Interview: Joey deBettencourt
The Chicago actor returns home in the lead of the touring production of Peter and the Starcatcher
“Hopefully, I think it’ll be a show that’s very of the Chicago sensibility,” deBettencourt says of the comic prequel to Peter Pan, which racked up five Tony Awards in 2012. “It’s very ensemble [oriented], we’ve got four guys from Chicago in it. It seems like something that could have been created here—it could have been a Lookingglass kind of idea.”
The Chicago actor, who’s been playing the title role in the touring production of the play since it kicked off in Denver last August, reflected on the experience at his favorite Logan Square coffeehouse last week while home on a break. The Chicago actors in the cast also include John Sanders as the villainous Black Stache (a role he understudied in New York), as well as Harter Clingman and Nathan Hosner, with Nick Vidal in the company as an understudy.
The show’s producers made a contractual tweak that made things easier on actors from outside of New York, deBettencourt says: “It used to be that you had to basically move to New York and figure out your own living arrangements” during the rehearsal process. But the show instead put the out-of-town actors up for the rehearsal period.
“Which is a small change, but I think [producers] want to start looking outside of New York, looking for talent across the country,” deBettencourt posits, noting that the touring production of the musical Once also held auditions in Chicago around the same time Peter and the Starcatcher did last year. “And Chicago has such a great reputation as a theater city that they want to be looking here for talent.”
DeBettencourt, a boyish 26, grew up in an arts-appreciative family in Skokie. “My mom actually moved to Chicago to become an actress, back in…I won’t say ‘back in the day,’ because she’ll be upset if she reads this,” he says with a wry smile. “As a kid—I didn’t know until much later on that she had come and wanted to be an actress, but what I did know is on the weekends we would go to the nature center and she would do storytelling sessions.”
His mother, who now teaches, and father, an engineer, have always been supportive of his interest in performing, he says. And he benefited from attending a high school with “a really amazing fine arts program” that included a trip to perform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, before studying theater at Northwestern University, where he graduated in 2009.
DeBettencourt has been working steadily since then, often with the Griffin Theatre Company, where he’s now an ensemble member. “[Griffin ensemble member] Jon Berry went to Northwestern [as an M.F.A. student] at the same time as I did, and for a long time he was trying to get me to audition for a Griffin show,” he says.
The first show he booked out of school was Griffin’s touring children’s show Frindle, though “that is a completely different thing from doing eight shows a week in big venues.” He’s since appeared in five Griffin mainstage shows, winning the Jeff Award for actor in a principal role in 2012’s Punk Rock, directed by Berry.
Before booking the tour, deBettencourt supported himself by working as a metalsmith for a small design firm, doing semi-precious and wrought-iron metalwork. It’s a skillset he first picked up working in the props department at Northwestern as a student. “This counter behind you,” he says, nodding to the espresso bar. “That’s made out of zinc, and that’s the kind of thing we would do—I would say though, we would do it nicer. People are always, like, that is a weird skill. It is weird.”
The Starcatcher tour is scheduled to wrap up May 25 in Pittsburgh (a final stop in Boston was canceled), and deBettencourt will be back in Chicago at least in the short term; he’s getting married here in September. But he also has representation now in New York and Los Angeles. “I’ll be around Chicago, but it’s becoming easier to be a little bi-coastal or tri-coastal.”
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