BWW Interview: Troubie's Matt Walker on Parodies, Funky Punks & Garry Marshall
Establishing the Troubadour Theatre Company in 1995, Matt Walker today wears three hats quite well as its founder, artistic director and director. Well, actually, more - if you count the clown caps and joker's cowls Matt frequently puts on. Matt found some time before prepping his latest Troubie production LITTLE DRUMMER BOWIE (opening November 30 at the Falcon Theatre) to enlighten us on Troubie, Funky Punks, and the late Garry Marshall.
Matt, thank you for taking time out of your crazy, most creative schedule.
LITTLE DRUMMER BOWIE is your forty-something original "Troubie" production you've conceived and directed? Have you lost count now?
Not at all! We are at 34 main stage productions and six Funky Punk shows....40!
What can Falcon Theatre audience expect at LITTLE DRUMMER BOWIE?
Laughter, great music, latecomers serenaded, talented performers and musicians, and a little bit of mischief and anarchy...
What criteria do you look for in choosing a piece to parody?
Title. That's where it starts. FLEETWOOD MACBETH, MUCH ADOOBIE BROTHERS ABOUT NOTHING, CHRISTMAS Carole King. And, how familiar is the audience with the source material. Gives us a good springboard for deconstruction, if it's a known commodity.
You have a resident base of performers in the Troubadour Theatre Company. How often do you audition non-Company performers?
We had our very first open call recently for HAUNTED HOUSE PARTY - first time in 20 years! Mostly, it's finding people through working in other endeavors. You want a base of trust and a common vocabulary.
What is the process to becoming a member of your Company?
No process really - you just have to be a sextuple threat. Sing, dance, act, improvise, clown, and play music. And be willing to take creative risks. It's an intimidating group in terms of ability, so one must have a good sense of self, and the willingness to fail good-naturedly.
You have a new Christmas show every year. How many non-Christmas shows do you shoot for each year?
We like to say 'Holidaze' show as opposed to Christmas - more inclusive. This year's show LITTLE DRUMMER BOWIE is wonderfully diverse!
There's no specific plan - it usually comes down to available venues and what they are in the market for. We like to produce three shows a year to extend opportunities to designers, technicians, actors, etc.
What initially got you interested in commedia dell'arte and clowning? Or was your first interest the Classics?
Traced the clowning back to European Circus, further back to Commedia - and recently through the Getty Villa's process for Plautus' HAUNTED HOUSE, traced it back to ancient Roman Comedy.
A side-trip to Stratford to see Mark Rylance in HAMLET firmed up a life-long relationship with Shakespeare.
You have worked with a varied group of companies: Royal Shakespeare, Second City Improv, San Francisco Mime, Ringling Bros. and Bill Irwin. Name the one most important lesson you learned from each group.
Hmm. Great question.
Bill I: Relaxation, preparation.
RSC: Classical technique.
Second City: Fearlessness. Improvisational technique.
SF Mime: Commedia roots. Company dynamic, political theater.
Ringling: Circus skills, broad clowning.
Is there a favorite Troubie show of yours you'd like to revisit?
That's like asking which kid is your favorite! But, yes, I think, HAMLET THE ARTIST FORMERLY KNOWN AS PRINCE OF DENMARK is one we'd like to revisit. Much for the same reasons as LITTLE DRUMMER BOWIE. These artists influenced not only our creative aesthetic, but our lives as well. Re-imagining their work into a narrative may expose it to new audiences, while allowing us to pay tribute to these icons.
(In response, Matt linked me to a piece for American Theater Magazine he wrote shortly after Mr. Marshall's passing. Here are excerpts from Matt's "Garry Marshall: A Life (Force) in the Theatre.")
In 1998 our fledgling troupe, the Troubadour Theater Company, was 3 years old. We had performed at a few venues in L.A., Santa Monica, and Orange County, never really landing anywhere. Content to remain a touring company, we were still young.
Then one day we got a call. One of our company's actors had gone to high school with the son of a showbiz legend who happened to have recently opened a theatre in the valley. We'd been granted a 20-minute appointment to perform a selection of our current show for an audience of one: the theatre's proprietor, Garry Marshall.
His praise was effusive, even though we knew we were spotty. He instantly put us at ease with his affability, charm, and graciousness. He was completely authentic as he thanked each of us in turn, introducing himself as "Garry Marshall from Show Business."
He told us how much he appreciated the athleticism; in his words, "You were peppy and jumping and hopping all over the place!" Then he interviewed the cast again to ask who could play softball. He made us laugh, even though that was supposed to be our job.
His parting words that day about our potential future under his auspices: "Let's give it a shot!"
That "shot" has lasted for 18 years over 30 original shows and one Crystal Cruise; almost two decades of blessed mentorship and collaboration with one of the all-time greats. When we needed it, he was honest. When we couldn't be, he was funny. And always in between there was love and support, and handwritten notes on yellow legal pads that would inevitably be posted on the callboard in a gilded frame like the Magna Carta. We too had fun with the boss.
Would you consider Garry Marshall your mentor?
Mentor, Champion, Collaborator, Life Example. The man was as generous as he was brilliant.
What was it like working with Garry Marshall on Mother's Day, Valentine's Day and New Year's Eve?
Unbelievably awesome! Every day was a new lesson. Every day there was laughter. Movies are stressful. Garry's movies were a party where great work got done. Working with the greatest actors, designers, and technicians of our time towards one goal - to entertain.
Please tell our BroadwayWorld readers about Funky Punks and what it's up to now?
Funky Punks, our clown wing continues to dedicate itself to performing for younger audiences - as it has since 1998.
Circus arts, acrobatics, trampoline, animal acts, pure clowning. Combining a decidedly kid-friendly show with humor that also appeals to their parents.
Lots of audience interaction, improvisation, and pure play. The Funky Punks have recently performed for the City of LA through its Levitt Pavilions Series, as well as at theaters across SoCal including La Mirada Theater for the Performing Arts, The Geffen, The Falcon and The John Anson Ford.
Do you prefer being on stage or creating from off-stage?
Both! All! Whatever is required. I'd much rather be having fun performing each night - being in front of our audiences is always a thrill - but watching helplessly from the back of the house can be thrilling as well!
Can you preview what the Troubies have planned for 2017?
Well.... we may be premiering a new Shakespeare adaptation featuring Shakespeare's most recently discovered work, DOUBLE FALSEHOOD. Also, a touring production of FLEETWOOD MACBETH has plans to play in Odessa, Texas in March.
Thank you, Matt! I look forward to experiencing LITTLE DRUMMER BOWIE.
Thanks for your time! (Don't be late for curtain!) Best!
For ticket availability through January 15, 2017, schedule and theatre info; log onto www.falcontheatre.com