From Sociophobia to the National Stage

Who’d have guessed that a UT student who feared speaking in front of his peers would go on to be an award-winning actor? Max McLean wouldn’t even have predicted it himself—especially when he realized he had sociophobia, a severe form of social anxiety.

McLean, BA ’75, says his experience at UT influenced his decision to go into acting. A history major, he realized he needed to face his fear of public speaking by taking classes in the drama department. “Once I took the classes there, the bug bit,” he says. “And it bit hard.”

McLean says he spent the rest of his time at the University taking elective classes within the theater department and decided to enroll in drama school in London afterward. He eventually made his way back to New York City, where he’s been acting ever since.

In The Screwtape Letters—a theatrical adaption of the C.S. Lewis novel—McLean doesn’t just play the lead role, he also helped adapt and direct the play. The production has been touring around the country for three years now, which McLean says is unusual. He’s been delighted to tour in more than 50 major cities and read the many positive reviews. The play made its way back to Austin this past Saturday, when it was performed in front of a rapt audience at UT’s Bass Concert Hall.

As His Abysmal Sublimity Screwtape, McLean portrays a senior demon who mentors his nephew, Wormwood, and teaches him how to lead a human “patient” toward damnation. McLean takes the stage for the full hour and a half, making his presence known through his exaggerated gestures and animated voice changes.

While The Screwtape Letters will continue to tour over the next few months, McLean also has other projects brewing. He and his team are developing a production in New York based on C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce. They’ve also recently commissioned a young, promising playwright to do a play about Martin Luther, which he hopes to get up and running by the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

With his busy schedule, he says he’s only been able to make it back to Austin three or four times within the last few decades—but every time he does, it still feels like home. “Every trip is like going back to my roots. And I love doing that. A lot has changed, but the vibe and the air, it’s stayed the same.”

Photo courtesy Katharine Nichols.  


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