Category Archives: SpotLight

Q&A with Ryan McCartan, SpotLight Triple Threat and Disney Channel Star

ryanIn 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.

The 2013 Triple Threats Take on NYC

Emilee Hassanzadeh from Bloomington Jefferson and Karl Amundson from Minnetonka High School were this year’s award-winning SpotLight Musical Theatre Program students selected as Triple Threat honorees for excellence in not only singing, dancing and acting, but also for being leaders within their community and role models for their peers. They were chosen following a portfolio submission, live audition and SpotLight Showcase performance with their fellow Top 12 finalists. Courtesy of the Trust, Emilee and Karl traveled to New York to receive acting and vocal coaching, take dance classes, meet with industry professionals and see Broadway shows. Check out what they had to say about their experiences!

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Emilee and Karl with one of the stars of GLEE, Darren Criss

Emilee about Cinderella and the post-show meet & greets: (Darren Criss) gave us some really good advice. He was awesome! And then we met Prince Charming-Santino Fontana. We freaked out when we were told that we were going to be meeting with him!

It was really special to talk to them—we were standing right on the Cinderella stage where we were watching all the magic just minutes before. It was so cool. I did my first show with Laura and I was in awe of her then and was in awe of her tonight. It was a really great first night!

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Emilee and Karl with the 2 stars of Cinderella, Eagan native Laura Osnes and Guthrie B.F.A graduate Santino Fontana

Karl about working with Santino Fontana: Not only is he an amazing performer and really nice guy, he also gave us some really great insight about being an artist.

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Emilee and Karl with musical theatre composers Jonathan Reid Gealt and Daniel Green at Pearl Studios

Karl on getting coached by Jonathan Reid Gealt: We dissected songs and went over how we could capture the attitude and emotions in a song. He also helped us get rid of our annoying habits. It was super constructive!

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Backstage at Wicked with Music Director and Conductor Bryan Perri

Emilee on working with Bryan Perri: This was definitely one of the highlights of our week. We worked on a lot of technique and afterwards he gave us a backstage tour!

Telsey + CO, founded in 1988, is an award-winning organization of casting professionals in New York City with local, regional, national and international clientele. They are responsible for the casting of award winning musicals, movies, commercials and events.

Karl about auditioning at Telsey: We met with one of their representatives and he talked to us about the business, watched us audition and gave us advice. We met with such a great variety of people.

Current star of Broadway? Meet the future stars! Seen here at the Music Box Stage Door with Tony Award winning actress and star of Pippin, Patina Miller

Current star of Broadway? Meet the future stars! Seen here at the Music Box Stage Door with Tony Award winning actress and star of Pippin, Patina Miller

On seeing Pippin:

Karl: I could say Pippin was the best show I’ve ever seen!

Emilee: Ditto. There’s about a hundred things to watch—you don’t even know where to look!

Karl: And then we got to meet members of the cast afterwards and take pictures with them…

Emilee: Patina Miller! She was so fierce!

Emilee about taking a class at Broadway Dance Center: They were super fun! We did a musical number to Under the Sea from Little Mermaid. There were such talented dancers there and it was really cool to be amongst them.

The Wrap Up

Emilee: Unforgettable. This was definitely the trip of a lifetime. I’m so grateful to everyone that brought us here. We learned so much. One really important thing that everyone kept telling us is that you have to find joy in this throughout the entire process of theatre.

Karl: The trip was amazing! We got lots of great coaching, got to be in one of the greatest cities in the world, got to see amazing shows and have a blast! One of the best trips of my life!

The SpotLight Musical Theatre Program honors and supports Minnesota high school musical theatre students, programs and their communities. Registration for the 2013-2014 year will be open September 1-October 1. To find out more about how you can become involved please visit us online.