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An Interview With...Will McCaffrey

How did you get started in theater?
Well, that's a story in itself. I had joined my school's stage crew for their production of 'Bye Bye Birdie' because it seemed like fun. That only lasted a few days, as 2 consecutive actors for the role of "Hugo" dropped out, and there was one week to opening. I still don't know what possessed me, but I volunteered, learned my lines in 2 days, and from that time on, I
was hooked.

What hooked you? Was it your first school play-movie-first time seeing a Broadway Show?  What inspired you to be where you are today?
I had an inner desire to be some kind of performer as a child, but I never had the confidence or the courage to try. Finally taking the chance to do something on a stage in front of an audience was amazingly freeing. There's an incredible thrill to be had from that, and I admit I became addicted to it.

What was the first play you ever saw?  Ever performed in?
First play I ever saw was a rather rough drama called 'Knockout'... That was back to the early 80's. The tone was serious, but I could tell that the actors were just enjoying themselves, and it seemed like something I would have liked to try at least once. When the opening came in 'Bye Bye Birdie', I jumped on it without thinking. I'm very glad that I did.

Did you study acting?  If not, how did you get into it?
Up until that point, I had no formal study. I just jumped into it. The director encouraged me to develop my skills, and some time later, I became one of her students for a semester. She taught me a great deal about acting naturally onstage, and helped me to recognize when I needed to reel myself in when I was getting too far over the top.


What was your first audition?
After my early shows in school, I hadn't gone near a theatre for a while. I never seemed to have the time. But my first "Official" audition for a theatre company was for Synergy's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. I remember being so nervous that I wasn't giving good readings that I thought my first attempt at auditioning would also be my first rejection. I did manage to land the role of "Tom Snout", and since then I haven't been able to stop.

How do you choose what play you will audition for?  The piece itself, the director, theater, you were pre-cast, etc.
I'll try out for any show that sounds interesting, really. If it's a "Name" piece that I recognize and have always wanted to do, certainly I'll try for that. But for the most part, I look for roles that either sound like fun, or that I think will be a challenge for me.

Speaking of pre-casting, tell us how you really feel about the subject.
I have mixed feelings on that. If someone asks me if I'd like to try out for a role, I will, but I wouldn't feel right just accepting a role that was offered. On the one hand, I can certainly understand when a director has a certain someone in mind already, knowing that actor's range and limitations. But on the other hand, I feel it does a great disservice to the other actors trying out when you don't announce that a part has been pre-cast. There was one instance where I had found out that the all the major roles for this one show had pretty much been determined, and in some cases already OFFERED to some actors, weeks before auditions. This was never announced, but the director went through the motions of auditions anyway, and it upset me more than a little to see all these hopefuls trying out, never knowing they were wasting their time.

What types of parts do you normally play?  Do you feel typecast?
Normally, I've played the "quiet, sensitive guy", the comic relief, the romantic. In children's shows, I'm usually the default Prince. That kind of typecasting I can live with, because I find it kind of flattering that the directors actually think I fit that part.

Looking back on the roles you've been cast in, do you think there's a certain kind of role you get cast in repeatedly?  When directors look at a certain role, what do you think they see as a "Will McCaffrey" type?
My "Type" seems to be an average guy, sometimes with a sad story to tell, but usually optimistic and with a sense of humor. Not always the "Hero" or the "Villain" type, but the usually the guy somewhere in between. Not a bad place to be, really.


What is your approach to developing your character?
First off, I read the script. I mean really read it until I understand what's going on in a scene, and I have a good mental image of the context in which the lines are said. Once I think I understand why a character says what he does, I simply try to say the lines as I imagine I myself would say them in that situation. Things like physical mannerisms and accents I treat
as natural outgrowths of the lines. I don't concentrate on those right out, because to me, those things are merely window-dressing. The best accent and physical acting in the world won't be of much use if you can't say your lines convincingly.

