Clancy McCartney | Performer of the week
"Performer of the week," our new weekly online-only interview, spotlights a standout performance—and performer—from the past week of theater openings.
A native of San Francisco and recent graduate of The Theatre School at Depaul, Clancy McCartney is making a striking professional debut as Nick, a 14-year-old boy who sets up an elaborate online deception in Carlos Murillo’s cyber-thriller dark play or stories for boys. As the play’s narrator, Nick has numerous monologues and is onstage for nearly the entire show. McCartney has the difficult task of turning a teenage sociopath into a captivating narrator. The play hinges on Nick’s ability to stay connected with the audience as his actions become increasingly depraved. I spoke with McCartney over the phone to find out how he creates a relationship with the viewer and hear about the ways that online communication has changed his life.
What is the biggest challenge in playing Nick?
He’s a very complicated individual, and a lot of what’s going on with him psychologically and emotionally is not immediately present in the script when you first look at it. It’s very easy to judge him as this criminal mastermind, where he doesn’t seem to have some sort of soul or heart, and it’s finding what it is he wants, what it is he loves, what he finds funny, what he enjoys. To really humanize him and find his emotional core. That was the biggest challenge. That and just memorizing all the lines. (Laughs.) He talks a lot. It was bringing it down to a human level, so that when he does talk to the audience, he’s able to relate to them very intimately, so that the audience feels willing to take the journey with him.
How much freedom were you given in rehearsal?
A lot. A refreshing amount compared to what I’ve had in the past. [Director] Anthony [Moseley] is great. The name of the company is Collaboraction, and I feel that he embodies the sense of true collaboration, where no idea is turned down or shut out. I’ve had directors in the past that have been very specific about keeping a moment the same way, and I liked how with this, [Anthony] was focusing more on finding the intentions of the character and reasons why he might be saying something and keeping to the truth that. I was free to move how I wanted, travel where I wanted to travel, say things how I wanted to say things. Especially with the audience interaction stuff, because so much of that is going to change depending on who is in those seats and whether they’re engaged with me or if it’s going to be more of a challenge.
Have you ever pretended to be someone else online? Did you while preparing for the role?
I didn’t while preparing for the role. I mean, I grew up with my own private computer in my room, and I had my AOL instant messenger account, and that was how I communicated with people. It was simple to find a random person and strike up a conversation. Now, with Facebook it’s all more centralized, you have your friends, you see their picture and all that, but back then you’d know nothing about them. There was a mystery about them. Even with my friends, you could tell they had a different personality online. How funny they were wasn’t about how well they could deliver a joke, it was about how good of a writer they were. It was a whole different way of communicating, and in a way you really were a different person. It’s hard to communicate your true self through that, so the temptation to mess with people is great, but I don’t think that I ever directly messed with anybody.
Has there been anything you’ve learned in the professional world that school didn’t prepare you for?
The School did a pretty good job of preparing us. It was surprising how different it didn’t feel from the way we worked at school. The difference was that at school you have in the back of your mind that you’re always doing it for a grade, you’re always working on something that a professor told you that morning. How you carry yourself, some aspect of your vocal work, something like that. You’re not looking at it as ‘I’m an artist in the world and how can I use these skills that I learned to create.’ So there’s an artistic freedom I allow myself to have that in school I didn’t because there are people with notepads critiquing every little thing that you did. Here we have critics, but you don’t have to read the reviews, you can just carry on.
dark play or stories for boys runs through February 26 at Collaboraction, 1579 N Milwaukee Ave.