Rising Tides: Matt Wall

We knew pretty quickly when Matt Wall walked into our lives that he was a keeper.  Matt is a kind and gentle man but he scared quite a few audience members with his honest and violent performance in Parhelion. We’ve found him to be a great voice to have in the rehearsal room and a wonderful supporter of local theatre.  We will happily cross the river to St. Paul to see him in God Girl at the History Theatre.
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What drew you to the theatre? (origin story)
It all began in Kindergarten, when I was cast as Head of Lettuce in my elementary school’s production of “Peter Rabbit.” I remember silently lip-singing the songs and thinking, “This kid playing Peter Rabbit is a hack. I wanna be a STAR!” Then, when I was 7, my mother made me choose between taking violin lessons or piano lessons. I grew up 10 minutes from the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, but I couldn’t ice skate if I were being chased by a bear. Shooting anything with a heartbeat was another pastime of many of my fellow Iron Range youngsters, but my mom banned guns from our house. Even those toy guns that have the flag that pops out with the word BANG! on it were forbidden. Those two limitations in extra-curricular activities were going to leave me with too much time on my hands, so my mom made me do something. I picked violin lessons. That led to participation in children’s theater programs. And my life in the performing arts was born.
Without spoiling any plot twists – can you tell us what character you’re playing in God Girl?
I play Rocky Calhoun in God Girl. I tend to think of Rocky as a bit of a lovable lug-head. He really, truly cannot comprehend that most of the opportunities he’s had in his life can be credited to the simple fact that he’s a man. Ability and hard work have precious little to do with his success. An entire gender of people were prohibited from challenging young men like him for opportunities and places at the proverbial table, and men like Rocky don’t equate that with a word like “sexism.” I imagine many of us have had an experience in life where it’s been brought to our attention that our behavior, in some way, has been offensive, hurtful, or even damaging to someone else. In many ways, Rocky epitomizes how many of us react when faced with that idea. Which is to say, we don’t react particularly admirably.
Kristine Holmgren is the author of God Girl. The play has had a handful of workshops over the past few years, and she’s been a huge part of those from what I understand. I came on board for this production at the History Theater. She was at a couple of our early rehearsals, and she was very open about her experiences and answering questions about life in Seminary in the 70s. Most notably, her vast experience as a journalist has made her into a ruthless playwright unafraid of editing. It makes me think playwrights should be required to take journalism classes.
God Girl is about breaking glass ceilings. Has it opened your eyes up to problems or reinforced ideas you already had?
There are inequities in every aspect of our lives. Work, entertainment, religion, you name it. There’s not a single activity or situation where, somewhere along the line, some person or group of people is limited from full and equal participation. So, while this is not necessarily a “new” concept to which I am just now awakening, it’s always a sobering reminder of just how profoundly easy it is in this world to be a (relatively) young, white, straight male living above the poverty line. I have so little to complain about, it’s amazing. Working on this play has been a great reminder of that. Also, language matters. The words I choose to use say so much about who I am as a person. One of the great benefits of this being a play is that it shines extra light on the role of language in the oppression of people.
How are you approaching “Rocky” for this show? 
My approach to Rocky has been to focus on the sincerity of his cluelessness. He really doesn’t grasp that he’s part of the problem. So, with guidance and reminders from director Ron Peluso, I’ve tried not to allow any of the “ridiculousness” that contemporary audiences might assign to Rocky to inform my acting of the part. Rocky’s life has been relatively easy, and his theology is immovable. So, when a group of women comes along and shatters all of the ideas Rocky bases his entire existence on, it’s fairly easy to imagine some guys might be reluctant to that kind of change. This is playwright Kristine Holmgren’s story. These things happened. They’re happening right now. Nothing anyone does in the play is hyperbole. And so none of the characters are a stereotype of anything. Our contemporary inclinations can be to write off male characters in a play about sexism. But I can’t act Rocky that way.
What have you seen/read in the past year that’s inspired you artistically?
In all honesty, I get most of my artistic inspiration from being aware of/working with so many theater artists in the Cities who do everything they do for free. You know, they lose money by being in a show. Parking, gas, meals, childcare, buying their own props and costumes. To me, that’s the great equalizer. It raises the bar. I want to be off-book for the first rehearsal, be on-time, every time, and act the shit out of my scenes. Because no one is in it for the money. It makes we want to be better, because I have no idea what you’ve had to sacrifice to do this play, at your own expense. If you tell me you’re working on a play, I love you. Because I know you’re probably gonna be a couple hundred bucks in the hole when it’s all over.
