Matthew Merritt: 17 Shows and Counting…
Even if you’ve seen just one show at The Warehouse Theatre in the last decade or so, the odds are in your favor that this guy was in it. Matthew Merritt has graced our Main Stage a glorious 17 times embodying everything from an angel in America to a flying Orpheus. And more importantly to Rocky Horror fans, he’s taken on the character of Riff Raff three times and continues to find the filthy alien incredibly rewarding. We caught up with this Warehouse mainstay on October 13th and he shared what makes Riff Raff tick! Enjoy!
WHT: You headed south for your schoolwork, right?
Matthew: Yes. I have a BA in Theatre Arts from Palm Beach Atlantic University.
WHT: And you call Greenville home, yes?
Matthew: Born in Greenville, raised in Powdersville. Have lived in Greenville for all but about 5 years of my life, so around 30 years.
WHT: How many shows have you performed on the main stage at The Warehouse?
Matthew: Including this production of Rocky Horror, I’ve performed in 17 Warehouse Theatre productions. Most recent was Tyrell in Richard III.
WHT: What’s your favorite production you’ve ever worked?
Matthew: Warehouse’s production of Angels in America: Parts I & II was by far the most frightening, challenging, and rewarding experience I’ve ever had onstage, period. Fortunately for me, there was an amazingly talented and passionate ensemble of actors, a hyper-prepared director in Jayce T. Tromsness, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning script to carry me along.
WHT: Is there someone’s work that you greatly enjoy or admire?
Matthew: Johnny Depp is one of my personal idols, artistically. Makeup and costumes are a large part of my personal approach to finding characters, and I greatly admire his seemingly endless creativity with the visual aspect of his acting. Closer to home, I’ve always admired my good friend Will Ragland for the exact same reasons. Dude’s a magician when it comes to vanishing inside a character. I love it.
WHT: Person you haven’t worked with yet in any capacity that’s still on your wish list?
Matthew: David Bowie. If you need reasons, you wouldn’t understand. (Matthew smiles a big smile).
WHT: Routine that you go through before a performance?
Matthew: I’m a big music guy, and always like to have something playing in the dressing room while I prepare, preferably rock and roll, but I’m flexible. Mostly. Other than a normal stretch/vocal warm-up, I don’t have many “superstitions” or important processes. Oh wait, except coffee. I don’t act without coffee.
WHT: What is your favorite part about being in the arts in Greenville?
Matthew: There are lots and lots of plusses, but mainly I love the unquestionably high quality of the scene. Nearly all of my friends are involved in some way or another, so obviously I love the people that I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by, but that said, I’ve found nearly every arts community everywhere to be filled with good people. What they’re not always necessarily filled with is “good” art. Greenville has both…and in excess. I am very, very grateful to call it my home.
WHT: Do you have any jobs outside of acting?
Matthew: The usual array of starving artist jobs: food service, barista, landscaping and construction. Anything “legal” to pay the bills, that I don’t have to admit is a career.
WHT: How does performing such an in-your-face show in an intimate setting like The Warehouse affect your work?
Matthew: Personally, I find Rocky Horror to be very freeing as an actor, especially in such an intimate space. One of the challenges of acting somewhere like The Warehouse is that the audience is literally RIGHT THERE, and touchable, and so maintaining focus in a role that requires it heavily can be difficult at times. In this one, the main focus is not letting the pace drag, so if you happen to get cracked-up or stumble somewhere, it’s okay to mug the audience and crack a joke to save yourself. You can’t do that with Tennessee Williams.
WHT: How are you preparing yourself for the audience interaction that is guaranteed to come with this show?
Matthew: We had our Assistant Director and some others begin feeding them (callbacks) to us in rehearsals fairly early on, so we’d be familiar with a few staples, but otherwise, I don’t “prepare” at all. Being caught off-guard by the audience is part of the fun, in my opinion.
WHT: How many times have you caught yourself singing Time Warp in the shower since mid-August?
