Spotlight on Jack McCord

interview

{All photos by Angie Fiedler Sutton.}

Note: this article was previously published in the June 2009 issue of KC Stage Magazine.

“I am the jack-of-all-trades, literally. I’ve bussed tables, I’ve build radio towers, I’ve worked flight deck of carriers, I’ve done concrete: I could list thousands of jobs I’ve done but the one thing that’s been constant all the way through is theatre.” So says Jack McCord, board member of City Theatre of Independence and the director of their upcoming musical, The King and I. And he’s right. McCord started doing theatre when he was four years old when his mother signed him up for an acting class at UMKC.

However, theatre was both a good and a bad thing. In high school, he started hanging out with the ‘bad crowd’. “I did the drugs and skipped the school and played Frisbee in the park at Minor Park,” he says with a sardonic laugh. Skipping school led to suspension, which led to being kicked out of the school play – he had been the ‘Artful Dodger’ in Oliver.

“It was funny,” McCord says, “because the only reason I was going to school at all was for the theatre, and they kicked me out of the play because when you’re suspended, you can’t do after school activities.”

Being the enterprising lad that he was, McCord went over to Theatre in the Park and auditioned for Oliver the next weekend – and was cast as one of Fagan’s kids.

“The following year, I did Oliver again at Starlight with Christian Slater playing ‘Oliver’ and Orson Bean was ‘Fagan’,” McCord says. Despite this success in theatre, personally his life was going down the drain.

“The drugs I was doing took over,” he says, “and I had a badass trip and my whole life changed. I sat down and I thought about it and said, ‘You need to get your life together, Jack.'” It was at this time he received a call from a friend who was joining the Marines. He had joined on the buddy system, but his buddy had failed – would McCord be interested in joining? “At the time, I was so twisted around on everything, I was like, ‘Yes!’.”

Theatre wouldn’t go away, even in the Marines, though. Four years in the Marines followed by eight years in the army, and McCord was able to do theatre in all around the world. “I did Anne Frank in Germany and Sound of Music in Germany, which was interesting,” he says with another laugh.

He was building radio towers in Florida when his life got another jolt of reality. “I wound up in Florida building these radio towers, and I almost fell one day. I was about 1,500 feet up and I leaned back to light my cigarette, thinking I was strapped off, and as I was leaning back, I saw my lanyard dangling. I reached out and grabbed it at the last second. I climbed down and I went up to the boss and I said, ‘You’ve got two week’s notice: I’m getting way too comfortable.”

Jack being his usual snarky self.

Yet the job left him without a metaphorical safety net as well. “I wound up, believe it or not, homeless on the streets of Jacksonville, Fla. I was living basically in a burned out gas station and I caught pneumonia and I was about to die. I prayed and told God, ‘If you get me out of this, I’ll make it worth your while.’ After a couple of weeks of that, I called my mom and said, ‘I never asked for help. You need to bring me back home: I have to get my life together,’ and she did.”

He wound up in an apartment on Noland Road, and saw auditions for CTI’s production of Greetings! during their 1997/98 season and got the role of ‘Mickey’/’ Lucius’, thus beginning a ten-year long history with the organization.

McCord loves the theatre. Although his job is an exterminator (“I’m an assassin for hire,” he jokes), his company is very open to his other life in the theatre. In fact, he’s been able to use his job to herald the joys of theatre – especially community theatre. “The customers and I get to talking while I’m spraying. I’ll see a Phantom of the Opera poster or something, and I’ll ask, ‘So, you’re a theatre fan?’ We talk, and I say, “I do theatre for a living, and I do this for money.’

“The funny thing is that the average person knows about your dinner theatre and Starlight, but they don’t know community theatre. That’s a sad thing. You’d think with the economy the way it is, if people really wanted to save money, you’d be supporting community theatre. [Instead of] your $100 season tickets, come get a $30 season ticket.”

Jack on the theatre artwork at City Theatre of Independence.

The King & I isn’t the first time McCord’s directed, but it is the first major musical he’s solo directed. “I use the word ‘solo’ loosely,” McCord says, “because it’s funny how much the meaning of the word ‘team’ means.”

The first time McCord directed, though, was back in ’85 at the Whidbey Playhouse in Oak Harbor, Wash. – and he was the assistant director for … The King & I. The director for it, Mary Purdy, was a professor at the local college.

“I consider her the best director I ever worked for in my life,” McCord says. “She taught a workshop on directing, and there were some interesting things. I see a lot of people directing nowadays that direct just to direct, to pad their resumes, and one of her first things in the workshop was a director’s goal. A director’s goal should always be to make that show the best production that show has ever been. That is your goal. You owe the playwright and you owe every cast member in there to make it the best it’s ever been.”

McCord interviewed specifically to direct The King & I. Having been at CTI for ten years, he has decided to take a break from there. “I want to get off the boards and I want to get out of locking myself down with one theatre,” he says. “I’m getting ready to spread my wings.”

Relaxing before another hard day at the theatre.

So, he had looked over their season with that knowledge in mind. “I go back to the jack-of-all-trades. I do light, I do sound, I do stage managing, I do assistant directing, I’ve built sets … there’s nothing in theatre I cannot do. And somebody mentioned to me that they could do this or that, but they’d rather be good at one thing. I sat there and I thought about that, and I said, ‘Well, what would the one thing I’m good at be?’ And it was either directing or acting.

“So, I figured I want to go out directing with a big thing. I want to do CTI well, and I started my directing experiences with The King & I 25 years ago, and I want to go out with The King & I. I want to end my directing here, but then I’m going to focus on my acting. I’m 45, and I’ve done 41 years of theatre. It’s about time I actually decided to make something out of it, and I’m going to.”

CTI’s production of The King & I will have a distinctive McCord flair, which by his definition means humor.

“Anyone who knows me knows humor,” he says with a smile. “I love humor. The natural humor between the two classes. Let the audience enjoy it: that’s my ultimate goal in this. I don’t care if we’re perfect, I don’t care if we hit every note perfect, I don’t care what it is that we sing for. This one is just going to be pure enjoyment on the actor’s end and the audience’s end.”

Humor is part of his life goal as well. “I figure there’s two things when I die and go to the grave that I would like. One is that I never intentionally hurt anyone. The other one is I hope I made people smile. And that’s it. That’s the key and if I can add those to my credits at the pearly gates, I will get in.”

City Theatre of Independence’s production of The King & I runs June 11-14 and 18-21. For more information, visit www.citytheatreofindependence.org or call 816-325-7367.