- Ollie McCarthy
Lights, Camera, Action
I’ve always loved playing sports, particularly baseball and basketball. When I was in high school, though, I found myself torn between playing basketball, or trying out for our school production, which held auditions in the middle of the season.
I dreamt of acting in serious productions; however, as an athlete, it seemed like a distant dream.
I chose the route most athletes do: I stuck with basketball and watched amazing school productions like In The Heights, and Les Miserable after practice from the audience. As an alternative, I was able to take one acting class in school, and we performed a few short plays. I was exhilarated every time I was on stage. It closely mirrored the feeling I got on the mound with the game on the line—the feeling of sinking into your surroundings and being completely vulnerable and open to the world. I dreamt of acting in serious productions; however, as an athlete, it seemed like a distant dream. The obstacle of time was always too big a barrier.
That obstacle followed me to college where, during my first two years, rehearsal times for the Duke main-stage production and baseball practice always overlapped. Again, I watched the big productions from the audience. Covid brought many challenges and hardships to everyone over the past year; however, it also shook up the way in which things were done. Schedules were changed and I was able to find a unique opportunity in the mess - a rehearsal time for the main-stage production that did not interfere with practice.
I was given the opportunity to audition for the one white male role in Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine—a dreamscape that was written to illuminate the exhausting micro and macro aggressions that Black Americans deal with on a daily basis. Over the summer, it seemed that much of America started to acknowledge the racial issues that have been plaguing our country since its founding.
In this context, it was not a surprise that the Duke theater department picked this challenging work for its fall main-stage production. Along with some of my friends, I attended a couple of Black Lives Matter rallies over the summer and worked to improve my understanding of inequities and racial issues that were highlighted by speakers at these marches. After my first read-through of Citizen, it was clear to me that a great story had the power to illuminate a far more complete truth. Rankine harvested a radical self awareness and empathy inside me, and I knew that I wanted to do my part in trying to harvest a similar empathy in non-black audience members.
By some miracle, I got the part. Four days a week, I sprinted from baseball practice to rehearsal—an environment that, to me, felt both uncomfortable and exhilarating. I was cast alongside actors who were far more talented and experienced than myself. Actors like Trevor Johnson, a man with twenty years of acting experience, who could tell you a whole story by simply moving his eyebrows. As the only two male actors in a play with six characters, Trevor and I would have long chats in the dressing room about the play, acting, baseball and our hopes. For me, one of the greatest rewards from this fall was having the opportunity to learn from him. After our first show I was not completely satisfied with my performance, so I asked Trevor how he thought I did. He replied bluntly, “You sucked, man; you had no fun out there today!” Tough love. I knew he was right and I came to the realization that there are certain truths to performance, whether it’s on stage or on the mound.
When I am having fun, I can let go of all external distractions and sink into the moment. That was the feeling that I fell in love with in high school and the reason I am drawn to performance.
I’ve had my share of struggles adjusting to college baseball. My freshman year, during the height of these struggles, Coach Pollard told me that there are three different kinds of competitors, “The first is the angry pitcher who gets fuel from trying to beat his opponent ruthlessly. The second is the stoic pitcher who wins his battles from being in complete control of himself and his process. The third is the pitcher who is motivated by joy; he has to be having fun with the game in order to achieve his best performance.” We both knew that I fell into the third category. He told me I needed to find a way to have fun on the mound.
When I am having fun, I can let go of all external distractions and sink into the moment. That was the feeling that I fell in love with in high school and the reason I am drawn to performance. Pitching and acting both hold these same truths to me. After the first show I committed to sinking into the moment, letting go of the external distractions of who was watching, or shying away from certain scenes given the intense subject matter. I did not feel the need to ask Trevor after the second or third show how I did. I had a lot of fun and I could feel the difference. I was finally able to pull my own weight among this talented cast and do my part to help the show flow as Rankine intended. Together, we were turning Rankine’s powerful words into a gripping and, hopefully, thought-provoking experience.
- Ollie McCarthy
(Photo Credit: DukeAthletics)