2015 Best Student Actor Nominee: Conor Proft as Cripple Billy in Boston University College of Fine Arts' "The Cripple of Inishmaan"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series. 

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

Photo Credit: Cassidy Kristiansen.

Photo Credit: Cassidy Kristiansen.

Conor Proft embodied the handicapped boy, Billy Claven, in Boston University College of Fine Arts' production of The Cripple of Inishmaan, from his fragile presence to his misaligned limp to his tremorous tone. Conor's Billy had a strength and conviction about him that drove much of the play's action forward, creating a believable character with whom the audience could cheer. In his Interview, Conor describes some of the challenges of playing Billy, some of the things that he has to do every day, and his many upcoming projects (he has a busy Spring, and final, semester!). 

Hi, Conor, and welcome to ArtsImpulse.  Thank you so much for joining us. Can you start by telling our readers a bit about yourself?

I am a senior Theatre Arts major at Boston University College of Fine Arts, and originally from West Hartford, Connecticut. I stumbled upon acting as a sophomore in high school, and, within a year, I knew I wanted to pursue acting as a career. I attended Elon University in North Carolina before transferring to BU following my freshman year because I missed New England winters.

My recent BU credits, apart from Billy, include: Oswald in Ghosts, Ulysses in The Human Comedy, and Joseph Swane in By the Bog of Cats. I am also a member of Spontaneous Combustionthe School of Theater improvisation troupe.

I could not be more excited (nervous laughter) to enter the professional world, and I am planning on moving to New York City after graduation. When I am not acting, I enjoy playwriting, tennis, and playing pranks on my roommates.

Billy Claven (Conor Proft, BU CFA '16) leans against the counter of the dry goods store in Inishmaan in Boston University College of Fine Arts' The Cripple of Inishmaan (Photo Credit: Kal Zabarsky). 

Billy Claven (Conor Proft, BU CFA '16) leans against the counter of the dry goods store in Inishmaan in Boston University College of Fine Arts' The Cripple of Inishmaan (Photo Credit: Kal Zabarsky). 

How did you become involved in the BU CFA’s production of The Cripple of Inishmaan?  How did you get the role of Billy?

I played Billy in The Cripple of Inishmaan at my high school during my junior year, so when I heard that they were producing it at BU I was determined to revisit the role. I e-mailed the director (Thomas Martin), expressed my interest, and had a great callback. I would have been happy to be involved in the show in any capacity, but I consider myself lucky to have reexamined the role. There was something special about returning to Billy after four more years of growth as an actor. He was a completely different character to me.

What were your biggest challenges as Billy?  What were you surprised to learn?

Thomas Martin, the director, and I discovered through the rehearsal process that Billy’s physicality was really a defining characteristic in the way he operates and relates to others on Inishmaan. I worked extensively with BU’s movement teacher, Judith Chaffee, in order to develop a physicality that I felt served the role yet did not draw the attention away from Billy’s humanity. With that said, I think my biggest challenge was Billy’s disability, but I also believe it was Billy’s greatest weapon. Amongst an island of outcasts, Billy strives to be defined by his humanity, rather than his debility.

Had you ever read the play before?  Had you read any other plays by Martin McDonagh? If so, do you have a favorite?

Apart from performing The Cripple of Inishmaan in high school, I was also able to see the Broadway production starring Daniel Radcliffe.

Though I have read The Pillowman, The Lonesome West, and The Lieutenant of Inishmore, I hold The Cripple of Inishmaan closest to my heart. Both times I played Billy, my love for the role, and my desire to be an actor, grew exponentially.

Tell us about your favorite class in college.  Why was it your favorite?  What made it different?  What did you learn?

I have been blessed to learn from some amazing teachers at BU. The curriculum is diverse, rigorous, and immersive, and it gives the students the chance to explore a variety of techniques. I was most drawn to Jerzy Grotowski’s work that is taught in both Physical Acting I and Advanced Physical Acting by Elaine Vaan Hogue. Both Physical Acting courses have been invaluable in making acting a less intellectual exercise and a more instinctual pursuit.

What is one thing that you have to do every day?  Every week?  Every month?

I floss everyday, I do laundry once a week, and I force myself to cook an elaborate dish every month.

What are three words that your best friends would use to describe you?

Quiet, then loud.

What advice would you give to other student actors?  What advice do you wish that you had learned?

I learned this a little late in time at BU, and this satisfies both questions, but if there is a role you are really gunning for, make sure the director knows how badly you want to be a part of the play.

Billy Claven (Conor Proft, BU CFA '16) lies still in Boston University College of Fine Arts' The Cripple of Inishmaan (Photo Credit: Kal Zabarsky). 

Billy Claven (Conor Proft, BU CFA '16) lies still in Boston University College of Fine Arts' The Cripple of Inishmaan (Photo Credit: Kal Zabarsky). 

What are some of your short-term and long-term career goals? 

After graduation in May 2016, I am planning to move to New York. My short-term goals are to get settled in NYC and audition as much as possible. While I do not want to stop working on the stage, I would also like to explore acting on film and TV.

Long-term, I want to be a working actor, and maybe grad school.

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I have two upcoming Boston University projects that are keeping me pleasantly busy for the next three months. I will be playing the role of Gibbs in Harold Pinter’s The Hothouse, directed by Tim Spears. The show runs from February 19 through 21, 2016, at the Calderwood Pavilion in Boston.

Right after The Hothouse, I begin work on my senior Theatre Arts thesis. We are putting on a production of Stephen Dietz’s The Nina Variations, and I will be playing Treplev. Chekhov’s The Seagull is one of my favorite plays, so I am thrilled for a chance to work on Dietz’s adaptation.

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Simply that I’m honored to be nominated amongst so many amazing productions, actors, and ensembles.