Green Shirt Studio

Teacher Profile: Michael McKeogh

Michael McKeogh

One of the things Green Shirt Studio teacher Michael McKeogh loves about acting in theater is being able to tell a story. “I’m drawn to telling a story and working with other people,” he says. “It’s also an event, and once it’s done, it’s done.”

McKeogh loves the immediacy of theater – being able to witness something that can only exist in a moment in time. “In today’s culture, you can throw something on the Internet, and it’s there forever. Performing on stage creates a sense of urgency, to evoke an emotion that is immediate and that the audience might not have again,” he says.

With that in mind, audiences only have through Dec. 13 to catch McKeogh as Eddie in Pocatello by the Griffin Theatre Company at Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice Ave.

Pocatello follows the life of Eddie, a manager of an Italian chain restaurant that is threatening to close in Idaho. Eddie struggles to unite his family as well as to convince the corporate owners not to shutter the eatery and add to the town’s economic decline.

McKeogh has received rave reviews for his performance in local newspapers. The Chicago Tribune’s Chris Jones wrote that McKeogh played Eddie with “truly heartbreaking vulnerability.” And the Sun Times’ Hedy Weiss said McKeogh was “so real, so bereft, and so lonely that you just want to jump out of your seat and give him a consoling hug.”

How did McKeogh evoke such vulnerability?

“The character’s need was so pure, he wants to connect with his family and uplift his community. Vulnerability was easy to access,” he says.

McKeogh tries to approach each role as simply as possible. “It’s really just a matter of asking a series of questions, i.e., who is Eddie in relation to the other people in the play, to the world around him, and to himself? Then collaborating with [director] Jon Berry, spending the rehearsal time bringing my emotions and experiences in order to answer the questions,” he says. “In the case with this play, Eddie’s level of compassion and emotional honesty required me to be as brave as he is in the play.”

He also attributes his success to his fellow actors. “It’s also incredibly helpful that my cast members are generous, committed and great actors,” he says. “I felt safe enough to open up emotionally to walk in Eddie’s shoes. He has a very simple desire: To find his home again with his family, the one he was born into and the one he has created for himself. But unfortunately for him, his families have other, adverse desires. It’s a beautifully written play, filled with enormous amount of care and love.”

Before his success, McKeogh’s love of theater started in his home state of Michigan. He caught the theater bug early as a freshman in high school where he took a theater class on a lark. “I didn’t have a lot focus at the time. I took it as a fun class,” he says. His teacher saw his performance potential, and encouraged him to be in plays and join the forensics team, which is a hybrid of debate and acting. “That sealed the deal. I was able to win trophies and be adjudicated.”

His winnings didn’t stop in high school. He won a theater scholarship to Michigan State and earned BA in Theater Studies.

“I didn’t anticipate it as a career at first. I was going to major in psychology,” he says.

Lucky for theater lovers, he changed course and fully embraced theater. “There were lots of opportunities to grow and showcase as an actor at Michigan State,” he says.

After a brief time in Boston, McKeogh went on to graduate with an MFA in Acting from DePaul in 2012. Since graduation, McKeogh has been working as an actor in Chicago.

When not acting, McKeogh can be found teaching Shakespeare at Green Shirt Studio. “I love Shakespeare. I encourage students that while it may seem foreign in some respects or highly intellectual, there are systematic ways to approach this work that anyone can access… I like watching the light bulbs go off and watching people say ‘I get it,’” he says. “I find that most actors are very intelligent and make exciting and truthful choices in their work, but get bogged down by self-doubt. Because of the language, Shakespeare easily elicits those fears in even the best of actors. So what I try to do in my classes is support the choices that the actors make and provide a process to fall back on.”

Green Shirt Studio also offers classes in the Meisner Technique, which McKeogh praises. “I love it; it’s an incredibly useful tool for an actor. Meisner feels like a practice, like mediation and yoga. When you’re doing Meisner, you’re always doing it.”

Finally, McKeogh offers advice for new actors in Chicago: “Find a network through an acting studio or acting company or actor friends. Remember when you audition that––aside from talent––directors want a human being whom they can work with for a couple months… Bring your passion and check your ego at the door,” he says.

Great advice, indeed! McKeogh’s Shakespeare classes at Green Shirt Studio start up again in February.