Tomorrow, I turn 30 years old. I haven't been quiet about it. I'm not a big fan of the concept of dying, and just about every day I feel a little closer to it. And while 30 is the new 25 and life begins at 30 and I am well aware that no one actually cares very much if I am, personally, not ready to leave my twenties, that's exactly why Time is such a World Eater. I can kick and scream and make a production of it, but either way, it happens. Even if I'm being a huge baby about it. Which I am. It's my right.
For the sake of my own edification, I thought I'd look back over my twenties and what I've been up to in the theatre thus far. If it provides any entertainment or insight to others, that is purely an accident. I don't want to live an unexamined life. And if this blog (public as it is) feeds some sort of showmanship that is inherent in me, I say, why fight it? If you think that looking back on one's twenties seem a little premature and indulgent, I say... you're probably right.
I'll break this up a bit. Herein, I'll talk about my short history as an actor.
I attended Emerson College from 1994 to 1998, getting an almighty BFA in Acting. Worked with Kristin Linklater, who at the time was the Mistress of all Speech at Emerson. Performed in a great number of shows, like everyone does at college. I was trained in Linklater Voice Method, trying not to sleep in my own bed and, um, making 5 bucks last a week.
I arrived in New York in 1999, after spending a year in Chicago, holed up with friends, shivering. I had been cast in a show there, but it entirely imploded before we ever got to performance. Frankly, I can't even remember what it was called. The director lost a few cast members, had little money or time, and, in fact, the show had a script that was, as far as I remember, a little "loose."
Before Chicago I had been Romeo in a production of Romeo and Juliet at the New Hampshire Shakespeare Festival (recently re-monikered the New England Shakespeare Festival) before being fired, for rank insubordination. The rest of the cast quit not long afterwards as well. It was not pretty. It was, without a doubt, the worst production of Romeo and Juliet in the history of such productions.
An example of the fine choices being made herein: Before the balcony scene comes the Masquerade ball. Often, Mercutio is put in a dress for a laugh and some winking. In the aforementioned production, all three friends are put in dresses. I was in a giant hoop skirt and wig with fake breasts. When Juliet first laid eyes on me, she saw what must have been the ugliest woman in the world. Of course, we are instantly in love. How could she resist?
Beyond that, there is little time, especially in a "First Folio" production, to change costumes between scenes. So on these hot summer outdoor nights, with babies and restless teenagers in attendance, I would begin the balcony scene by pulling off my wig, throwing my grapefruit-boobs away and trying to look sincere in a big hoop skirt.
Needless to say, one year out of college, I was not a happy boy.
Anyhow, that's just blood under the bridge. Isn't all of it?
I moved to the city to live with my then-girlfriend (now an ex-fiancee), who was also an actress. We lived together in Chelsea, in Seminary housing (I got hooked up by my Father.) Liza and I didn't last, but remained at least friends, from a distance. That distance now traverses the span to West Virgina, where she currently is in Graduate School.
During this period, I did a little more Shakespeare. This time with Frog & Peach Theatre, with Ted Zurkowski and Lynnea Benson. I played Oswald in King Lear (with Jaime Sanchez) and Balthazaar in Much Ado About Nothing (with Earle Hyman). Oh, and Baggett in Richard II (with Austin Pendleton.) It was a ramshackle affair, in a hot converted stage overlooking a church, and my parts were tiny. But I did have a fine old time and got to sing in front of Earle Hyman and meet Austin, which is sort of like being in Law & Order in New York. Eventually, you'll do it.
In the midst of this, I attended a performance of Pericles that starred by friend Ian Gould, down on Ludlow Street. At the performance was Katherine Gooch, who quickly informed me that it was too cold to not to be wearing a jacket and that I should come audition for Gorilla Repertory Theatre, a company that she helped found.
I worked with Gorilla Rep as an actor and met some dear friends, many of which are married with children now (including Katherine Gooch-Breault.) I worked and lived with Sean Elias-Reyes, who has since married Rohana Kenin, and had two beautiful children, Caleb and Milena. Sean is part owner and operator of Shut Up and Talk, now. He continues to act and write, and will inevitably break into the mainstream in some completely unexpected way. Because he's a genius. I met Doctor Tony Pennino, Russ Marcel (whose wife Katie recently had a daughter), actor Michael Colby Jones, who married not long after his wife Stephanie. John Walsh, who has since moved to L.A. to work for G4 Media, played Bottom in the Midsummer I was a part of, and it's still the most generous version of that character I was ever graced to see. Friends like Tim Moore, Tom Staggs, Lynda Kennedy, Kina Bermudez, Brian Olsen, Dale Ho. These lists are dangerous, because someone is always left out. Regardless, it was a time of great significance for me and I remember it fondly.
I worked as Flute in Gorilla's long-running Midsummer Night's Dream in Washington Square Park; was in Tony Pennino's Story of an Unknown Man; had fun running around in Ubu is King!; got humiliated as Sylvius in As You Like It; joked it up in Twelfth Night; was killed in a variety of ways (both as MacDuff's son and as Young Siward) in MacBeth; and worried my pants off as Pisanio in Cymbelline.
All of these productions had their highlights. My favorite, of course, was a gaffe. As Young Siward, I faced off with the athletic Michael Colby Jones, only to find that my sword had shattered into three separate pieces. I wasn't sure what to say, so my smart mouth came flying out. "Can we talk about this?" Young Siward said to Macbeth, before dropping his sword and running for the hills.
It was a time of running in the park, playing poker, smoking cigarettes, getting drunk and speaking the speech as trippingly as I could speak it.
This meant working with Christopher Sanderson, the artistic director of Gorilla Repertory Theatre. I admired him for his passion and perseverence. He and I were very close at one point, but when the clash of personalities hit, over "The Death of King Arthur," it hit very hard and we never quite found our way back to any kind of reconciliation. But the time working with Gorilla Rep did wonderful things for me, so regardless of the personal difficulties, I can't say a regret a thing.
It was during this time that I decided to make a full shift from acting to playwrighting. I have acted since, but have focused almost entirely on playwrighting since Gorilla Rep produced "The Death of King Arthur" in October of 2001.
The only real break from that was a few readings at the Abingdon and with friends, and also performing in my own play, The Americans, in the role of "D" in 2004.
Onwards, and upwards. Next stop, Playwrighting...
- Matthew Freeman is a Brooklyn based playwright with a BFA from Emerson College. His plays include THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR, REASONS FOR MOVING, THE GREAT ESCAPE, THE AMERICANS, THE WHITE SWALLOW, AN INTERVIEW WITH THE AUTHOR, THE MOST WONDERFUL LOVE, WHEN IS A CLOCK, GLEE CLUB, THAT OLD SOFT SHOE and BRANDYWINE DISTILLERY FIRE. He served as Assistant Producer and Senior Writer for the live webcast from Times Square on New Year's Eve 2010-2012. As a freelance writer, he has contributed to Gamespy, Premiere, Complex Magazine, Maxim Online, and MTV Magazine. His plays have been published by Playscripts, Inc., New York Theatre Experience, and Samuel French.