Matthew: You mean mid-August 2010, right?
WHT: Ha, yes. Yes! How many times have you actually seen the movie version?
Matthew: Many, many. I was introduced to the film as a teenager, and then while in college in West Palm Beach, I often attended the midnight shadow-plays put on by the local Art-House Cinema.
WHT: How much did the iconic movie portrayal of Riff Raff mean to and affect your choices on stage?
Matthew: Riff Raff has always been my favorite character, and was the role written by the playwright for himself to play, so it was important to me that the icon somehow always be visible in my performance, no matter how much we changed it up in our production. Thus the nasal voice, and the dirty platinum hair. I’ve dumped the hunchback and the bald pate, added glampunk makeup and a mohawk, and hopefully he’s still recognizable and can be appreciated by the old die-hard fans of the film.
WHT: Favorite thing about revisiting a role and show you’ve done before?
Matthew: It’s always nice to have the opportunity to clean up the mistakes you felt you may’ve made, or work in moments you missed the first or second time through. Plus, same script or no, a different cast means a different show, and if it was interesting and exciting the first time, it should be that way the next. This one in particular certainly has been.
WHT: What’s the experience been like to come back to a show again and revisit the friendly confines with a different director and different castmates?
Matthew: It’s interesting and often refreshing to have the opportunity to begin again, so to speak, and at the same time when something is so familiar to you and you’ve spent such a significant amount of time working on it, it can be quite the challenge to reprogram yourself. The second production was basically a remounting of the first and even had the same director. This time, our original director Richard St. Peter had a very different vision and approach to everything from the staging to which versions of the music we were to use. I couldn’t just stroll in and do what I’d done twice before. So I had to work hard to break the mold I’d built for myself. I feel like this made my experience much more fresh and energized, where there could’ve potentially been a staleness to it all. It’s very satisfying as an artist.
WHT: Favorite part about this rehearsal process or show’s progress?
Matthew: “Favorite” is probably not the correct term in this case, but this production suffered some pretty great hardship during the staging and rehearsal process. For some of the people who started the journey with us, that hardship is still going on and hasn’t let up for a second. Emotional turmoil and extreme distractions to focus can absolutely suck the life from a show from the inside-out, especially a comedy. And through it all, this cast and crew have pulled together and loved and supported one another and only worked harder to beat it down. I feel like our show is outstanding in every way, and is at once, a “We love you” to our Directors, and a “F**k you” to cancer. Excuse the language. It’s a Rocky Horror interview! I’ve been really good so far!
WHT: One thing you learned during this process or something you rediscovered?
Matthew: Matt Reece should’ve been Joey Fatone. ‘Nuff said.
WHT: Any piece of advice for a virgin audience member coming to see The Rocky Horror Show?
Matthew: When Time Warp starts, get up and dance! Otherwise, just bring a big ol’ sense of humor and have fun. Oh, and don’t throw anything that’s not in the participation bag. Looking at you, Hot Dog Man…
WHT: This show is good ole rock and roll. What’s your favorite song in the show and why?
Matthew: My favorite has always been Hot Patootie. It’s, as Frank puts it, “one from the vaults” stylistically and I love that old-school Buddy Holly-era rock and roll feel. Plus in the film, Eddie is played by Meatloaf, which is awesome. In each of the three Warehouse Theatre productions I’ve been a part of, our respective Eddies have never disappointed with each of their renditions.
WHT: If Matt Reece suddenly couldn’t break away from his auction-addiction and refused to perform in the show this Saturday, who…and you can pick anyone in this world…would you want for the Narrator?
Matthew: Nope, I won’t answer. We’d simply cancel the show and that’s that. You can pay me Wednesday, Matt. All twenties will be fine.
WHT: Any question you haven’t been asked that you want to be asked? If so, what?
Matthew: Would I prefer to receive my million dollars by way of check or direct deposit? Duh!
See Matthew Merritt on stage as Riff Raff in The Rocky Horror Show playing through Halloween midnight!