Words by Adrian Rorvik
Young actor Byron McNeil, a charmer with a delightful bass singing voice, makes his first appearance in a KickStart production, starring as a knight in Camelot, Lerner and Loewe’s glorious musical about the life and times of King Arthur at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre on UKZN campus from 18 May – 3 June.
McNeil’s passion for acting was ignited when his family moved from Zimbabwe to Mtubatuba in 1999. There he was involved in all his school’s theatre productions. Moving to Richards Bay in 2008, McNeil revelled in high school supper theatre Shakespeare productions.
At the end of each year he won the award for best actor. This made it relatively easy, after matriculating, to choose between becoming a chef and acting and he moved to Durban to study at AFDA, graduating in March 2017 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in live performance.
McNeil did a lot of film work at AFDA, directing/shooting/acting in a film every semester. And film work has come his way- features, short films, commercials- while, as camera assistant, he learned from behind the scenes.
Camelot has changed things. “A friend told me one day that KickStart was having auditions. I had never done musical theatre but I knew I could sing. And I got it!” McNeil exclaims.
Being part of the production has impacted hugely. “It’s almost been like a dream come true- a step into the professional world. It’s really upped my knowledge, working with people on their “A” game. Director (and King Arthur) Steven Stead believed in me from the start and I am so grateful for that.”
“Vocally, it has improved my talent as a singer. I have had to adapt and learn and I was very nervous in the beginning, but all the cast and crew were very welcoming and encouraging.”
Where to next? “My next goal is to secure a proper agent. I do love film, but stage is a place for me where every day- rehearsing and performing- I’m improving my craft, whereas film doesn’t really do that for you. Being on stage fuels you as an actor. It feels real, feels uplifting and I will always take stage over film for its immediacy.”
Outside of acting, McNeil loves reading- and watching. He learned at AFDA that the best homework is to watch anything to do with performance- classic films etc. “Now I’m starting to watch stage plays, which helps a lot. So my mind is always around theatre and film. It’s my life. I love it.”
Working odd hours doesn’t leave a lot of time for socialising, so McNeil- having missed two weddings since rehearsals began- really values time with family and friends.
What most don’t know about him is his love for solitude. “I really love being alone. I can sit for hours, listening to music, working out what’s going on in my life.”
See him sing for his supper at the Elizabeth Sneddon Theatre on UKZN campus from 18 May – 3 June.
Interview With Byron McNeil: Singing For His Supper (Instead Of Cooking It)
Words by Adrian Rorvik