Despite what some audience members are saying about actor Wade McCollum's impressive display of physique in Dallas Theater Center's flesh-baring production of the Kander and Ebb musical Cabaret, his chiseled abs are not tricked out by makeup. McCollum earned them the hard way, with 90 minutes a day of tough workouts and a carb-free diet. Playing the show's mysterious Emcee, he's also dancing director-choreographer Joel Ferrell's high-energy routines for a few hours a night, including dozens of trips up and down the steep steps of designer Bob Lavallee's set.
We tracked down McCollum, a 33-year-old New York-based actor, between performances at the Wyly Theatre to find out more about how he honed his bod into such incredible shape and...well...whatever else we could think to ask to keep him talking because look at the guy.
(Warning: If you haven't seen Cabaret, there's a spoiler about one element of the production at the end of this interview.)
OK, what sort of workout regimen does it take to get as ripped as you are? I transform for every role I take on. One of my ways into every character is my body. I'm a corporeal dude that way. Prior to Cabaret I was doing Dying City by Christopher Shinn, a two-person play about a soldier who commits suicide. For that role I wanted to be imposingly large, so I gained a bunch of weight, trained with some Marines and got up over 200 pounds, which for me was a really big deal. I was eating steak and French fries, which for me is unusual. But gaining that weight helped me occupy my body in a different way. When I found out I was going to do Cabaret, in this show the characters [in the Kit Kat Klub] aren't eating a lot and they're high on coke. So I took my workout routine, the hour or 90 minutes I had been spending bulking up, and I started taking a lot of Pilates and spinning classes. I shrink-wrapped what I had going on before this show. I get to the gym pretty much every day. I don't spend copious amounts of time there but I try to use the time wisely. Thirty minutes of cardio, then a hardcore Pilates workout and then I work on my upper body for 15 or 20 minutes. [He's being modest. One of McCollum's fellow dancers in Cabaret tells us "there was never a minute during rehearsals when Wade was not working out...even on breaks."]
How old were you when you went all-in on being an actor and dancer? When I was 14 or 15, I caught the bug pretty big. I had been doing speech and debate and was really into that. I was state champ in Oregon and went to nationals. Then in my sophomore year of high school, the director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland started working with my high school. He directed us in A Company of Wayward Saints, a play about a troupe of actors who come together and tell the story of the history of man. It's a triumphant and powerful play. That was by far the moment where I said, holy shit, this is what I'm going to do for the rest of my life. Not one single doubt. I dropped out of high school and went to the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts and graduated at 19.
You've starred in some pretty big shows, including a road company of Jersey Boys and playing the Emcee in another Cabaret at Portland Center Stage. How does DTC's Cabaret compare? The Wyly is a huge, huge theater and we made it bigger by bringing the stage down into the audience. It's absolutely the biggest production of Cabaret I've been in. Joel Ferrell used the resources he had, the amount of design and the amount of space in such a brilliant way. The way they use that upstage curtain and what's behind it -- I feel like there are all sorts of metaphors to it. They used what could have been a detriment -- the vast scope of the space -- they've used it to great advantage.
The DTC cast includes seasoned professionals like you and Kate Wetherhead, who plays Sally Bowles, but also some theater students from SMU.... The talent pool here is really amazing, actually. The diversity of experience in the cast brings a higher level of wisdom and there's an innocence of people with a lack of experience that brings a lot to a production. Really magical things can occur because they don't know better. These people are discovering their process as we're rehearsing. The things that accidentally get discovered or stumbled upon are so beautiful and so valuable. Students keep the pros on their A-game. And in this show, there's more to it than just giving performance for the audience. There are people garnering experience from their process. I love the alchemy of people in this show.
How is this production's Emcee different from how you've played it before? To me, the Emcee is, more than anybody in the play, the instrument of the director's vision, the reflector of the material. This guy's not written in the script. We don't know who he is. Because he's textually neutral, he can be an instrument of the director's vision. From production to production, you can get a different take on who he is and why he's there. I love Joel's take on it. This Emcee is less human. It was a clear choice to say he's an instrument of the shadow element of society. He's that dark part of us that whispers in our ear that makes us do something selfish that ultimately will harm people.
What's your favorite part of Cabaret every night? You're onstage for almost the whole show. I love watching the show from sitting onstage. It's such a good fucking show. It's so good. Watching Kate go through this journey every night. The nuances she adds and brings and how present she is in the moment. She's kind of a virtuoso. I love watching it.
Spoiler question: Can you see the audience reaction to the shocking image of the cast, totally naked, at the end? It's fascinating actually. I get to have one of the most dynamic, energetic experiences I've had onstage so far. When that curtain falls and I'm standing between the crowd and that picture, first of all, this wind goes through the audience, an actual wind, like a cold ghost passing through you. I feel energy, right? It's my job to be in tune with the audience. The shit that I'm feeling -- it's one of those moments...theater director and philosopher Anne Bogart says great moments in theater are when everyone in the audience is feeling something different at the same time. Most of our popular modern theater is the opposite: People manipulated to feel the same thing at the same time. I think theater's job is to blur the line and explore. That moment at the end of Cabaret is one of the most dynamic expressions of that. I feel fractal bifurcation. Some people start laughing and some people know already what the image represents and they're crying. Some people don't know what the fuck it is. It's quite amazing.
Cabaret continues through May 22 at the Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre. For tickets call 214-880-0202 or visit dallastheatercenter.org.
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