BWW Interviews: STARCATCHER's New 'Black Stache' Matthew Saldivar
Broadway's Five-Time Tony Award winning show PETER AND THE STARCATCHER recently welcomed a new 'Black Stache' to lead its crew of swashbuckling pirates, Broadway vet Matthew Saldivar. The actor replaced Christian Borle who departed the show on June 30th. Saldivar was recently seen as 'Steve' in the Broadway revival of A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. His other Broadway credits include Sammy in THE WEDDING SINGER and Kenickie in GREASE. He also portrayed Luther Billis in the 1st Nat’l Tour of Lincoln Center Theater’s South Pacific and appeared in Off-Broadway's The Toxic Avenger.
Saldivar chatted with BWW about how he managed to make the quick changeover from performing in a classic piece of dramatic theater to the hilarious comedy of 'Peter and the Starcatcher.'
It's hard to believe, but you were actually in rehearsals to take over the role of 'Black Stache' while still performing in Streetcar Named Desire. How did you manage to switch back and forth between a serious drama and a much lighter comedy?
That's an interesting question. You know, I was playing a supporting role in 'Streetcar' so it wasn't as heavy duty for me as it was for Stella or Blanche or Stanley. But it's funny, there's something fun about serious drama and there's something kind of difficult about comedy often times. You can have a really good, jolly 'ol time with your colleagues doing the really heavy duty play or a tragedy and you can really become quite exhausted doing a fun loving comedy. But it's great and it was an incredible turn of events that allowed me to have this summer on Broadway. Moving from 'Streetcar' to Peter and the Starcatcher, I'm still trying to process how wonderful that is.
Do you have a preference for drama or comedy? You've done both throughout your career.
I really don't. I love, as everyone does, good material. And I love to laugh and I love to be silly. I love to play a fool - I truly do. One of the great opportunities is to play a fool. But I also love straight plays, I love history. I did South Pacific on tour and again, there's lots of fun in that, but it's also very serious and very smart. And it's just so wonderful to be able to discuss history through literature and through theater. That's just an example of something that I love about acting and I love about theater - in addition to being a goofball!
Speaking of that, you have moments of such hilarious physical comedy in the show. Do you change that up from night to night?
Yes, there is a little bit of play in that. A lot of this show, really most of this show, is very, very carefully articulated and we try to maintain that articulation because it works. It's great construction and it's an ensemble piece and the timing has been worked out in a very sophisticated manner. And that is probably one of a handful of moments that is a little bit more elastic, so that's fun, and it does change a little bit each night.
Had you seen the play before you were cast?
I saw the play the day they offered me the role, so I did my auditions without having seen the play.
So when you saw what you had gotten yourself into, did you have any second thoughts?
Well I wasn't sorry of course but I did perceive that it was going to be a difficult thing to get up to pace with, to get up to speed on, given my commitment to 'Streetcar' and given the fact that I would not be rehearsing with the company as the company learns it, but that I was going to have to kind of fly in. I had some wonderful people help me learn my track and I had a few sessions with the directors and I've since had lots of notes form the directors, and they've been very, very available and very hands-on. But I didn't learn the part in the way that I'm most familiar, which is at the same time as the rest of the cast .
Did you ever have an entire run through with the cast before your first performance?
I did, I had a run through and a put in with the entire cast. But I think that my first public performance was my fourth run-through with people. Some of the understudies came in and had worked with me. Before that last weekend, I had not worked with the entire company.
That's hard to believe because your performance was seamless.
Well I'm glad. It's an incredibly gifted ensemble so the seamlessness has everything to do with the ensemble and I'm really grateful to be working with such talented people in such a well crafted piece. It allowed me to come into it.
Did Christian Borle have any advice for you?
He did. He said to enjoy it and to enjoy this company and to enjoy this experience. He was very gracious. And it was great to really keenly observe his work. I have a great appreciation for his skill and he was also a great member of the company. Of course, I'm trying to live up to that in terms of giving a great performance and also being part of a great company.
I read that in 2004, you starred in the film version of Off-Broadway's Tony 'n Tina's Wedding.
Yes I did. The thing about movies is that you don't know what's going to happen. It's a job and you go and you're like, "Well, I guess at some point we'll find out what kind of movie this is." So that film was in 2004 and there is a lot of really interesting people in that cast. A lot of really talented people. I made some good friends from that.
But you were never in the Off-Broadway production of that show.
No. And I had never seen it either. But that started a bit of a jag for me, playing Barry the best man in that movie because I then went on to play Sammy in the Wedding Singer. I kind of did a lot of character work on Barry that ended up leading into Sammy. It's funny because you do the movie and certain things get edited out, but in the theater you get to really refine that character and keep on playing him and I enjoyed that.
The Wedding Singer was your Broadway debut. How did that come about?
I was cast in a workshop and I ended up participating in a number of workshops, probably 5 or 6 or 7 over the course of a year as it continued to develop. And they kept asking me to come back. That summer I was dead broke and in a real pickle. I had done all these workshops of the production and I remember seeing Laura Benanti at a concert at Joe's Pub and she had done one of the last readings and she was terrific and she was like, 'So, we're going to be on Broadway, huh?' and I said, 'yeah, sure.. maybe. I don't know" and she said, "What do you mean?" and I said, "I just don't know. I'll believe it when it happens. I just keep showing up, but I'm not going to get my hopes up" and she said, "Oh it's gonna happen!" and I said 'alright'. And it sure did! And I was incredibly happy.
