Maurice Cooper has made a name for himself since moving to town, eight-plus years ago.
Well… “Eight years, one month, nineteen days,” says Cooper.
But who’s counting?
In that time, he’s become a mainstay of the Mammoth entertainment scene. He’s hosted karaoke nights at watering holes both past and present, and he’s the guy that both locals and day-trippers will know from that proverbial and oh-so-illusory elevated surface at the weekend après parties—you know, the ones hosted at the very place where California boys become men of the Eastern Sierra: The Canyon Lodge Sundeck.
But what Cooper is perhaps best known for are his Tuesday Trivia Nights, put on weekly by Mammoth Brewing Company.
“Tuesday Night Trivia has always been a staple for Mammoth Brewing,” explains Cooper. “But I’ve made it more of a spectacle with the lights, the TV screens, and whatnot… It’s not just a guy on a microphone with a speaker. It looks more like a game show.”
Any given Tuesday, walk up the stairs of the brewery, and you’ll find an eclectic, wholesome, and occasionally sober-curious crowd packing the benches. They come for the beer and tasters, but they stay for Cooper, and the production he provides—the tip-of-the-tongue inducing brain teasers, the good music, and the charisma of a natural born performer that is easy to identify but harder to describe.
And for Cooper, the hope is that six days from now (or eight years, one month, and 25 days after moving to Mammoth) a panel of high-brow judges in San Francisco’s Zellerbach Rehearsal Hall will identify it, too.
For the next week, Tuesday Night Trivia will be on hold as Cooper prepares for and recovers from his audition for The Juilliard School—the country’s preeminent performing arts conservatory based in New York City.
(For reference, Juilliard has an acceptance rate that floats at around 7%, according to U.S. News and World Report, and claims alumni like Robin Williams, Viola Davis, and names known in smaller theater circles, such as Meryl Streep.)
On February 6, Cooper (who is applying for the Juilliard’s 4-year BFA Acting Program) will be expected to deliver two monologues as part of his audition to earn admission into the program.
One of those will be an excerpt from Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure—a show in which Cooper appeared as Duke Vincentio two years ago at Mammoth’s Summer Shakespeare Festival.
And it’s befitting. Mammoth, after all, is where Cooper discovered his acting chops in earnest.
Because in between waffle fries and guess-that-’80s-tune pop questions, you might think to yourself, how the hell did a guy like that find himself in Mammoth?
According to the Sacramento-native, following a brief stint working down in Yosemite National Park, Cooper followed the advice of some friends and moved to Mammoth—mostly for a change of scenery—but formally, to take a job as a lift operator at the mountain.
“I was fired,” Cooper admits. “I think it went something like, ‘Maurice, you’re a cool guy, but this job isn’t really for you. So I applied as an Activities Assistant for Ski School.”
But by Cooper’s account, he was still “super shy.” Always had been—throughout grade school, and high school.
“People seem to think I always had this charisma; this machismo. No shame. But that’s not true,” says Cooper.
So ski school got him out of his comfort zone a bit, it being a people-facing job and all. But it wasn’t until Cooper started attending weekly trivia nights, by himself, at Rafters (under the alias of Big Ol’ Nipple) that he got into the idea of entertaining in Mammoth. When Billy Calhoun (a previous host of Mammoth Brewing trivia) left town, it was Cooper that would step in for the week. When Calhoun left the post for good, Cooper eventually took his place.
And by 2016, Cooper was firmly integrated into the Mammoth theater scene, first appearing as the Prince of Morocco in Sierra Classic Theater’s production of The Merchant of Venice, directed by Susan Dalian (which, funnily enough, appeared as a trivia question this past Tuesday night).
So it was, as Cooper recounts, “a combination of all of it—acting, going to karaoke, hosting karaoke and trivia—that helped me to get really comfortable.”
And, as Cooper himself admits, there are similarities between hosting bar events in town under his LLC, MC Entertainment, and theater acting.
“In a sense, it’s the same mentality,” says Cooper. “Karaoke and trivia—I get to be me, have a good time, shoot the shit. But acting … God, for me, it’s just a different euphoria.”
As Cooper explained, while it’s nice to be a familiar face to the family behind him at the coffee shop, or to dap up some 27-year-old yuppie trying to sneak into the VIP area at a Saturday afternoon après event, what he loves most about acting is the pact of mutual trust and total escapism agreed upon by audience member and performer while in the same theater.
“I mean, we get to go in there for maybe two hours and leave the rest outside. I get to be somebody I’m not. They get to be somebody they’re not. And we get to share some story about this world that we live in.”
For Cooper, it’s the spontaneity of theater acting, too—the camaraderie of reacting, in real time, to the way in which a play, well, plays out with a cast of other characters.
In our conversation, he recalled one particular wardrobe malfunction in a Mammoth production of Twelfth Night a few years back in which a cross-dressed and then scantily-clad castmate appeared on stage and adapted the scene accordingly. The show did, in fact, go on.
“It was awesome,” remembers a laughing Cooper. “It’s those happy little mistakes, as Bob Ross would say. And those happy little mistakes mean you get to improvise.”
That ability to roll with the punches—whether it be disguising on-stage faux pas as iambic-pentametered happy trees, or inventing quick quips before a hundred of Mammoth’s blinking bar flies—is a testament to Cooper’s professional discipline and tenure as a seasoned performer. An average Monday for Cooper might mean holing up in the Looney Bean for hours at a time to splice out odd movie clips in preparation for trivia, or getting elbow deep into what he calls “characterization rehearsal” to prepare for a major audition—practicing the different inflections with which a character might say something as simple as ‘how are you?’
But Cooper emphasized that, in his industry, while you have to do what you can to prepare and rehearse the script, you also have to prepare for every outcome—What’s that thing Macbeth said… “Come what may”?
And looking ahead to the next week, Cooper seems to be applying much the same mentality to his audition for the prestigious Juilliard.
“I feel like my new chapter begins if I get into Juilliard,” says Cooper. “But if I don’t get in, it’s okay. I’ll come back and do what it is I do best.”
He says his biggest dream, should he graduate from the conservatory, is to perform at The Old Globe theater in San Diego. After his own performance in the local rendition, he went to see Twelfth Night there, last year.
“It blew my f*cking mind,” remembers Cooper. “It was actors acting. Living the American Dream—which, in my mind, is getting paid something to do what it is you love to do.”
In the meantime, preparation aside, Cooper’s also exercising a healthy dose of theatrical superstition. It can’t hurt.
“I’m crossing my fingers,” says Cooper. “I’m praying to Dionysus, the god of art, wine, and theater. I’m praying to Thespis—the first guy to ever take the stage. I’m praying to those guys that they’ll let me in.”
But what, I ask him, will become of Tuesday Night Trivia if he takes off for New York?
“It’ll all come down to what happens on February 6,” he replies. “That’s the day when I’ll know if I got in.”