ recent work on the Walking Dead Escape, an immersive experience extension of the TV, comic book and video game franchise, was called “the high point of the 2014 San Diego Comic Con” by Oculus VR CEO, Brendan Iribe. The Walking Dead Experience, a 30 minute immersive experience that Counts created in partnership with The Walker Stalker Con (the second largest fan convention in North America) and Skybound Entertainment, the LA based media company lead by Robert Kirkman, The Walking Dead’s creator, launched in the fall of 2015 and continues its national tour.
Upcoming productions include: The Anne Geddes Experience – an immersive theatrical exhibition of Anne Geddes’ photographic works over the last 20 years that will feature holographic versions of her most known and beloved images as well as immersive environments that depict the worlds that her photographs imagine.
Upcoming productions include Permadeath, by librettist/producer Cerise Jacobs, which will be the first fully staged video game opera that will launch at Pax East in 2018.
Having founded the C & Hammermill company in 1994 in an empty warehouse in Saratoga Springs, New York, Michael created a series of installations and site-specific productions that included The Making of a Mountain along the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 5th Avenue Promenade, Waterloo Mills and the Kings of Prussia on a 40 acre estate in Devon, Pennsylvania, and Frontier and the Kings of Prussia, a 12 day site-specific performance around the City of Prague, Czech Republic.
In 1996 Michael co-founded GAle GAtes et al., a visual and performance art focused theater company with which he created a series of productions in Manhattan’s financial district, in Chiang Mai and Bangkok, Thailand and at Min Tanaka’s farm in Hakushu, Japan before taking over a 40,000 sq/ft warehouse space in the area of Brooklyn now known as DUMBO. Within the GAle GAtes space at 37 Main Street, Counts designed and directed a series of critically acclaimed environmental theatrical installations – they included, The Field of Mars, Tilly Losch, 1839, and So Long Ago I Can’t Remember – an adaptation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Additionally, Mr. Counts staged and designed Gertrude Stein’s Listen to Me at the California Institute of the Arts, and an original production, titled The World, that was performed at the Guild Hall Museum in East Hampton and at the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Performance Annex.
From 2004-2010, Michael conceived, developed, financed and launched a new theatrical entertainment concept called The Ride, which merged an urban bus tour, a theme park ride and a Broadway variety show. The production launched in September 2010 and continues to operate today in partnership with the Marriott Marquis Times Square and Madame Toussaud’s Time Square. The Ride has been featured on Anderson Cooper, Regis and Kelly, the Today Show and extensively in the press and media internationally. As a component of The Ride, Michael conceived and launched the world’s first live and interactive video billboard, merging elements of theater, spectacle and outdoor media. The billboard concept was launched on the “Strip” in Las Vegas and in Times Square New York, in 2008.
In 2011 Michael designed and directed the critically acclaimed production Monodramas, with the New York City Opera at Lincoln Center, which featured musical works by John Zorn, Arnold Schoenberg, and Morton Feldman. In June 2012 he designed and directed Philharmonic 360, a new production with Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic at the Park Avenue Armory. In 2013 he directed and designed a new production of Rossini’s Moses In Egypt for New York City Opera at City Center in New York as well as a new Off-Broadway production with Fighting Gravity – a Blue Man Group-like dance, music, and performance troupe that were finalists on the 2011 season of America’s Got Talent.
In the first and second quarter of 2014 Michael served as the overall creative director and the theatrical stage director for the Michael Kors brand launch event in Shanghai, China – a one-of-a-kind immersive theatrical event designed to offer the “jet set” experience and to transport the audience of 1000 invited guests to the “world of Michael Kors.” The design featured one of the largest high-resolution video projections ever done and the largest eyeliner projection screen ever made among countless theatrical special effects.
During the summer of 2014 Michael directed, designed, and co-produced Play/Date, an immersive theatrical experience at Fat Baby (a 4 level nightclub on Manhattan’s Lower East Side). In her feature article for Time Out New York, Raven Snook said “the next level of immersive theater is here” in reference to the show and the Village Voice asserted that Play/Date has “set a new bar for immersive theater in New York.”
His visual artwork has been featured in gallery exhibitions with Rare Gallery, Step One Gallery, Art Basel in Miami Beach, the Hunterdon Museum of Contemporary Art and at John McWhinnie at Glenn Horowitz.
Michael has been a featured speaker at MIT’s Media Lab, Omnicom’s Global Summit for the Radiate Group, and on panels hosted by City College and The Rockefeller Foundation. He has lead workshops at the California Institute of the Arts, Chiang Mai and Bangkok Universities, the Williamstown Theater Festival, and NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, among other schools and institutions. Michael’s media concepts have been presented at MIT and at Ericsson’s Innovation Lab in Stockholm, Sweden, and have been featured in Wired, Newsweek and in technology and media journals internationally. He has served as a consultant for Disney Theme Parks and other leading global entertainment and media companies.
Michael currently produced his work in conjunction with his partner Douglas Howell at Rabbit Content in NY. He is represented by Michael Solomon at Brick Wall Management.
He was born and raised in New York city – he now lives and works in Brooklyn, with his wife Sharon and their sons Wilder and Dashiell.