Be There When Lightning Strikes

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Q&A: 'Christmas Story' star has gift for stage

When his older brother, Morgan, played in the YouTheatre production of Schoolhouse Rock, Clarke MacDonald learned the play, too.


"He had memorized not only the show but he memorized the preshow spiel," said his mother, Nancy MacDonald.
"They were renovating the men's bathroom," Clarke said, "so I even memorized the thing about how they had porta-johns in the courtyard."
"He was 6 at the time, and we were amazed," his mom said. "We were like, 'You know that?'"
That was how the teachers at the Playhouse discovered the youngster with a gift for memorization and natural acting ability. He went on to perform in For the Glory on the Main Stage and in YouTheatre productions of the Boxcar Children and I Never Saw Another Butterfly before he was cast in the ensemble of Evita and as Gavroche in Les Miserables.
Now 10 years old, Clarke grew up in DuPont State Forest, where his dad is assistant forest supervisor. He got to see the making of the Hunger Games, which was filmed in his yard, and got to know the actors and artists.
He and his mom moved to Flat Rock, a few minutes from the Playhouse, because of his work on stage. He is homeschooled. "Home school affords us the downtime that's helpful with the rigorous schedule of acting," Nancy says.
Growing up in the woods with "one and a half channels" on the family television set, Clarke developed a vivid imagination, a love of reading and the ability to climb trees. He did a commercial at age 8 for the Asheville airport and filmed another one recently for i2 Marketing.
Here is the Lightning interview:

You sang in Les Miserables. Do you read music?
Yes. I used to play piano and now I play guitar.

That was a three-hour show, eight shows a week. What was that like?
It was a lot of pressure. For a couple of weeks I had a cold but I think I pushed through it and it wasn't too bad. As you know, the Penny twins played Cosette, so that was fun.

Did you get tired of it?
Not really. You get to the point where you know every single one of your entrances and cues by heart, and it doesn't take a lot of thinking but you never really get bored of it because there's always some new mishap in the show.

How did this role as Ralphie come about?
Actually, I was at the audition for The Little Prince, which was a YouTheatre show, and Mr. Marini stopped me and said, "Hey, I want you to audition for Gavroche in Les Miserables and Ralphie in A Christmas Story" so I got to do both of those.

What was your process for memorizing the script?
Well, read it, and then read it, and then read it again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again — just read it a lot, a lot.

Do you read it out loud?
First I just read it to get familiar with the lines in my brain, then I read it again, maybe the second or third time out loud, and then I just repeat all of my lines over and over and over and over, and then I go through it maybe with my mom reading some other lines. ... I'm in the kid scenes and the adult scenes so I have to be there for every single rehearsal.

Do you get to know the other kids?
I'm not really backstage except during intermission. We communicate in an acting way on stage. You get to relate to their character on stage and not to them, which is always really fun. I know the kid that plays Flick, Ben, backstage but on stage I know him as Flick. I'm not thinking of him as Ben. I'm thinking of him as Flick. I'm not thinking of him like I would backstage like my just-met friend. On stage I'm thinking of him as my always-known-him Ralphie friend.

Is it hard to stay in character when you're not speaking?
When you're on stage you know that the audience is watching and you're very wary of that and you have to give them a good show because they paid for this and that's good money that they worked hard for and you don't want to let 'em down. It's a lot of pressure but I guess I like that pressure.

What do you think of your director, Ms. Bryant?
She pushes us pretty hard but I think it's totally worth it. She's a really nice and considerate person. She pushes us hard to know our lines really really really well, and know our cue lines really really really well, and to know our blocking really really really well. She works us hard because she knows we can handle it. I think it's helping us to put this show together a lot because of her sternness sometimes and inspiration others.

In the funny scenes, is it hard to keep from laughing?
It's really hard not to laugh sometimes. In certain places you can allow yourself to smile. But it's really hard not to laugh.

Do you get paid for this?
No. I'm doing it for my resume, so I can do bigger work in New York. I want to be an actor when I grow up. It's fun because you don't know what you're going to do next.

Was there anything about growing up in the forest that shaped your thinking?
I spent a lot of time outside climbing trees. I had a slingshot and a bow and arrow, and I'm going to get some throwing knives for Christmas. ... The fire scene from the Hunger Games was filmed in my backyard. The food trailer or snack trailer was hooked up to our electricity, so really really really close to our house. When she's running through the woods on fire with the metal saplings, (they use) propane pumps in the metal trees and holes through them, and they'd catch 'em on fire. It's really neat how they do that.