But as everyone knows, it is in fact super hard to be a working actor and to make a living. It really is. I really struggled for a long time. Worked a lot, but you work on contracts where you clear less that $300 bucks a week and those are some great jobs, doing new plays and classics, but you are also living in Manhattan as an adult. So it was a great, great celebration when I got to go to work on Broadway. And I'm very fortunate to have been able to work on the Great White Way a few times after that. But it's also very satisfying because it is the result of a lot of work and a lot of dedication.
What advice would you give to an aspiring actor?
Oh boy. Some people like to say, 'do anything other than act! Unless it's the only thing you want to do.' I think one has to pursue one's passion and then life sorts itself out. Not everyone who wants to be an actor is going to make a living as an actor, but anybody who loves acting and wants to act should probably try to do some acting and then they'll discover things which may lead to a career and it may not, but hopefully it will lead to experiences that are enlivening and enriching and enjoyable. It's a very, very social line of work, which is one of the things that I love about it because you get to work really closely with fun people and you really share something, you make something together. And then you give that to other people. And I love that about the arts and about theater in particular. And everyone knows what it takes to get here and to sustain it.
Was there ever a point where you considered giving up?
Yes. Absolutely. I consider giving up all the time! (laughing) But then I re-consider. After I graduated from Tisch School of the Arts where I did my MFA, I just wasn't making much money. I was working regularly but not constantly. The summers I went without doing anything terribly productive and that was really bumming me out, sitting around waiting for things and then the season gets cast and you're like, 'huh, I don't have a show for the summer."
So I went back to a summer language program at Middlebury College to get a Masters in Spanish. In the program you sign an honor code that you won't speak in English or read any English for six weeks. It was an incredible experience. I did three summers in a row and then I did Tony n Tina's Wedding and then I wrote a play with my band the following summer which we developed at New York Stage and Film and then I did The Wedding Singer. So suddenly I didn't have my summers free, as soon as I made other plans, I started working a lot more. But that work at Middlebury has been one of the most rewarding experiences in my life, probably the most enriching academic experiences I've ever had. It's important to me because my father is from Mexico and I wanted to be closer to the language and closer to the culture and I just feel so grateful for that opportunity and for what I've gotten out of that. And I did that while maintaining my career as a professional actor. I'm glad that people encouraged me to do that. So this is going back to your question of what advice I'd give to an aspiring actor and I guess it's just to do as much as you can to enrich your life. There's just many paths and some of them you have to forge and some just to merge, you just find yourself on them.
You mentioned you wrote an original play.
Yes. I was in a band for a long time called 'The Petersons.' We played characters and we would write narratives, like 90-minute cabaret shows of which we wrote probably over 60. And we performed a lot at Joe's Pub, Ars Nova and we did three shows at Carolines - all different kinds of venues. And we all wrote original music for that and we wrote sketches that we would improvise on and we made some movies that we would project so that was a great musical writing experience and also a great narrative writing experience. And we wrote a two-act version of that that we put up at New York Stage and Film. And interestingly enough, as a result of that, I'm now developing a Mexican novel from 1915 for the musical theater which I got the rights to develop because of friendships with mentors at Middlebury at the summer language program.
Is the novel based on historical facts?
It's a novel that's written by an author named Mariano Azuela and it's regarded as the most important novel to come out of the Mexican Revolution. It's written by a doctor and he traveled with the troops that were aligned with Pancho Villa and so he saw first hand the life in the field and the confusion. He was able to flee Mexico and go to El Paso, Texas where he wrote this novel and it was serialized and first appeared in a Spanish language newspaper in El Paso. During the tumultuous years of 1914 and 1915, right in the middle basically of a series of rolling revolutions, he wrote this account which is a fictionalization of his own experiences. But the characters are based on people that he observed and events that he observed. The book is called "Los de Abajo" which means 'The Underdogs' and it's really regarded as a classic. I read it a long time ago, while we were invading Afghanistan. I was reading the New York Times regularly and I thought, 'that's so interesting, Los de Abajo sounds like Afghanistan. That's when I first became really interested in that book. It's also interesting because the novel takes place around the area of Mexico where my father is from.
So it really has personal meaning to you.
Yes. And my grandfather participated in the Mexican Revolution and in the Cristero Revolution. I had this wonderful professor named Seymour Menton and I wrote to him and said, 'what do you think of this idea?' and through him I was put in touch with the estate of the author and they gave me an agreement to develop this novel. I was working on it a lot during 'Streetcar' but I've had to table it for these last four weeks.
Oh, I can't imagine why!
Yeah! So I'm looking forward, now that I'm getting into the groove here, to getting back to that project because its a very important personal project for me and it's a story and an aesthetic that I don't believe has been seen in this medium. And I'm really looking forward to being one of the people who brings that to the stage.
Photo credit: Joan Marcus