For Philadelphia-based actor Brian McCann, playing the title role in Hedgerow Theatre’s production of Don Quixote, which runs through June 7, is the fulfillment of a long-held ambition to portray that character. The fact that he gets to live out that wish at the place where he started his career makes it even more special.
McCann, who grew up in Dover, Del., first aspired to play Don Quixote while he was a student at Dover High School. He had read the book, which he found “quite enlightening, moving, heart-wrenching and funny, and as much about the art of writing the book as it was in telling the story,” and then auditioned for the lead when the school put on The Man of La Mancha. “It came down between me and another student,” he recalled, “who got the role because he was a better singer, and I was Dr. Carrasco. Ever since then, I’ve always wanted to play that lead character. Even though others see him as insane, Don Quixote is the creation of a man whose real life is mundane, so he creates a wonderful world, seeing everything with a sense of joy wonder and excitement. He imagines how much better the world would be if everyone kept to the higher standards of the age of chivalry.”
He’s wanted to make his living as an actor since he played a squirrel in an elementary school play. “I remember my line was ‘What a beautiful day, not a cloud in the sky,’” he recalled. “For some reason it got a laugh, and from then on I was hooked. I wanted to get reactions from an audience.”
After studying theatre at the University of Delaware, McCann lived in Aspen, Colorado, for a while, and then returned to the Philadelphia area. He learned about the Fellowship program at Hedgerow and thought it was a perfect match since he wanted to act, but he also needed to make some money. Hedgerow’s program is all-expenses paid, so he became a company member in 1994. Then, as now, training was not just in acting, but in all elements of theatre. McCann learned scenic painting, which he still does today, and was introduced to performing Shakespeare and the classics.
One of his teachers then was Jared Reed, the director of Don Quixote. “Jared was one of the first people I had informed discussions with about text and how to perform it,” McCann remembered. “I had always loved Shakespeare and the poetry of his language, but Jared, as a Juilliard-trained actor who really understood it, gave me the introduction to it.” He has a lot of fond memories of his time there and credits his experience there with providing the foundation for doing classical work.
After leaving Hedgerow, he moved to Philadelphia and started acting professionally, working at a number of theatres, including The Philadelphia Artist Collective,The Arden Theater Company, Walnut Street Theater, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival and 1812 Productions. He added to his training in the classics with private instruction with David Howey. Howey, now an associate professor at the University of the Arts, acted in England for 30 years, working with the Royal Shakespeare Company with such esteemed actors as Judi Dench and Ian McKellen.
For the past 16 years, McCann has also nurtured his comedic talents, performing improv with ComedySportz Philadelphia, addition to performing the classics. “I love both equally,” he said, “and find joy in both. improv was a necessary skill in Shakespeare’s day, when companies had two and a half weeks to prepare a play, including memorizing the lines, and actors weren’t given the whole script, just their parts and cues. Combine that with audiences that talked back. Classical actors still do use improv all the time, especially if they go up a line and have to find a way to continue the scene.”
He’s returned to Hedgerow several times, teaching improv and playing MacDuff in Macbeth in 2013. He jumped at the chance to play his dream role in Don Quixote, completing the trio of characters he’s aspired to play, Cyrano de Bergerac and Iago. “I am really thrilled that Jared found Keith Dewhurst’s adaptation, which I didn’t know existed,” McCann said. “It really captures the flavor of the book and tells the story in a beautiful way.”
Adult ticket prices for Friday, Saturday and Sunday shows are $34; Thursday shows are $29. There is a $3 discount for seniors. Tickets for those 30 and under are $20 and $15 for students with valid ID. Tickets for the previews on May 7 and 8 are $20 for adults and $15 for students. For groups of 10 or more, tickets are $18. Prices include all fees and are subject to change. For reservations or more info, call 610-565-4211 or visit www.HedgerowTheatre.org. Hedgerow Theatre is located at 64 Rose Valley Road in Rose Valley (near Media).