Andrew McGinn (left) works with a student in his directing class.
For Interlochen Arts Academy Instructor of Theatre Andrew McGinn (IAC 93, IAA 93-94), teaching at Interlochen is more than a job: it’s a homecoming.
McGinn attended Interlochen Arts Academy in the 1990s, where he studied with beloved instructors David Montee and Robin Ellis. After graduating from the Academy, McGinn received his BFA in Acting from The Juilliard School and his MFA in Directing from the University of Washington.
McGinn has performed in more than 150 professional productions, at venues including the Lincoln Center, the Lyceum Theatre, the Old Globe Theatre, and the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre. His directing credits include Female Transport at Seattle University, Indian Ink at Sound Theatre Company, and Fuente Ovejuna at Cornish College of the Arts. He also performed as a member of the Blue Man Group.
We sat down with McGinn to find out more about favorite plays, hidden talents, and advice for young actors.
What’s your favorite play or musical?
I can choose only three, at the least. One is Richard II by Shakespeare. I find a king who upends the economy to buy socks for his soldiers during the Irish Wars, and who has distaste for violence, to be the best kind of possible kings. Most people read that Richard is 'not fit' to be king. I think it's the opposite. Like Huckleberry Finn, he's the only one that's right. It's the world that's wrong. Two is A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen. That play at once changed the world in two ways. First, it boldly ushered in a new avant garde form of theater called "naturalism," which was inspired by the work of Darwin. Second, it was the first feminist play in 19th century high society, so naturally it caused a riot. Not only is it feminist, but it's intensely personal rather than overtly political, and therefore mind-bogglingly complicated. The ending gives me shivers. Three is Angels In America because it incorporates everything about Western theater under one play's roof, is eminently meaningful, and sets the bar on how poetic prose in modern language on the stage can be for me.
What’s your favorite role in theatre?
Oh, that's easy: Cyrano from Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. I played him twice. The first time, in Vermont, was better. I love him. And I think he's a moron. And I criticize him. But to step into him felt like the most alive I could possibly feel on stage, with all those flaws and all that love. And oh, oh the language: "I love you beyond ... beyond..." In the script, it ends with a period, but I was able to play it the first time with ellipses, as if Cyrano couldn't think of a word bigger than beyond. I discovered it in rehearsal. The great poet Cyrano was at a loss for words, totally in awe and vulnerable. I'm so glad the director let me make that rehearsal discovery again and again every night.
How did you first get into theatre? What was your first role?
Oh goodness! Well, I'm not going to lie to you. I got into it in middle school for the same reason we all did, which is because I had a pathological need for approval—and I think anyone who tells you differently is lying. It's turning that corner into wanting respect instead, and developing a genuine fascination for the craft, that is the personal part of training that we do here. That’s how you become the real thing.
My first role was in the second grade as a very obnoxious frog in some morality play about friendship, the name of which I can't remember. It wasn't the one with the toad.
What’s your strategy for learning your lines?
Relentless analysis in conjunction with the use of the imagination occupies my focus, so the lines get in subconsciously. Every single thing, in every word I say, I spend time imagining and physically interacting with. So, I've developed a personal relationship with every noun and pronoun, every person and every thing in the script. I don't have a line about a table that I haven't spent time imagining what it looks like, who sat there once, and where the light hits the table in my "memory." The physical interactions can be simple, on my couch even. It takes some more time than just going over the thing again and again by rote, but it's a lot more fun and it's personal and artful. We should never encounter the text without being artful and engaging our imagination.
What one piece of advice would you give a young theatre student?
Make every step an act of creativity, especially analysis. It's no good to just recognize a character's objective, its more fun and more useful to take time to physically respond to the idea of achieving that objective—and to physicalize the consequences of failure.
Who was the best teacher you ever had? Why?
I can't just say one, because you pick up different things from different teachers. I'll go with the most impactful teacher I've ever had: former Interlochen Theatre Instructor David Montee. It was here, in his class, that I learned that acting is a craft, and that I had to focus in order to get better. That focusing was an act of imagination for us actors. For me, that was vital to learning how to focus in life. I couldn't pay attention to anything until David took us on imaginative journeys in our own bodies. I get to teach that class now. I can't fill his shoes, but as I promised him, I'll be carrying them.
What’s your most embarrassing moment on stage?
It's a good one. I was 21 years old, and was performing The Skin Of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder. It was 100 degrees on the outdoor Public Theater stage, The Delacorte, in New York City’s Central Park. Some of us had to heap on all these wool clothes and lie down on stage in front of a 'fireplace,' representing all those in all mankind who had been undernourished by society. I fell asleep for 5 seconds, and was 5 seconds late for my exit. I was horrified.
Coffee or tea?
Decaf coffee with half-and-half.
Would you rather read a book or watch a movie?
Read a book.
Do you have any hidden talents?
I'm really, really, really out of practice, since I started directing and teaching in addition to acting, but I hope to continue exploring my love of Clarence White-style flatpicking bluegrass guitar. You're not allowed to ask me to play for three years. We'll see how much time I get for it between now and then.
Want to study with Andrew McGinn? Apply to join the theatre arts program at Interlochen Arts Academy. McGinn’s directorial debut at Interlochen, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, opens on Nov. 2.