Phillips Ambassador Alumnus Sean McKeithan Performs One-Man Play

Sean McKeithan didn’t plan on becoming a performer, let alone the star and author of an intense one-man show.

The Carolina Performing Arts marketing and communications coordinator and 2009 UNC graduate discovered his interest in performance during the latter part of his undergraduate career, but his slow start in the theater hasn’t set him back.

“On Breathing in the Barrel,” McKeithan’s first full-length piece, debuted Wednesday as part of the UNC Communications Studies Department “Solo Takes On: 2” performance series.

“I was never a theater kid,” McKeithan said. “Performance is relatively new to me.”

While enrolled at the University, seminars like Renee Alexander Craft and Joseph Megel’s performance practicum helped McKeithan realign and develop his interests in performance.

“I really started to crystallize during my senior year,” McKeithan said.

“On Breathing In the Barrel” materialized out of McKeithan’s undergraduate honors thesis, but in many ways the performance also has roots in Megel’s class.

The performance practicum course caters to solo performances through its emphasis on personal exploration, Megel said.

“On Breathing In the Barrel,” a one-man show, largely confronts the concept of personal exploration through themes of masculinity and identity.

In it, the process of making bourbon is used to develop the inner life of the work’s main character.

While performing the piece — which draws heavily from McKeithan’s own personal experiences — McKeithan experiments with varying levels of control and vulnerability.

“I care a lot about the audience and my relationship with them on stage,” he said. “I think it’s really important to always keep the audience with me, even though it can be interesting to challenge people and make them uncomfortable.”

Megel, who is directing “On Breathing in the Barrel,” said that McKeithan’s performance is an especially powerful one.

“He has his own personality which really comes through on stage and through his writing,” Megel said.

McKeithan graduated from UNC in 2009, but kept close ties with his mentors and peers.

His continued relationships with figures such as Megel and the communications department as a whole helped solidify the development of “On Breathing in the Barrel”.

“I’m trying to take advantage of this new way of being at Chapel Hill by continuing the things I discovered as an undergraduate,” McKeithan said.

Megel was attracted to McKeithan’s piece from the start, he said.

“Sean’s writing is very lyric, fun and witty,” Megel said.

When McKeithan asked to get involved with the “Solo Takes On: 2” project, Megel quickly agreed.

“Personal explorations become natural to performance studies,” Megel said.

And McKeithan’s piece is a highly personal journey, others in the festival said.

“He has a very strong presence on stage,” said Gretchen Fox Klobucar, a former classmate and a performer in the “Solo Takes On: 2” festival.

“It’s very easy to get drawn into the grit and the grain of his voice.”

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