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Chekhov used to say, I have my own theater, and people assumed he was talking about the Moscow Art Theatre, but then Chekhov would tap his forehead and say, . . . in here.

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Gainesville Sun

Sunday, February 24, 2002

All the world's a stage

Shamrock McShane
Playwright Shamrock McShane, seen here teaching English at Westwood Middle School, also writes about local theater for Moon Magazine. "I'm not a critic, who's going to come in and look at it from the outside and say what's good and what's bad," he says. "I'm trying to give a perspective of 'how is this piece made'?"
JON M. FLETCHER/The Gainesville Sun

If Shamrock McShane gets his way - and it's likely that he will - there will be independent theater groups all over Gainesville, putting on plays by unknown authors, plays that don't necessarily appeal to the masses but have something singularly profound or topical to say.

It could be a renaissance, he says, like Gainesville's music scene. "Bands come out of this town and make a name for themselves nationally, internationally. And if the theater scene were like that, then we'd really have something special."

McShane, a playwright, is sure that people want more than the same old recycled hits. "It would be the same as if all a band did was cover songs," he says. "That, to me, is why we have to have alternative theater, just so we have a voice of our own."

A native of Oak Park, Ill., McShane has been in public education for 18 years; he's taught English at Westwood Middle School since 1995.

"I find that teaching the language arts is about the same as practicing them," says the divorced father of two. "So I write with my kids all day long, and I share my stuff with them, as I'm able to.

"And I like it. I guess that's my calling, since I've been doing it for 18 years now. And that's the blow I want to strike, if I get a chance, for teachers. Because I think we're really getting the short end of the stick, especially in this county."

McShane gave his heart to the theater in Chicago in the early '70s, where he worked with the same indie companies that nourished David Mamet and William H. Macy (Macy, now a pretty darn big movie star, remains a close friend).

McShane, 50, says writing is an exercise, a catharsis, a lifestyle. "If you need to put me into a box as a writer, playwright is my box," he explains. "But I'm a writer. I write every day, I write all the time, and it comes out as plays. Everybody does what they're good at."

Shamrock McShane

ABOUT THE ARTIST

  • Occupation: Playwright, middle school English teacher
  • Next show: "America's New War Strikes Back" with Arupa Chiarini's "Out of Eden" Friday and Saturday, 8-9 at Galleriebob, 307 SE 6th St.

What he's especially good at is morphing his own thoughts into dialogue. "If you get it right in a play, it's as if you didn't write it," he says. "It's as if those people exist, and they just said that. And you can back out of the picture entirely."

"Boston Baked Bean," the first McShane piece produced in Gainesville, tackled a range of issues including racism, sports competition and the public school system. It was performed wherever McShane and his cast could find a room - in the Thomas Center, in the Covered Dish nightclub, even in the Alachua County Jail.

That's what thespians call a "captive audience."

For the next two weekends, in the tiny art space Galleriebob, McShane and company will put on a "reader's theater" production of "America's New War Strikes Back," a lengthy dialogue poem he wrote after the events of Sept. 11.

"It's trying to say everything," he explains. "And it's trying to be an immediate take on where we are now, in current events. The idea was 'Here's a play about people, and the only thing they have in common is they're all being touched by events that are touching everybody.' And try and get some perspective on the world that we're living in, because it all changed."

He's especially proud of the immediacy he's accomplished with the piece. "Very rarely is the theater catching up with events," he says. "Everybody's got their season. They're locked into their season."

Plans are afoot to enlarge "America's New War" by encompassing video, dance and other multi-media elements.

For now, however, McShane is content to get it seen. "Why not just do a play for 10 or 15 people?" he asks. "And if you affect them, that's all you're trying to do anyway."

Shamrock, by the way, is McShane's professional name; he uses it solely for his theater work. At Westwood, he's still known as Timothy.

"I changed it for luck," he explains. "Now, when I get mail addressed to 'Shamrock,' I know it has to be something good."

Bill DeYoung

Sun entertainment editor