What draws you to audition for certain projects?
I’m most likely to audition for something if: it’s a play I love by a playwright I respect in a part that would be in some way challenging produced by a company that would seem to have a likelihood of drawing an audience (and press). And, if we’re being honest here, I’d love to be paid more than a “stipend” and if I could get weeks toward my Equity card, that’d be great. Seriously, though, I go with my gut most of the time. We’re all going to sacrifice something to work on this thing for several weeks, and so it should be something that, on an instinctual level, cries out for me to try and be a part of. Play, playwright, part, company, pay, Equity. These are on my mental checklist, and not necessarily in that order.
What have you spent too much money on over the years but don’t regret? (ex. I buy lots of books but I don’t feel like it was a waste of my money, I still value those purchases)
I have a 4 1/2 year old daughter. I’ve spent a bit on her over the past few years. And I don’t regret a penny. Because the more I spend, the more I love. Right? That’s right, isn’t it?
What surprises you most about the twin cities theatre community?
A couple of things consistently surprise me about the Twin Cities theater scene. First off, I think the wide variety of theater styles that achieve consistent success in this community is remarkable. From straight plays with 2 characters to musicals offering garish spectacle to plays featuring puppets making love in a pool of actual chicken blood (I’m not certain about that last one, but I’m willing to bet it’s opening somewhere in Fridley in the next 12 months) there is an impressive depth of styles that theater audiences in the Cities have to choose from – and choose to go and see – from week to week. The second thing is a bit of a criticism. (Pun intended.) I don’t entirely understand why artists, audiences, and critics categorize certain things as “community theater” and other things “professional.” Community theater is almost always a derogatory term, and it usually suggests that it’ll be bad (re. corny, cheesy, melodramatic, poorly acted) and that no one is getting paid. It should be noted that many Community theaters in the Cities pay their actors more than theaters that have had significant success over a period of years and are probably just assumed to be Professional. It also seems to me that critics assign that term to any theater being produced in certain directions relative to the Mississippi River. Some of the best theater in the Twin Cities seems to be branded Community theater because of this mind-boggling and clannish mentality many people seem to have about zip codes and good theater.  And it won’t get the attention and accolades it deserves until critics, specifically, start to accept the fact that most of the work they give attention to isn’t Professional by many industry standards, and that a production doesn’t magically become super awesome if you move it northwest of the Mississippi.
What do you hate most about the acting process?
What do you love the most about the acting process?
I thought about this next one. A lot. And it might sound Pollyanna-ish, but I really just love acting. Everything about the process is invigorating, and every specific role and production has its own particular challenges and rewards that result in acting being the only thing I’ve ever wanted to try and be better at. The parts I hate have to do with things that are often called Rehearsal, but would be better termed Pub Talk. For instance, spending valuable rehearsal time talking about things that won’t actually help me act my part. That’s obnoxious. And it’s usually called Table Work. I also hate it when technical aspirations (sets, props, costumes, laser shows . . .) get more rehearsal time than the acting part. That’s something that happens, and it bums me out. Because I love that moment (and it’s occurred in every play I’ve ever been in) where each actor looks at the other and you see this thought in their eyes: “None of that other nonsense matters. All I have are my lines, my blocking, and these other human beings onstage. We should have spent more time rehearsing with that knowledge.” I love acting, and I love actors. We all are striving to recreate some basic human truths onstage, ultimately trying to show that we’re all in this together.
If you were stuck in a lifeboat – what do you need to have with you?  (you’ve got water and food)
I’m always moved by stories of people who make one last phone call to a loved one before some horrible tragedy takes their life. So, if I were in a lifeboat, I’d love to tell somebody I love them. I’d also hope to have a picture of those people. I wouldn’t want to just go out with my memories. I’m answering this question during tech, however, so being alone in a lifeboat with nothing extraneous seems pretty attractive right about now.
God Girl, playing  through March 1st at the History Theatre in St Paul. Ticket information can be found at historytheatre.com.

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