Q&A: Alan MacVey

BY DI STAFF | APRIL 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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Alan MacVey is the director of the Division of Performing Arts and the head of the Theater Department, and he teaches Art of Theatre and Directing I at the University of Iowa. We spoke with him about his interests in theater, most memorable moments on stage, and how he spends his free time.

DI: How did you become interested in theater?

MacVey: When I was a freshman in college, I happened to walk by a poster that announced auditions for a new musical. I loved to sing but had no training, so I thought I might be barely good enough to be in the chorus of a musical. I tried out and got one of the lead roles. It was the most fun I’d ever had, except for playing baseball, football, and basketball — but I’d never get on one of those teams in college. I tried out for the next show, and the next, and kept getting cast in good roles. It brought not only fun but a social life and a very special community.

DI: What types of plays or films do you like to watch?

MacVey: I enjoy plays that are theatrical, plays that are created by people with a great imagination. I know a play has been effective if I walk out of the theater wanting to create something myself.

DI: What do you most encourage students to remember when acting on a stage?

MacVey: The most important thing is to be in the present tense, not repeating what you learned in rehearsal but really being there with your acting partners and the audience. If you do this, and do it with commitment, you’ll find personal truths that will make the scene so specific that it’s unique to you.

DI: Where are you from?

MacVey: I’m from California. I grew up in Los Angeles and Orange County, then went to school in the Bay area. At age 28, I moved to the East Coast, where I lived until 20 years ago, when I moved to Iowa. I feel happy to have lived in much of the United States — it’s only the South I don’t know.

DI: Do you travel to other cities for performances? Is so, where and which plays?

MacVey: Wherever I go, I try to see the best works of art I can find. For example, last week, I was in Los Angeles and went to see the Netherlands Dance Theatre at the Music Center — it was extraordinary. Last year, I was in New York City and went to see five experimental theater pieces that were part of the Under the Radar Festival. My wife and I are going to Rome in May, and we’ll focus on painting, sculpture, and opera.

DI: What is your favorite moment on stage or while watching a performance?

MacVey: One of my favorite moments happened to a colleague of mine, a great actor, a man of some girth, in a play called Juno and the Peacock. He was alone on stage in a realistic set and when he finished his monologue, he was to go out the door. He got up and walked to the door, but when he pulled it, it wouldn’t budge. He tugged on it again and again, but no luck. So he looked back at the audience and said, in a great Irish accent, “I think I’ll go out the window,” and he did.
From my own work, perhaps my favorite moment was the first scene of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, which we did here in Mabie Theatre. The play started with nothing on stage but a table. When the storm at sea began, we poured three and a half tons of corn kernels from overhead. They bounced on the stage so hard that the audience couldn’t hear a word, but it didn’t matter. The actors slipped, and slid, and fell as the corn covered the stage, and we felt as if we were in the middle of a golden storm.

DI: What are your weekend plans?

MacVey: Most weekends, including the one just past, I find myself at the Theatre Building. On Friday night I saw the Hancher performance, and on Saturday, a brilliant lecture/demonstration by my colleague Kim Marra. Most weekends, I see one or more plays by our students. I’m happy to say I also have good friends who love to play tennis — so I do that four times a week, including Saturday and Sunday at 9:30 a.m. Those may be the best hours of the week.

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