BWW Interviews: The Amazing Creative Capabilities of Studio Tenn's MATT LOGAN

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Legend has it-as stories like this are wont to go-that Matt Logan has always been something of a genius, a wunderkind if you will, since he first found his way home to the theater. An integral part of the theater scene in Nashville, a city where creativity abounds and the imagination flourishes, Logan has made a name for himself as artistic director of Studio Tenn, the theater company he heads with managing director Jake Speck. Together, the two men have created a theater company that is widely respected by actors and audiences alike, gaining acclaim from critical types who regularly heap praise upon its productions.

Since Studio Tenn debuted with its mounting of Our Town, the company has-with each successive production-helped to push the creative envelope, challenging preconceived notions about classic stage dramas (Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, William Gibson's The Miracle Worker, or the company's most recent hit Twelve Angry Men, in which Speck starred in the role played by Henry Fonda in the film adaptation), offering up fresh takes on some of musical theater's best-known and most-often-produced titles (Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, Hello, Dolly!, The Sound of Music or Guys and Dolls) or giving a completely contemporary update to a musical revue such as Smokey Joe's Café.

The company's success ensures that Logan and Speck's professional theater company will continue to be a vibrant force in Music City's creative community for years to come and, thanks to their leadership, talented actors from all over the world will continue to vie for the opportunity to work on a Studio Tenn show. As a director and a designer, Logan has won attention for his efforts, both from critics and audiences, and he is described, variously, by actors as "inspiring," "passionate" and "genius."

So, recently, I put this question to several of Matt Logan's biggest fans-people who have worked with him over the past few seasons: What impresses you/inspires you/surprises you/delights you the most about Matt Logan's creative process?

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Alli Mauzey: I am in awe of Matt's many talents in the arts! And his passion for it is contagious. When working with Matt, I feel like my ideas, thoughts and choices are always enthusiastically welcomed. He gives me so much confidence as an actress and singer.

Jennifer Whitcomb-Oliva: His approach to things is so raw and working with him through that process is like a lucid dream…I have a fondness for Matt and his work. It's hard to explain his process. I say lucid dreaming because when the process begins it's pretty standard. There's not a lot of talk, he likes to just jump in and let the actors play for a bit...but then he starts altering things so subtly...but words and actions and emotion begin to drip, creating whole new world that nobody feels coming. There are times I lose myself and have to check back in.

Gosh and then the props and set pieces start to appear bringing it to this next level. By the time we get to the Franklin Theatre and see the set-all the secrets and holes he's been keeping from us-everything just falls into place.

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You know, I'm so into fantasy and mysticism and such and I like to think I'm more of a realistic actress. I mean, I use method when I have to, but it's better for me when it's real. Matt has a way of merging fantasy and reality so well that it's hard not to be sucked in to the world he is presenting. You get lost in the beauty. It would not matter if we were looking at dragons or can-can dancers...he makse it real for every person sitting in the audience.

It's like lucid dreaming: his use of color, and texture, his direction for the actors, it's all complementary. And for me, it's like I'm seeing it and I'm doing it, but I have to keep checking in. "Is this real? I know it's a play, but…" Like during rehearsal, time flies: one minute it's 10 a.m. The next minute, it's dark. Matt pulls you so far into wherever it is that time has no meaning, and we are not ourselves.

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Melinda Doolittle: In a room of singers/actors from different backgrounds, walks of life and temperaments, Matt Logan is able to direct in a way that every single person on stage not only gets it, but embodies it. I'm amazed because it sometimes takes me a while to really understand something, but Matt makes it easy and comfortable and always has an extreme amount of patience in the process. He never gives up, and because of that, is always able to bring out the very best in each person on a stage. It is an honor to work with someone so fabulous at what he does. I know whenever I do anything with Matt, I will always look and feel my best...from the direction I'm given to the clothes he expertly designs. Matt is a class act! (I affectionately call him "The Genius")

Matthew Carlton: Matt always has a vision for every production he undertakes. He knows what he wants from every aspect of each show and has the skill to realize his plan.

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Garris Wimmer: I have now worked on seven productions with Matt, first as a singer on the Show Hope projects, then as an ASM starting last season and now as an actor on 12 Angry Men. In every single production I have, as you so brilliantly put it, been "impressed, inspired, surprised and delighted" by the process as well as the end result. I think it really begins with Matt's vision of each individual show. He is always most concerned with telling the story...first and foremost. He has a really wonderful way of layering the performances and allowing the actors to "play" their way into his overall vision of the show and telling the story as clearly as possible.

I have often worked with "don't do that...do this" directors....Matt is a "I love what you are doing...and what if he...?" kind of director. The result is a character that has been created by the actor and shaped by the director which is why, I think, the shows I have been involved with have such a freshness about them. That sense of inclusion is not just for the actors by the way-every element of the production is encouraged as a creative part of telling the story-from the sets, lights, sound and, of course, costuming. Again, while it is Matt's vision that is being strived for, he has a way of encouraging individual input from each of those elements so everyone ends up having an equal ownership of the finished product.

As I have told Matt and Jake after almost every production I have been fortunate enough to be a part of, I wouldn't be there if it wasn't rewarding and joyful. It never feels like hard work, it always feels like hard play. It's just a wonderfully creative environment in which to make theatre.

BWW Interviews: The Amazing Creative Capabilities of Studio Tenn's MATT LOGAN

Nan Gurley: Matt is an actor's director. He helps me discover the essence of my character's motivation by asking me pertinent questions in the rehearsal process about what is driving my character at any given moment. I love an intellectual as well as emotional approach to acting, and Matt helps me find the keys that unlock these doors to the authentic portrayal. It's really fun to work with a director who is also a designer. I know that the costumes Matt designs and the set will also help me discover my character as well. Matt also brings a collaborative spirit to the rehearsal process. He is open to ideas and input from everyone in the room and welcomes the creativity that others share and this makes the process a lot of fun.

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.


 
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