Dressing the Part
Bryan Mitchell is a caring teacher with flair
Bryan Mitchell can style a Winnie the Pooh tie, but he recognizes that there is a time and place for animated neckwear.
“You have to match your audience,” he said. “I would never wear that to one of my shows.”
As a part-time actor, budding director and full-time drama teacher at Apalachee Tapestry Magnet School of the Arts, Mitchell knows the power of presentation. He has become a theatrical mainstay in the Red Hills since moving to the area from Miami as a college student. He has performed with Theatre Tallahassee, the Quincy Music Theatre, and Thomasville On Stage & Co. His company, Essential Theatrical Associates, strives to give a voice to the black, indigenous and people of color communities.
Mitchell the performer knows that his students and fellow teachers expect him to show out for school spirit weeks or Halloween.
“When I started teaching theater, I always put pressure on myself because if anyone is going to dress up for spirit week or whatever, it has to be me,” he said.
Halloween 2021 was no exception. Mitchell burst into the classroom sporting a head-to-toe Willie Wonka costume, a nod to the school’s upcoming production of the classic tale, complete with round, white sunglasses, a top hat, long purple blazer, vibrant gold vest, dark green slacks, cobalt tie and cane. Each piece of the look had been individually sourced for an authentic feel.
“You know those costumes where it’s all one piece — pants, shirt, jacket — with a zipper up the back?” Mitchell said. “I hate those.”
Looking back, however, Mitchell has not always had such a keen eye for fashion.
“I have clothes from high school that are still big on me, and mind you I weigh about 100 pounds more now, so I don’t know what I was thinking,” he said.
Mitchell’s theatrical adventures started in elementary school, where he participated in his public school’s music and theater magnet programs. In high school, he studied music theory, learned to play multiple instruments and traveled to Scotland to perform as a representative of the Florida High School Fringe Festival. He then went on to study theater at FAMU, and Tallahassee got its first taste of Mitchell’s acting talent in productions of “Black Nativity” and “The Color Purple.”
While at FAMU, Mitchell became interested in joining a fraternity.
“I had to tweak my style up a little to get in,” Mitchell laughed. “Then it kind of grew on me.”
Outside of his more performative looks, Mitchell has about three go-to styles: dress-up, casual and club.
At premieres and fraternity alumni meetings, Mitchell’s colorful flair bleeds through his more traditional attire. For a more professional look, Mitchell pairs a crisp vest or sports coat with a patterned button-up. Florals, paisleys and stripes are among his favorites. Boat shoes or Timberlands polish off the look.
“Normally, I go really basic when it comes to shoes,” Mitchell said, showing off his Nike Air Max 90s. “I really had to break down to buy these.”
Mitchell’s more casual ensembles equate to an adult take on street style, coupling graphic T-shirts with army fatigues or vibrant shorts and coordinating shirts and shoes for a cohesive look.
Said Mitchell, “Now that I am a teacher, I think about the teachers when I was younger, especially the male teachers and how they presented themselves, so I want to make sure the kids see that you can look nice and take pride in yourself.”
For Mitchell, teaching theater to young students is about more than the big end-of-semester show, particularly in a Title 1 school where children from low-income families make up at least 40 percent of enrollees.
“I am training good audience members,” Mitchell said. “I am shaping theater people. Not just performers or technical people, but people who can appreciate the work and the art. I don’t back down to things that people expect me to — I’m not budging because you’re 11.”
Don’t let Mitchell’s bad-cop routine fool you. When the call sheet goes up, and the students rush over to see if they got a part, Mitchell either heads straight home, or ducks into his office with the blinds closed. It’s the kids’ tears that get him.
“A lot of people choose to be around children but don’t have the heart to tell them no,” he said. “I guess I’m old school in the sense that I think competitiveness and not accepting mediocrity are important. Your performance may have been a little weak, but you can always make it stronger.”
For a more professional look, Mitchell pairs a crisp vest or sports coat with a patterned button-up. Florals, paisleys and stripes are among his favorites. Boat shoes or Timberlands polish off the look.
Mitchell couples graphic T-shirts with army fatigues or vibrant shorts and coordinating shirts and shoes for a cohesive look.