Michaela Murphy



Photographed at home in  New York by "The Silver Women".
Photographed at home in New York by “The Silver Women”.

Michaela Murphy,


Director of Education at Bucks County Playhouse.
– as told to The Silver Women

Women who inspired you as a young girl?
Carol Burnett: Oh, how I love Carol Burnett! I howled and wept with laughter watching her and company on The Carol Burnett Show –The very best sketch comedy show of all time is still a favorite of mine to watch.

Cher: Cher’s style, wit and independence really turned my head when I was a kid and I was (and still am) mesmerized watching her and waiting to see what she would do, wear, or say next. I recently attended a workshop of a new musical based on her life and was struck once again by her fabulosity, and realized just how much of an impact she has had on my life.

Edith Wharton: I first discovered Edith Wharton in high school when I read Ethan Frome and then I read everything she wrote that I could get my hands on. I remember how impressed I was that she wrote about her contemporaries and life with such honesty, precision, and wit that I fell in love with old New York society and, through her words, felt transported to both there and then.

Women who inspire you now?
The same plus many, many more. I am attracted and inspired by the women who continue to blaze trails and remain true to who they are yet are ever-changing: Helen Mirren, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Mary Karr, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Kristen Linklater, and too many of my exemplary friends to mention individually including many terrific men….oh, I could go on and on and on…

Most valuable lesson taught by your Mother?
My mother used to tell me and my sisters the same thing her mother told her:

Do not depend on a man financially or to build your own esteem.

Do you think older women are valued or celebrated enough?
Yes and no, yet it seems now more than ever. But, maybe I am describing myself? While I have always valued the wisdom of older women, today it occurs to me that my yearning to connect with older women has greatly increased since my mother’s sudden and untimely death. I count myself lucky to call many women, from all generations, my friends.

Have you made career changes over the years?
If you had asked me this question 15 years ago I would have immediately said, “Yes!” At that time I viewed my career as a series of changes with jobs and opportunities seemly all over the spectrum. However, today (and over time) in what once appeared to be unrelated or highly-selective choices a pattern has emerged and I can see that it is the positions, projects, and places that have changed.

“I have always been a storyteller either telling my own or coaching others to tell  stories of their own.” 

Through the decades!
20’s: Looking back, I appreciate how much I would just leap-in to something new—I wish I had known then that I didn’t need to worry so much about an outcome. What has endured over the years is the experience of trying and failing and then trying again. I have done a lot of things that I had no idea how to do, or how I was to do it but I said ‘yes’ anyway. Cooked 2 meals a day for 60 musicians at Tanglewood one summer when I had no experience or knowledge of how to cook. Co-founded an elementary schools program and began teaching—I had never felt that I had any particular affinity for working with children (I hated babysitting which up until that point had been my experience with kids) and had never considered teaching.I am so grateful that I said ‘yes’ as teaching is my favorite occupation of all. Any time spent in the classroom or in the service of education has been the most rewarding of my life. After being frustrated about the roles I was being offered as an actor, I decided to write my own material. This decision launched my writing career and discovery that I was a writer.”
30’s: I toured the USA with 3 shows that I had written for children, performing with a partner for more than 100,000 kids of all ages all over the map. We didn’t have a set or costumes, it was just us: kind of like a live cartoon. The performance schedule (8 shows a week) was often difficult yet the experience always exhilarating. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was learning how to connect with one of the most challenging audience cohorts—school assemblies—while developing a storytelling style that became the foundation for my work moving forward. I decided to stop touring to stay in NYC and work on an idea that came to me based on the storytelling style I’d developed during these performances. 

 That idea became my Off-Broadway one-woman show, Something Blue which was based on the true story of my sister’s wedding.
My desire to continue telling personal stories and maybe not have to have a full-production to do so coincided with the founding of the NYC Storytelling organization, The Moth. One of the producers had seen my show and asked me to produce, host, and perform in one of early Moth shows at Joe’s Pub. I did and that began my ongoing work as a storyteller.