Of all the characters you have portrayed, who is your favorite?
Ooo... Tough one. I think that in terms of sheer fun, it would have to be a tie between "Delmount" in 'The Miss Firecracker Contest', and "Long John Silver" in 'Treasure Island'.

What do you think were your best roles?  your worst?
Hard to say... I always think my current role was even better than my last one. I enjoyed playing "Detective Kersnowski" in 'Earth and Sky', then I got the coveted role of "Eugene" in 'Broadway Bound'. I thought nothing could top that until I landed the role of "Barry" in 'The Boys Next Door'. Talk about a challenge... As for my worst role? I hate to say it in case the
director ever reads this, but "Ed" in 'You Can't Take It With You', only because I found it so difficult to play that straight of a character in a cast full of complete oddballs.

What roles offered you the greatest challenge and why?  How well do you think you met the challenge?
One role was "Attorney Henderson" from the one-act play 'Trifles'. I was actually cast against type as a condescending chauvinist lawyer. And the role of "Barry" I mentioned above... I had to play a schizophrenic who's convinced himself that he's a golf pro. I also had two incredibly difficult, heart-wrenching scenes in that show. One where I have an emotional breakdown, and another where I get physically assaulted by my abusive father. Both scenes were very draining emotionally, but I feel lucky to have done them. I think I met the challenge on both roles fairly well, as in the first instance, I was actually able to make my female friends hate me, and in the second I was told that I had actually brought tears to the eyes of several audience members. That's very gratifying to hear, as I'm my own
worst critic.

What role do you wish you could have a second shot at and get it right this time?
Umm... All of them? Seriously, I don't like seeing myself act, even in the shows I feel I nailed. I always think that there's something I could have done better or differently. But in the end, I just have to tell myself that I did the best I could.

What roles or types of roles would you most like to play in the future?
Well, a year ago I would have said someone with more emotional swings, but I've recently got that covered... Maybe once I'd like to be cast totally against my "type", just to see if I could do it convincingly.


How do you feel when you perform?
I feel very free. From beginning to end, I feel like a kid on an amusement park ride.

What motivates you to keep on doing what you're doing?
This is going to sound egotistical, but partly for the applause. That, and hearing an audience member say that they really enjoyed the show. If I hear that, then I know I've done my job.

During opening night jitters each one of us has said, "Why do I do this to myself?"  Why do you do it?
Simply put, it's fun and I truly love doing it. There are few things that can beat the camaraderie you can develop with your fellow actors.


What is your favorite theater story?
Too many to list. My personal favorite, I'd have to say, is how I got started in theatre with 'Bye Bye Birdie'. I recently saw the director of that show, and she says that to this day, she still tells that story to her students. Immortality of a sort is mine.

Did you ever miss an entrance, drop enough lines for it to be noticeable, crack up on stage?
One really noticeable flub: During an emotional moment at a bus stop with the female lead of 'Earth and Sky', my tongue refused to wrap itself around the last word of my line. I got so flustered, I blew a short raspberry at myself. Audience loved it, my director however was ready to kill me.

What was your worst theater experience?
Hmm... Let's see... Lighting board catching on fire, an actor couple arguing outside the hall and missing their entrance, a visit from the fire department, actors who somehow feel that they got the part of "Director"... Take your pick.

What's the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to you on stage?
Hands down, it was 'Earth and Sky'. I was a detective and we didn't have a right-handed holster for my gun. I was wearing a left-handed one backwards on my right hip, and it was difficult to get the gun to go back in firmly. I had arrested a murderer and was escorting him offstage when my gun popped out and fell to the floor. LOUDLY. I couldn't stop to pick it up, and almost anything you do after that will just look silly.


Why do you perform at the theaters you do?
Easy enough to answer. Synergy impressed me with the fact that they're more concerned with putting on the best show that they possibly can instead of their own egos. Everyone there is ready to step in to help with whatever's needed. That attitude is what's kept me there for the last 9 years.

