In March, Clay Cartland won his first best actor Carbonell Award for his work in the musical The Trouble With Doug at the Theatre at Arts Garage.
Winning for that production, which was done near his home in Delray Beach, was the culmination of a career-building journey that began five years earlier when he scored his first professional role in Slow Burn Theatre’s Assassins.
Cartland, 29, starring through Sunday in the fizzy Actors’ Playhouse production of The Toxic Avenger, was a bundle of emotions when he was named a Carbonell winner. His acceptance speech, he teases, was long. In fact, in some alternate universe, as Cartland simultaneously plays Toxie at the Miracle Theater in Coral Gables and rehearses for a leading role in the disco-era spin through Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (that one opens Nov. 20 at Thinking Cap Theatre at the Vanguard in Fort Lauderdale), his “thank yous” are probably still going on.
“There’s so many people that flood through your mind at one time. I thanked everyone I ever met,” Cartland says. “My mother went crazy. ‘Can we frame this?’ She wanted to buy one of those plexiglass things to preserve it. ‘We can’t let it corrode. Can’t let air get to it.’”
You get all that excitement. Years earlier, the gifted actor was hardly assured a career in theater, though he remembers his strong reaction at age 7 when his father took him to see his first show, Carousel, at The Fox in Atlanta. Then, he was too young to know that he would have a place on stage one day: “I was amazed, but I didn’t understand what it was yet.”
Instead, the 2000 tour of The Phantom of the Opera at Broward Center for the Performing Arts supplied Cartland’s real arts awakening: the lavish production, a boat on stage, candles rising up through the floor. It was majestic.
“I was 13 at the time,” he says. “That was magical. That is what theater is? There is pyro?”
But in 2008, after graduating from St. Edward’s University in Austin, Cartland auditioned for roles but didn’t get them.
“I’m very sensitive, even more so then, so when I got rejected back-to-back I thought I was so not cut out to do theater. I got a job working reception in a hair salon and did that for a year and a half and hated it. But I didn’t have the nerve …the direction.”
Enter his mom, who gave him the opportunity to return to South Florida so Cartland could hit the “reset button.” After Slow Burn’s Assassins in Boca Raton, the roles came. GableStage’s Joseph Adler cast him in Good People. Actors’ Playhouse hired him for The Fox on the Fairway, First Date and The Toxic Avenger, a musical comedy based on the 1984 cult horror movie; Cartland says, “It’s a new school of theater … [that] I’m really excited theaters are embracing.”
That’s at the crux of Cartland’s second arts awakening: Local actors can find good work, right here in the tri-county area.
“You don’t necessarily have to be living in New York,” he says. “You can have a townhouse in Fort Lauderdale and make a living here.”
If you go
What: ‘The Toxic Avenger.’
Where: Actors’ Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday.
Cost: $53 Friday-Saturday, $45 Thursday, Sunday.
Information: 305-444-9293 or www.actorsplayhouse.org.
Also: ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ opens Nov. 20 and runs through Dec. 13 at Thinking Cap Theatre at The Vanguard, 1501 S. Andrews Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 813-220-1546 or visit www.thinkingcaptheatre.com.