BWW Interviews: Denver Center's Matthew Gumley on Broadway Beginnings, Bullying Impacts, and the Personalization of Piggy!
Matt Grumley, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me and BroadwayWorld today! I absolutely adored you portrayal of Piggy in the Denver Center's LORD OF THE FLIES!
Is this your first time in Denver?
It's not my first time in Denver, but it's my first time doing a show in Denver. My sister lives here so I've come out to visit here a couple of times. She lives right on Alameda, just down the road a ways. I also have cousins in Vail who own a ranch. So it's nice to get to see the family.
So what do you think of Denver?
I love it. I think it's a great city. It reminds me a lot of New York. It's very central and the people here are nice.
Where do you call home?
New York City. Midtown. 50th and 10th. That is absolutely home.
And how old are you?
You're joining us from ELF on Broadway. How was that experience for you?
It was amazing. It has absolutely been my best Broadway experience to date, and I tell everyone that. It really was my favorite. I've never had as much fun. It was first time doing a Christmas show and the thing that I liked to say, at the time, it wasn't a Christmas show, it was a show about Christmas. So it was different and I loved that. It wasn't just another classic Christmas musical. It was something that had never been done before in front of a live audience and it was so fun. It was like having a second family. We all exchanged gifts on Christmas morning and we all had two shows on Christmas. It was like we were one huge family and the holidays brought everyone together. It was really a happy happy time.
I hear a rumor that ELF will soon be going on tour. Will you be involved in that?
I don't think I will be. (laughter) I doubt, after the whole change in my voice, that I'll be hitting the Es and Gs. (laughter)
What other shows have you done on Broadway?
I started out doing Beauty and the Beast when I was seven, which was in '04 and '05,. Then in '06 I did Marry Poppins, I was nine, and I was with them for two years. Then I went on to do The Addams Family, I did the out of town trial in Chicago first and then brought it to Broadway. Then I went straight from The Addams Family toElf.
How has LORD OF THE FLIES been for you?
IT's been fantastic. I've loved it. It's been a great great show and I'm so happy it's being done. The cast is brilliant and one of my favorite directors that I've ever worked for, Anthony Powell, is just the nicest, greatest director. I've never worked with such a lenient director. He basically said, you guys move wherever you want to, where it feels natural for you as an actor and we'll just make that the blocking if you are comfortable with it and you think it looks good. I've never had a director say that to me and it's fantastic because you feel so much more comfortable in your part. The creative team is so fantastic and the show is so real and it changes every night and it's just great. I love it.
One thing I think people who have read or had to analyze LORD OF THE FLIES, because so many of us have had to study it in school, but one thing I think that is overlooked but becomes very clear when you guys do such a great job of it on stage, is that the show is about bullying. How does that affect you, since your character is the brunt of so much of the bullying?
Piggy is used to it. I think Piggy is used to having his glasses taken. I think he's used to being beat up on. He's used to being called fat. He's used to being called a slug and all of the terrible things that Jack calls him. All of the kids back at Barnabus High calls him that, but it still hurts. I think when brand new people call him that it kills him inside a little. It makes my heart break for Piggy, because he would rule the world, had he lived. He has the mind set to be able to run the world. He is the only voice of order in the whole thing and I think ultimately it's what gets him killed. He speaks the truth. He and Simon are the two biggest advocates of the truth and what's right and I think that's why they both die. And that's why Raffe almost dies at the end of the play. He's within inches of death and he's saved by the Naval Officer.
How does it affect you as a person, getting picked on every night during the show?
It really helps having such a supporting and loving cast. So at intermission, we get ourselves nice and dirty, then we start playing Monopoly again. We are so tight knit like that so that all of that stuff is purely acting.
Have you ever been bullied or had friends that have been bullied?
Yeah, I was bullied a lot in middle school, because I was never in school. I was bullied a lot for being the theatre kid, or the gay kid. I got bullied for that a lot because none of the kids understood. I think a lot of them were jealous because I went to a performing arts school and I was working all the time. I guess it made them upset.
So what was your strength? How did you find strength to overcome that?
Just knowing that they did that to me because of their own pain that they felt from somewhere. My dad runs and operates a drug and alcohol rehab center and he's a licensed mental health counselor and all that stuff so he's kind of one of the things that's next to a shrink. He told me that a lot of these kids bully because they are bullied themselves usually at home by a family member. The thing I had to remember is that these guys are just as messed up as anybody else so DO NOT listen to what they say because what they are saying has no validity anywhere. I think that's the biggest thing to have people know, you have no reason to listen to them. You choose to listen to them and believe what they are saying. If you don't believe what they are saying then they have no power over you. No power. That's the biggest thing I learned. Don't give the bully power.
What do you hope adult audiences take from this production?
I hope that every audience takes home the fundamental themes of the play, which is that, the truth is scary and can be used against people. It can be used in many different ways, but fear of the truth is a huge element in the play. I think it's important for people to realize that there is a monster in everyone. I think that's what was written about and I think that's what Nigel Williams adapted was that people are monsters. Not all in the same way, but there is that person in everyone and given the right circumstances and the right situation it might come out. Also, I hope it opens up the adults eyes to what's going on in the Middle East and all of these things. Ben, who is one of the twins, keeps saying that people like ISIS are all just boys stranded on an island. Honestly, they're all just scared and they're doing these things out of fear of the truth. What is important is that this genocide must come to an end and the end starts with knowing the truth.
What do you hope the student audiences get out of this?
What I love is when we have a matinee and they say that 90% of the house are fist timers. It means so much that they came to our show, but it being their first show, it's something they are going to remember for the rest of their lives. I hope a lot of the kids walk out of here with racing heart beats. I hope they walk out like, "WOW!" That's what I want the kids to say, is WOW, but for a different reason than the adults are saying it.
What has been your favorite role you've ever played?
Michael, in Elf, was one of my favorites. But this one is up there for me. This is one of the darkest parts I've ever had to play. It's the deepest part I've ever had to play. There is a lot of depth in Piggy and I do try to let that come across every night. Not only is he always right but he means what he says, and I think that's why he and Raffe become such good friends and allies. I think Raffe recognizes that in Piggy. There is so much character in Piggy. That's one of the things that I've loved playing is that every night I find something new about Piggy. I'm still not settled into the role and I hope I never will be. I don't want to settle into Piggy and I hope I never will be.
Now that you're coming of age is there a dream role that you've always wanted to play?
I have always, always, always, since the first day I saw it when I was eight years old, I have always always wanted to play the Phantom of the Opera. I get laughs every time I say it but that is THE role I want to play.
Are you going to keep pursuing the acting? Is this your job now or is there something else you want to do?
Actually I want to start my music career. I actually play a bunch of different instruments and I write and compose and all that. I'd like to try and make that go somewhere. I'd actually like to go to college for it. I wouldn't study MT, I would get my masters in percussion or composition or something like that. Of course I will act until I die, but music is what I'd really love to do.
So what projects do you have in the works after LORD OF THE FLIES?
I don't really have anything planned. I have a couple projects that may or may not be but I don't really know yet. Right now I just want to take it easy. I'm going down to Florida for Thanksgiving to see my family and get some writing done. That's my main focus right now.
Well again, thank you so much for speaking with BroadwayWorld and congratulations on a very memorable LORD OF THE FLIES.
LORD OF THE FLIES is playing at the Space Theatre of the Denver Center now through November 2nd. For tickets or more information, contact the Denver Center Ticketing Services by calling 303-893-4100 or online at www.denvercenter.org.
PICTURED ABOVE: Matthew Gumley as Piggy
PHOTO CREDIT: Jennifer M. Koskinen