Do you think regional theater will continue to grow on L.I.?
It can only grow from here, but there needs to be a greater awareness of live theatre here on the island. A lot of groups tend to get overlooked simply because the potential audience doesn't know they're around. We work out of the theatre in Islip town hall, and are easy to miss. Arena, while more well-known, can be easily missed on the road unless you're looking for it. And I'm sure there are other very talented groups who are in the same situation. I really think that live theatre on the Island could become a very real, viable alternative to the movies if only the potential audience was more aware of the fact that you don't need to travel to Manhattan to see great performances.

Who are some of the actors you've most admired or who have been particularly rewarding to work with? Who's the best (in your opinion) that you've done a show with?
Well, obviously I'm biased. Certainly, I admire practically everyone who's ever worked with me at Synergy, just because of their sheer dedication. There's just not enough room to name them all.

Who is your favorite performer? favorite L.I. performer?
Favorite male performers would be Johnny Depp firstly, because that man is ALWAYS stretching himself with something different. Christopher Walken certainly. Val Kilmer... Heck, just rent 'Tombstone' and Kenneth Brannagh's 'Much Ado About Nothing' to see some of the performances I most admire. Actresses, I'd have to say that Emma Thompson, Minnie Driver, Janeane Garafalo and Fairuza Balk lead the pack. L.I. performers? Well, Barbara
Kirshner for one. She was my one-time mentor, and I finally got to see her perform recently in 'Run For Your Wife' at Arena Players. In fact, that whole cast impressed me. There's also Mickey Ryan, who I've had the pleasure of working with. He's got such an amazing grasp of natural acting that a compliment from him is one of the few that I allow to go to my head.


How do you maintain your career and do theater?
For the most part, my employers have been very understanding about leaving by five on show nights. It can get pretty tough running from my job on the North Shore to the theatre on the South, but so far it's all worked out.

Why do you spend so much time toiling in L.I. Theater?
I cannot stress how much fun it is. I'm with a great group of people, and at the end of every show there's enough back-patting going around that everyone, from the actors to the tech people, feel that they've done a great job.

Do you find that your family supports your love of theater?
I think the novelty of it wore off for them after the first 3 shows. As long as I'm enjoying myself and still bringing home a paycheck to support myself, there's no complaints.

How has performing enriched your life?
It's brought me a large group of friends that I otherwise would never have met, and more seem to show up with every performance.


What brings you the greatest joy?
Making people laugh. Especially if they've been having a really bad day. I'm a great believer in the healing power of laughter.

What really irks you?
Selfish actors. Those that only learn their lines without learning their cues, scene stealers, deliberate over actors, and those that ignore the director's notes because they feel that they somehow have a "Better" idea.

If you won LOTTO tomorrow you would...
Buy an official theatre for Synergy. Maybe I could buy myself one, and donate it to them for a tax write-off. That way, everyone wins.

Is it true that you'd really rather be rich than good looking?
Well, I've never really considered myself to be that good-looking, so I think I'd like to try being rich now.

What's your favorite word?

Assuming that there is a heaven, what do you want to hear when you get there?
"Alright, I admit it! You were right! Okay???"


Do you have any projects on the horizon that you want the readers to be aware of?
Right now, after two big roles and my first directing job, I'd like to sit back for a while and maybe concentrate on writing. Everyone seems to think I could have a career in comedy writing, so I guess I'll take this time to either prove them right or wrong. Maybe come Fall, I'll start auditioning again.

Given your choice of parts in plays, which play and role is your heart's desire?
Every male on the Island probably wants this role, but if I could sing just a LITTLE bit better, I'd KILL for the part of the Pirate King in 'Pirates of Penzance'. Unless there are any directors who want to make a bit out of a Pirate King who can't carry a tune very well. Hey, I'm no Kevin Kline, but I can dream, can't I?
Will (center) in Broadway Bound