In a show where people travel all over time and where actors inhabit many different roles…Matt Reece only plays one role and he never goes anywhere but 1937. It’s our way of keeping him grounded after his recent string of successes in musicals. And this guy really needs no lengthy introduction, so we thought we’d let him give you the lowdown about what to expect in our regional premiere of the sci-fi farce, Important Hats of the Twentieth Century.
WHT: Since you are a veteran of these interviews, let’s dive right in shall we?
Matt: Go for it.
WHT: For a script that is so fast-paced and covers so much “time,” where does your approach start for a show like Important Hats?
Matt: I am the only actor in the show who doesn’t get the opportunity to time travel. Doyle is firmly rooted in the 1930s. I think that was intentional by the playwright. While the character breaks certain rules of the era, he is clearly straight out of film noir. I spent a lot of time watching some of the classic noir movies like Double Indemnity and Maltese Falcon, as well as some of the modern ones, like Dark City and Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang. Those really helped me find a baseline of the style. Once I found the baseline, I could tweak and borrow and build from it. While all that was helpful, ultimately my approach always starts with…”where do I fit in the world of the play, what am I trying to do, and how do I get what I want.”
WHT: What struck you as most important in the first read (or additional reads) of the script with your role?
Matt: Amidst all the zany and larger than life characters, there is a real love story that exists in the script. Nick Jones, the playwright, points it out in his playwright notes…that the relationship between Doyle and Sam is what keeps the play grounded. As we worked, I always tried to keep that in the back of my mind. There is one scene in particular that while still comic due to the style, could easily fit in a dramatic play. When I sat and looked at all the scenes that I shared with Josh, who plays Sam, I knew that no matter how much fun we were having, we had to keep our relationship grounded, and the emotional honesty of the relationship had to exist in order for our story to work. That jumped out at me during the first read, and I think that feeling has only grown through the process.
WHT: What’s been your greatest challenge in bringing this show to life?
Matt: I mentioned earlier that Doyle was written with a very heavy influence of film noir. It was really a challenge to find how that style translates to the stage. That particular style is so cinematic. The challenge was how to tweak the style…when do I need to lean heavily into the style and when do I need to intentionally break it? Jay (the director) was great about allowing you to find your way on your own but always offering guidance and advice on when you could bring a different element into a scene to keep it dynamic.
WHT: What strikes you as the most fun element about the show itself?
Matt: I am a sucker for horror and sci-fi movies. While I love some of the great ones, there are plenty on my list that would be considered horrible. I love that this play incorporates both sci-fi and a few horror elements. Certain scenes remind me of the some of the classic “bad” sci-fi films I grew up watching. I have told people more than once that some scenes could fit right into a Doctor Who episode.
WHT: There are like a million characters in this show. So if you were given the opportunity to swipe a character in this show from one of your fellow actors…which one would it be and why?
Matt: Only one? I could probably swipe a character from every actor. If I have to narrow it down to one, then I would have to steal Paul Roms from Chris Onken. I love a complex villain and I love a good origin story. Plus, I could rock a tracksuit. However, I think Chris is doing such fun stuff with the character that I would end up paling in comparison.
WHT: You are performing in the round for this show? When is the last time you performed a play in the round? Talk about what this experience is like preparing for the audience to be so close to you no matter where you run on set.
Matt: My very first show at The Warehouse was in the round: A Servant of Two Masters. That was back in 2002. I haven’t performed in the round since then. It is a tricky one. You always feel like you have your back to someone. What is great though, is that wherever you turn, someone is there. It feels like you are playing in an arena at times which really adds to the heightened nature of the show.
WHT: Often actors find that certain scenes in shows are just flat out fun to play every night. Is there a scene in this show that bubbles to the top for you? That you simply look forward to playing every single night?
Matt: There are so many. One that jumps out to me is a scene I have with Anne Kelly Tromsness where I am essentially the “other woman.” I have known and worked with Anne for years, but it is been a long time since we have actually gotten to interact on stage. Working off of her and Dave LaPage who appears in the scene is just so fun. It is also terrifying because I have a tendency to break on stage in comedies. There have been some nights where I just couldn’t keep a straight face. We’ll see if I can pull off not laughing by opening night. Also, I would have to include any scene I have with Josh Jeffers who plays Sam. I feel the most relaxed in those scenes and Josh is so open as an actor to play off of. I’ll stop there, but I could keep on going with almost every other scene in the show.
WHT: What’s it like working with a brand new draft of a script?
Matt: It is interesting. I was lucky enough to read an earlier draft of the script last year, and while I found it entertaining, I thought it was a bit too long and a bit too convoluted. I think the newer version we are working off of is much more tight and concise. Having only had one other production, the script allows you to find your way without having any preconceived notions of how it is supposed to be played. It really gives you a certain freedom as an actor.
WHT: What’s the process been like working with Jay Briggs as a director?
Matt: Well, he did let me out of the cage for this interview, so that is always nice. This was my first time working with Jay, and it was great to learn how someone else works. Jay has a great way of letting you explore options and find things on your own, but he still manages to nudge you in the right direction. This show is also a technical beast at times, and even when we were teching, I never saw outward anxiety or tension. Even in the chaos of tech, he still managed to be a calming, grounded presence. (Matt pauses.) Is he still standing behind me?
WHT: Was there anything in the scenic, lighting, or costume design that affected your choices on stage?
Matt: Our design crew is pretty amazing. Rick Connor, Alley Steadman, and Montana Kern have really brought it with their visual designs. The set, the costumes, and the lights support and enhance everything we have been working on. For me, personally, music is a big part of my pre-show ritual. I always have a “character soundtrack” I listen to that helps me transition from my hectic day into a mindset for the show. As soon as I heard the music that Marc Gwinn, our sound designer, chose for the show, I knew what my character soundtrack would be. I couldn’t have selected any better options that what he used.
WHT: Piece of advice for an audience member coming to see Important Hats?
Matt: Just hold on tight, go with it, and have fun!
WHT: What’s next for you this season? You have another gig coming up in the near future?
Matt: Next up is Spring Awakening here at The Warehouse in May. Kerrie Seymour and myself will be playing all the teenagers.
WHT: You’re not playing the teenagers, Matt.
Matt: Wait…..we aren’t playing the teenagers? We are playing the adults? Well, we will be playing all the adults in the show. The very young-looking adults.
WHT: Any question you want to answer that you didn’t get asked?
Matt: You already know what’s coming. Why, yes, I am fantasy football champion, thank you for asking. I led my fantasy football team (#teamtorsos) to victory in the Mostly Clemson League. Being a fantasy football champion gives me bragging rights for a full year and also super powers. I intend to use them every chance I get. Would you like to see the trophy I had made?
Catch Matt Reece in a bit of noir in Important Hats of the Twentieth Century now through February 18th!