Photographer, Director, Writer, Activist, Skateboarder
At the core, Michael is a 25 year old skateboarder, expressionist, and activist from New York City. He has dipped his feet across many creative mediums ranging from shooting photos for brands like Free People. Urban Outfitters, Caroline Contstas Nike x Urban, and Wilhelmina, to creating videos for musicians and poets like Iann Dior and Lana Del Rey, to crafting XR content for car companies like Honda, to producing large scale art-focused charity campaigns to celebrate some of the most important historical figures like Nelson Mandela and Maya Angelou. On the weekends, you can catch him ripping through Washington Square Park on his skateboard and newsboy cap, and performing slam poetry in the east village.
A New Yorker Through N' Through
Born at New York City’s Presbyterian hospital the morning after a white Christmas, Michael Orso grew up on the Northshore of Long Island’s gold coast in the Village of Sands Point, home to the main character of the Great Gatsby. The son of a successful first-generation Italian American commercial real estate financier from Staten Island and childhood fashion protègè Julieanne Stark, Michael was bound to straddle the worlds of business and creativity.
As a middle child, Michael traditionally was left to his own devices to learn and figure out the world around him with little supervision. He always followed the rules and rarely got into trouble, achieving great success academically with writing being his strong suit. It wasn’t until one suburban sunny spring day in the 6th grade, the day Michael first picked up a skateboard, that his life changed forever.
Skateboarding as the Foundation
The first day Michael picked up a skateboard was the last day he questioned who he was. In many ways, it was the first day of the rest of his life. He was 11-years old at the time and the decision to skateboard become one that now sits at the very foundation of who he is.
Instead of dwelling with the traditional Long Island, Northshore rich kid crowd, he found himself amongst a group of down to earth, edgy, risk positive teenagers who would spend afternoons and weekends venturing across the five boroughs to find the best spots to skate. This was the life and times of Porch Mafia. From the humps and bumps of the Bronx to handrails of Harlem to the projects of Brooklyn, Porch Mafia skated the city as if they owned it, and Michael was the kid with the camera.
Skateboarders have a popular saying: “Without footage its fiction,” and Michael who made sure that every trick was a fact.
After skating for about a year, Michael was still one of the poser kids - that is, "the real" skaters hadn't accepted him into their community yet. His idea of penetrating into the group: get a camera and start filming (pre iPhone days). So, on his 12th birthday, Michael asked his father for a video camera - a GL2 with a mark-2 death lens to be exact (and an infinite amount of Mini-DVs. And final cut pro, of course).
His idea worked like a charm and he became the official filmer of the crew. From that point on, Michael had to be everywhere, all the time. All the spots, all the parks, EVERYWHERE. And he loved it. Not only did he film everyone and make all of the videos, but skating with all of the best skaters in town pushed him to improve really quickly. Within a few years, he was one of the best skateboarders of the group and garnered a couple of local sponsors.
While the crew would often go skate in New York City on the weekends, they had nowhere to skate during the week after school, so they would skate anywhere they could find. This eventually caused problems with the police...
The F***ing Police
Since Porch Mafia had nowhere to skate after school, they would often find spots behind local businesses, in parking lots, in front of churches, or really anywhere they could use their creative minds to drum up an idea for a session. This caused a lot of confrontations with the police...
The crew frequently got written up and kicked out of any spot they went. And one day, when Michael was 13-years old, he and two friends were skating off a picnic table behind a local office building when the cops arrived to kick them out. After some back and forth, Michael and his two friends went to leave the area as the cop insisted, but as the kids were rolling away, a young frustrated Michael shouted a smartass comment, “We all share the air man!”
Within seconds, without Michael even realizing it, the police officer ran up behind him and tackled him to the rugged concrete. He dug Michael’s face deep into the concrete with his body face down and shouted at him while choke-holding him to the point where he nearly passed out. He then flipped Michael onto his back, grabbed his throat, dug his knee into Michael’s chest with his fist to his face as he shouted more. Michael was crying. He had never been in any trouble in his life. Now he thought he was going to get arrested. The police officer called Michael’s parents before letting him go with a scuffed up face and body.
Teens' Civic Participation Earns Them a Skateboard Plaza
As a result of these frequent clashes with the police, Michael and his friend began advocating to build a skatepark in 2008. With the help of a few parents, their advocacy started to be taken seriously. In the fall of 2009, when Michael was 14, he and his friend Julian addressed the local politicians at a town hall meeting where they explained why this was so important.
That summer, the crew campaigned for a local politician named Lee Tu for town Supervisor as he promised to build a skatepark if he was elected. They went door to door, covering thousands and thousands of homes in the sweltering summer heat to get the skatepark they so longed for. But no luck. Lee Tu was defeated in the election and their hopes for a skatepark seemed more like a dream than reality.
That didn’t stop them, though. They continued to advocate for years to come until the Manorhaven Skatepark was finally funded and eventually opened in 2011. Their civic participation was documented by a variety of news channels including News12 Long Island, where the crew was universally called “Roll Models”. Michael was 16 years old at the time.
Teens' Civic Participation Earns Them a Skateboard Plaza
Over the Summer of 2012, Michael took a summer creative writing class at Columbia University where he fell in love with the craft of writing stories, films, and poetry. When he went back to High School to finish his senior year, his journey towards becoming a published writer took its first turn as he won the creative writing prize at his High School for his fifteen-page memoir about his childhood trips to Lake George with his family.
This was only the beginning of his foray into writing. During his time at Georgetown, Michael wrote and co-wrote a variety of scripts, short stories, and poems. His film Grey Areas won best dramatic short film at the Georgetown University student film festival; his comedy sketches created in partnership with the now defunk facebook page The Joker received more than 10 million views; a collection of his poems were also published in the on-campus feminist magazine Bossier.
After Georgetown, Michael's love for writing has continued to evolve, namely into slam poetry and comedy. Michael has become a frequent performer in the New York slam poetry scene, namely at Nuyorican Poets Cafe and the Bowery Poetry Club. Michael is also working on the creation of a new TV sitcom that will accompany his first comedy special.