Ned Canty: Stunt Man Turned Opera Memphis Director

After a nationwide search, Ned Canty joined Opera Memphis as new general director this year, bringing with him an impressive resume and an aggressive vision for rejuvenating the nonprofit.

But before focusing on opera, Canty had a thriving career in theatre, working as an actor, director and stuntman at Hartford Stage Co., The McCarter Theatre and the New York Renaissance Festival, among others.

In fact, it’s his experience as a stunt man that in a roundabout way solidified his fate as a director. He was training as an actor the summer he turned 21, working at Six Flags Great Adventure for the Robin Hood stunt show.

While understudying the Sheriff of Nottingham and doing a couple of other small roles, Canty was asked to fill in for a guy who did one of the 20-foot high falls. The pay was extremely attractive to the broke college student, so he jumped at the opportunity – literally.

“The way that you learn how to do high falls is you get a big ladder and you start out just doing a sort of flip onto a crash pad,” Canty said. “And then you go up the rungs of the ladder, one by one by one and your body gets used to how far you need to twist to land on your back.”

But the day that he was supposed to train for it, the ladder wasn’t anywhere to be found. The fearless young Canty shrugged his shoulders, said he understood the theory, and that he’d just go ahead and try it out.

“I got up there and realized immediately that I should not do this, but my 21-year-old macho ego didn’t want to back down and so I did it and I over-rotated,” Canty said. “You’re supposed to land flat and I landed sort of sitting up and I fractured my spine. I spent the next six months in a back brace and all of the acting work I had lined up, I had to cancel.”

Unbeknownst to Canty, there was a silver lining to accident. Because he couldn’t act, he worked his network in other ways.

“Every playwright I knew started coming up to me and saying, ‘Hey, I’m working on this play, would you direct a workshop of it, would you direct a reading, would you direct the first night?’” Canty said. “And so in a lot of ways really, that experience is what led me away from acting and into directing. Which at the end of the day, I think it’s something that I’m much better at and because I’m better at it, I’m happier doing it. It certainly derailed my stunt man career and I can still tell when rain’s coming because my fracture line will act up. And it makes for a good way to impress my nieces to say that I broke my back working as a stunt man.”