In the nearly 10 years since the SpotLight Musical Theatre Program was started, thousands of talented high school students have had the opportunity to learn and expand their talents and skills. Some have gone on to pursue performance as a career, and we love to celebrate their professional successes. Ryan McCartan, winner of the SpotLight Triple Threat Best Actor Award in 2011, recently found major success in landing the role of Diggie on Disney Channel’s new show “Liv and Maddie.” A graduate of Minnetonka High School, Ryan tells us about what it’s like to work in television and shares his insights on launching a career in the performing arts.
Q. You are currently on a Disney Channel show “Liv and Maddie,” tell us about the show.
A. “Liv and Maddie” is a show about two twin girls. Liv is an ex-Hollywood sensation returning to a normal life in her hometown in Wisconsin, and Maddie is a smart, tom-boyish basketball player with all-star potential. The show follows the twins, along with their two brothers, parents and friends as they navigate their quirky lives at home, school, work and in any other crazy Disney Channel circumstance you could possibly imagine!
Q. What do you and your character on the show have in common?
A. Diggie is your all-American boy next door type. He’s the captain of the basketball team at Ridgewood High. Though my athletic skills are, to put it generously, sub-par, Diggie and I really have a lot in common. He is funny and undeniably quirky, and thus possesses an infectious charm and charisma. He is very caring and always puts his friends first.
Q. How did you get the part on “Liv and Maddie?”
A. Nothing is just because of one audition. I have been in and out of Disney doors since I came out here for my first audition two years ago. Finally this one seemed to fit. I auditioned for the casting directors who knew me from my previous auditions, then met with the producers and did a chemistry read with Dove and Joey, the stars of the show. After a long and grueling wait, I was finally selected to play the part!
Q. What has been the most challenging about the transition from stage to television acting?
A. The biggest challenge about Hollywood is that out here, the first thing that casting is searching for is a specific look. If you don’t have that look, it doesn’t matter how good you are, you aren’t going to book the part. I auditioned for about 125 projects before I booked my first gig, and after a while, you start to play head games with yourself, “am I good enough,” “can I really do this?” Having predominantly done stage work, it was hard to adjust to the realities of this side of the business.
Q. How has your musical theatre background helped you in the role?
A. You learn a whole different level of discipline, respect, stamina, control and variety when you work on the stage. Disney Channel is big and broad in the sense that it is children and preteen programming, so some of the bits we play are hysterical and often bigger than the norms of life. Playing in musical theater helps me to be able to tap into a broad sense of reality without completely sacrificing the integrity of my performance.
Q. If you could give one piece of advice to SpotLight students pursuing performance careers, what would it be?
A. The best, truest acting you can do is the stuff that comes from your gut. I’m talking about pure, unadulterated impulse here. Don’t deny yourself the opportunity to take risks and just go with what you feel, whatever you feel. Acting is not scientific, it is not a perfect craft. You must allow yourself to be wrong and to be stupid and to be fearless. The best way to practice? Live your life that way. You’ll notice the most beautiful results if you do, both on and off stage.
You can see Ryan on “Liv and Maddie” on Disney Channel, Sunday evenings at 7 p.m. Central Time.
Also, be sure to check out the 2014 SpotLight Showcase! This year, the program includes a record number 67 schools and will have two showcase events June 8 and 9, 2014.