Collegiate Theatrics: Middle Tennessee State University's CONNER McCABE
September is barely half over and already, theater students at colleges all across the country are busy gearing up for new productions this semester, even while many of their classmates are content to go to class and spend their free time studying and/or partying. For the serious student of the theater, however, they're probably going to class, working a part-time job, studying, partying and working full-time in preparation for an upcoming onstage assignment in their department's latest show.
Take, for example, Conner McCabe, a 20-year-old junior at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro: the new academic year has barely been in session for a month and he's already preparing for his role as Demetrius in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Yet somehow, even with the typical schedule of a harried college student, he managed to find time to answer our queries as the latest actor in the spotlight for this edition of Collegiate Theatrics...
Growing up in Murfreesboro, Conner McCabe built an impressive theatrical resume, performing in shows at the Center for the Arts, at Woodbury's Arts Center of Cannon County and at his hometown Patterson Park Community Center even before becoming involved in theater at Riverdale High School. So it was a natural fit for him when he decided to enter Middle Tennessee State University, where he's been onstage, including last year's production of A Streetcar Named Desire and the upcoming staging of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
What's your college experience at MTSU been like so far? Has it lived up to its hype? MTSU's theatre program has exceeded my expectations. The faculty are all extremely passionate about not only theatre, but also seeing their students succeed. Seriously, the faculty here love giving students opportunities! Every year, they pay quite a bit for us to go the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival, The Southeastern Theatre Conference, and many other conferences/festivals. Specifically, they've been going much further than needed at SETC and helped me receive professional work as an actor both times I have gone. Oftentimes, design professors will be doing professional work outside of school and will offer a student the chance to Assistant Design professionally. This program has a heavy emphasis on resume building and it has been extremely beneficial to me. We also have a very active chapter of Alpha Psi Omega, a Theatre Honors Society, that I've become a part of and have a real impact on the future of the program. Also, I have made many incredible friends here that I hope will be life-long.
What's your favorite thing about studying at MTSU? My favorite thing about studying here has been the Student Season. We have four Mainstage shows here that are (usually) faculty directed and designed. However, we also have a Student Success Season which are four shows entirely done by students. It gives a chance to try things that we really want to do and just create something awesome with each other. Also, one of them is performed in the beautiful Tucker Theatre which is very cool!
What does the future hold for you and have your aspirations changed since you're now an experienced college student? My future holds many different possibilities. Obviously, my goal is to have a future where I am able to sustain off of only theatre. After spending two summers performing professionally, I feel much more confident in that regard. When I came to college, I knew that I wanted to perform as that was my first love. However, while at MTSU, I have also fallen in love with directing. The professor of directing here, Halena Kays, is phenomenal and has helped me find a passion for it. Once I'm more experienced, I plan to choose between the two, but, as for now, the title actor/director fits me well.
What collegiate theatrical moment looms largest in your mind? Every year, our program gets together and has a sort-of awards night. Instead of things like Best Actor, it celebrates other things we've done like volunteer work or just keeping a smiling face. The first year I went I was so surprised and excited. It was just our big family getting together and hugging! The fact is we are just one big, happy family. I love the personal relationships that we create here and I honestly wouldn't trade any of them for the world.
What advice would you offer to high school students considering making the plunge? College is a great idea for aspiring theatre professionals. However, you really get out of it what you put into it. I see so many talented peers who don't really get involved in the program and just do a bunch of community shows outside of school where it is easy to get lead roles. Those same people are then surprised when they can't get professional work after they graduate. College isn't easy. It's a learning experience. Get involved and succeed.
What's your most recent theatrical project and what comes next? This past summer I was an actor at Unto These Hills, a professional, historical theatre. Unto These Hills tells the story of the Cherokee leading up to the Trail of Tears. Next, I will be playing Demetrius in MTSU's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream! It runs November 9-12.