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Acting Out 

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Kevin McCoy was a fixture in off-Loop theater for at least a decade. He appeared in dozens of shows at Stage Left, Bailiwick, and Center Theater, and he was a member of the Lifeline ensemble. Then three and a half years ago, he dropped out of the scene. He says the change was triggered by, of all things, success.

In 1992 McCoy teamed up with jazz musician Robert Mazurek for the show Frank's Corner, a series of urban tales accompanied by music, which premiered at the Nights of the Blue Rider Festival. "We'd only practiced it twice, once without a script in my hand," he says. "I just trusted the improvisational nature of the performance." The experience was so satisfying McCoy decided to take Frank's Corner to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. In addition to fine tuning the production, he spent the next year taking care of logistics--he had to pay for air fare, food, lodging, and a place to perform. "It cost me from ten to fifteen thousand dollars U.S. I really went into debt for the show."

Performing the play in Edinburgh was a thrill, but when McCoy returned he found "there was this big emptiness." His girlfriend recommended he seek counseling. "She said, 'You need to see a therapist. And if you cannot afford one, I'll pay for one for you.'"

Therapy helped. "I just started being more honest about my feelings and what I wanted," McCoy says. But it also brought an end to his relationship--McCoy realized he was gay. He and his girlfriend parted amicably, and he came out, "not just sexually but emotionally."

The step was positive, but McCoy now characterizes this period as lonely. He was unusually productive. "I did, like, seven projects that year." But the work wasn't satisfying. "I thought, 'I am working so much, how can I ever have time for a personal life?' I was working in shows and I was doing a day job like everybody else. I said to Rob Mazurek, 'I think I'm going to be alone for the rest of my life.'"

Then McCoy met Robert LePage, the French-Canadian director known for his unorthodox stagecraft and insistence on combining performance styles from different cultures. LePage was in town acting in Needles and Opium, based on the life of writer Jean Cocteau. "I saw his show, and I went to his workshop," McCoy says. "And I just remember, you know, you have a bing! A little bell goes off. But I didn't pay any attention to that."

The two met later at a party, started talking, and one thing led to another. Still, they were living in different countries. McCoy continued to work in Chicago, while LePage toured the world. "When he was flying from Europe to Quebec City, he would route his flights through Chicago. And when I had a break, I would go with him to places like Germany, where he was looking for locations for his film The Polygraph."

Every once in a while wasn't enough, and LePage invited McCoy to live with him in Canada. "I always said I needed more time for my life," McCoy says. "Of course, once I got to Quebec City it went the other way--I had nothing but my personal life. I thought I'd never work again."

He had trouble adjusting. "For a while I had to study French 20 hours a week. I was in school with immigrants from all around the world. I was sitting between someone from Iran and someone from Iraq. There were people from Afghanistan and Russia, Bosnia and Serbia, everywhere." He picked up the language slowly. "I'm bilingual now. I have a huge American accent when I speak French, but people say, 'Don't change your accent--you're the only American I know who speaks French.'"

Currently McCoy is in LePage's most recent work, Geometry of Miracles, which plays for three days next week at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie. The show is about Frank Lloyd Wright, his third wife, Olgivanna, and her mentor, Russian mystic Georges Gurdjieff.

And he's been working steadily in Canada, where his accent has now become an asset. There's a steady demand for performers who can act American. "I got a call from one company and they didn't even audition me." Based solely on a phone conversation, they said, "You are perfect. We know you are just what we are looking for." McCoy laughs. He's obviously happy.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Sophie Grenier.

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