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The American

Forrest McClendon tickets

The American caught up with stage actor, singer and educator Forrest McClendon as he prepared to fly to London for his role in The Scottsboro Boys

H

ow I became a performer: I was born into a large family in one of the largest housing projects in Norwalk, Connecticut, about 50 minutes outside of New York City. My mom was a single mother and I had nine brothers and sisters. My mother ran a community center that would do theater trips into New York, and my high school teacher, Lewis Cisto, would take us to see Broadway shows. That gave me the hankering to do it. In Middle School we went to see the High School’s production of Guys and Dolls with different kinds of people and busy streets portrayed on stage, and I really wanted to be up there! I went to the University of Connecticut as an Engineering major. My family was working class, so I wanted to get a good job, to be able to support myself and a family. That probably wasn’t a very good idea because I wasn’t very good at math! Just as the School of Engineering was kicking me out, the School of Fine Arts threw me a lifeline and I changed my major to Vocal Performance, Classical Singing. Oh, oh, oh, how lucky I was! Why performing and teaching are

38 October 2013

inseparable for me: In engineering I was accustomed to getting concrete answers to a problem. When they talked about ‘singing to the top of my head’ I struggled. Luckily my University

had one of the leading Speech Pathology departments in the country. A student in my dorm had a book with pictures of the vocal tract of the larynx, with all the muscles used in vocal production. That’s what I wanted to know! I began directed study in vocal anatomy

and physiology. In the Music department my mentor made me a voice teacher, giving voice lessons for the masters students in acting. From that moment on I have been an actor and an educator, right up to the present. My schedule doesn’t allow me to do a full semester at the University of the Arts now, so last year when I was in Othello, I did residencies in High Schools and some master-classes at the University. When I was at the Vineyard, then on Broadway, in The Scottsboro Boys people said I’d have to give up teaching. Why would I do that? When I’m teaching and not performing, or vice versa it doesn’t feel quite right. I like to stretch both my musical and dramatic muscles and this year I’m going from Shakespeare to Susan Stroman to Shakespeare again. The center of it is a great story, well told - whatever form it takes, musical or dramatic. The Scottsboro Boys cried out for the musical form for the story to be told. And now we’re bringing it to London for the European première. The Scottsboro Boys Nine African-American boys aged thirteen to 21 were wrongfully

The American Issue 726 October 2013  

The American has been published for Americans in Britain since 1976. It's also for Brits who like American culture.

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