40’s: Not going to sugar-coat it—my 40’s were rough. After my mother’s sudden death in an accident and being stricken with a mysterious infectious disease (hospitalized 6xs, doctors had no clue and told me to get my affairs in order), I recovered, fell in love, and moved to Seattle. While I wanted very much to love living in Seattle, I didn’t. The rain, unfamiliarity, and long recovery (which I was in huge denial about—I thought I was now ‘healed,’ but and I had been told this but, of course disregarded) it took years before my energy and sense of wellbeing were restored. However, my move to Seattle, and circumstances, provided the perfect opportunity for me to learn about technology—something I had never considered or was of particular interest. I overcame my intimidation about technology when I realized that the primary function of my computer was to connect with an audience —that was something I was very interested in. This epiphany led to the co-founding of a digital agency and then working at Microsoft. While I ultimately decided that working for a corporation was not for me, I had learned a considerable amount about starting up a business and had greatly increased my skill-set as I moved forward with many new ideas to pursue.

50’s: Back in NYC and very happy to be back home. In addition to catching up with friends, family, and revisiting the places that I love, I have continued to perform with many fantastic NYC shows including, The Moth, The Liar Show, RISK! and Speakeasy Stories. I’ve also worked with the Pre-College program Entrepreneurs In Training at Barnard College since its inception 5 years ago, initially teaching improvisation for business and public speaking and then a few years ago as the director of the program. Over the years I have cultivated a base of private clients CEOs, thought leaders, startup founders,.. to both write and coach keynote speeches, TED Talks, and presentations. Lastly, I was recently appointed Director of Education at Bucks County Playhouse.

What are you most grateful for?
My friends. They are the richness of my life. I am also grateful for my students—they have taught and continue to teach me more about myself and the world than any other source.

Thoughts on AGING?
The downside…Around age 45 my anxiety about aging gave way to a comfort around the process. It seemed as if the ‘fight’ was a losing battle and so I surrendered. What I discovered was that in embracing the inevitable I was suddenly liberated. After that, I wondered why aging had such a bad rep?
Life really is so much easier.

The upside…Relaxation, comfort, and less worry = increased happiness and ability to be more fully present.

Your advice to young women of today?
Take risks, say, ‘yes’ and acquire as many different experiences as possible. If you risk failure then adopt an attitude that supports failing BIG—you’ll learn more to try it again.Yet more than anything, if there is anything that has held me back it has been my own insecurities, self-doubt and or fear. The older I get the more and more I realize it’s worth—nada. It has been such a waste of my time and mostly a misunderstanding of myself. Do what you can to be kind—especially to yourself 
Michaela Murphy

Images courtesy of Michaela unless credited otherwise. 


 Book/Novel: The Custom of The Country by Edith Wharton
Geek Love by  Katherine Dunn
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
How to be Alone by Jonathan Franzen
The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr
The Emperor of Scent by  Chandler Carr
The Perfume Guide by Luca Turin & Tania Sanchez
The Devil & The White City by Erik Larson
The Power of Myth by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers
Captives of Time by Malcolm Bosse
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
                  Song: This question has held me up for hours (!) as I write something and then 5 mins later I have changed my mind…Let’s say, many.
Film:{See ‘song’} Although I just watched The Fear of 13 and loved it.
Scent: Caleche, Hermes/  24 Faubourg, Hermes/  French Lime Blossom, Jo Malone
Flower: Peonies, Red Roses, Lilacs, Lily of the Valley
City: Asbury Park, NJ, New York City, Providence, RI, London, Paris & Tel Aviv

Skincare: Moisturizer—I am always a sucker to try something new so can’t claim loyalty to any one brand.
Lipstick /makeup product you can’t live without: I have used ‘Dallas” blusher by Benefit with uncustomary consistency but again, always trying new things (I’ll live).
Food/Meal/Cuisine: {See ‘song’}. But currently….Indian cuisine and lobster, clam cakes, New England Clam Chowder, coconut cake, butterscotch pudding and sticky toffee pudding.
Artist: Matisse, Louise Nevelson, Alexis Rockman, Henry Moore 
Style Icon: Dita Von Teese, Helen Mirren, Claire Underwood (Robin Wright, House of Cards) Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski, The Good Wife)

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Michaela Murphy

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