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BWW Interview: Matthew Herrmann Juggling KAREN CARPENTER, THE WOODS & Many, Many Others

ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME KAREN CARPENTER, a benefit for the Cavern Club Celebrity Theatre at Casita del Campo October 1 live at 7pm PST

BWW Interview: Matthew Herrmann Juggling KAREN CARPENTER, THE WOODS & Many, Many Others

The versatile and frequent Los Angeles theatre collaborator, actor/producer Matthew Herrmann will next be virtually seen in ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME KAREN CARPENTER, a benefit for the Cavern Club Celebrity Theatre at Casita del Campo October 1 live at 7pm PST. Joining Matthew will be familiar faces from the L.A. theatre community: Drew Droege, Carey Peters, Jennifer Blake, Amy Procacci, Libby Baker, Frances Chewning, Rae Dawn Hadinger, Joe Donohoe and Brad Griffith.

Matthew managed to squeeze in few moments time between his rehearsals to answer a few of my queries.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview, Matthew!

How have you been holding up in these endless stay-at-home pandemic times?

Tell me about it! The days are long and the weeks are fast. But I've been holding up all right. Wearing my mask and counting down the days to vote.

What are you doing to stay creative and sane? Travelling to THE WOODS, by chance?

Funny you should ask as I have just gotten home from tech rehearsal for INTO THE WOODS at the Lincoln State Park. There is a stunning 1500-seat covered amphitheatre there that had, like all venues, postponed their season. However, since it's outside and in a state park, able to comply with distancing guidelines. I saw it as a tremendous opportunity to help support a venue that is very dear to me. And to be honest, I could not think of a more relevant and appropriate. So I gathered an amazing cast of local talent (seriously this group will be in my heart forever), called my production manager and said let's do a show. Scheduled eight in-person rehearsals, several more on Zoom, and now opening on Friday.

And then I got an email last week about reuniting another cast virtually for a livestream of the underground cult hit ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME KAREN CARPENTER to benefit Silver Lake's only panic room, the legendary Cavern Club Celebrity Theater underneath Casita del Campo. This streams on Thursday.

How great to have two shows to work on while staying at home. Or are you working on three? Or four?

BWW Interview: Matthew Herrmann Juggling KAREN CARPENTER, THE WOODS & Many, Many OthersIf you want to get technical, I have eleven. I'm also producing a series of eight virtual shows as well as the 50th anniversary production of HAIR with the original Broadway producer, Michael Butler.

Can I and the audiences who've seen your production of WOMEN BEHIND BARS earlier this year at The Montalb√°n expect to enjoy similar hilarious hijinks and frivolity in ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME KAREN CARPENTER?

Yes and yes! Dane Whitlock has created a cultural treasure with this show. It's exactly what it sounds like, a mash-up of the beloved Judy Blume coming of age novel set to the music of the Carpenters all wrapped up in 70s suburban realness. I have such great memories from the show. So when Dane and fellow cast mate Libby Baker contacted me about the reunion (I played Philip LeRoy and others in all the productions) for the Cavern Club, I couldn't say no.

It's incredibly important that theatrical institutions get support during these times. A theater is the only place where people of different beliefs and backgrounds willingly sit together in a windowless room and collectively agree to pretend. They are also a platform for the underrepresented and well-known, yet a safe haven for all. Theater (both the art and physical structure) have the power to change lives and must be honored and supported.

The October 1st livestream will consist of performance clips of previous productions of KAREN CARPENTER and live Zooming heads reunion-ing, right?

Yes, a mixtape of a mash-up, if you will. We ended up performing at the Attic, the Hudson and Palm Springs, but it was the Cavern Club run that really got the attention. It was where we also did I TOTALLY KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST (DONNA) SUMMER and LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE-OKE! (later called ALMOND GROVE). The Cavern Club really became a home for us. I've went on to produce several other shows there. And Mr. Dan and JT Seaton are just incredible human beings. So much love and respect for them.

BWW Interview: Matthew Herrmann Juggling KAREN CARPENTER, THE WOODS & Many, Many OthersWas it just a snap of your fingers to gather all these clips and people together?

Well, Dane, Libby and Vickie Mendoza are really the ones putting together the stream, but the response to the email was almost instantaneous from everyone.

Have you worked with many of the cast and crew?

Multiple times. As I mentioned earlier, theater has the tendency to become like an extended family. And with a group that performed together as long as we did, you really develop close bonds. I think I've worked with just about everyone outside of this production.

Would you name all the shows you've worked with them on?

There was ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME KAREN CARPENTER, I TOTALLY KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST (DONNA) SUMMER, PRAIRIE-OKE! Then I worked with various cast members on TOM AND BARRY (the stage version of the film/novel Brothers of the Head), HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL, BRONIES, JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR, Charles Busch's RED SCARE ON SUNSET, INVINCIBLE: LEGEND OF BILLIE JEAN, Peaches Christ's TROOP BEVERLY HEELS (starring Trixie Mattel) and SHEETLEJUICE (starring Bianca Del Rio).

Did anyone give you any resistance to participate? Come on, you can tell us.

I wish I could give you the dirty dish, but it just didn't happen. There was an actor that asked for more publicity shots of them but I guess they were joking?

What factors came about for you to produce this as a benefit for the Cavern Club Celebrity Theatre at Casita Del Campo?

BWW Interview: Matthew Herrmann Juggling KAREN CARPENTER, THE WOODS & Many, Many OthersVenues are struggling during this time. Especially the smaller venues (under 100 seats). There are hard costs associated with rentals, let alone the actual production. You need to recoup your costs and that is done almost solely on ticket sales. When the amount of available seats becomes limited to a percentage of actual capacity, you, as a producer, have to work harder to break even.

For INTO THE WOODS, the theater went from 1500 to 250. The Cavern Club's number would be around five. Now I'm being a bit exaggerated on the number, but since that venue is primarily a rental house, it begs the question of what producer would be willing to rent a venue when there would be no absolute way to sell enough tickets to cover production costs.

Since the venue and its staff mean so much to me, it was a no brainer to lend my talents to help keep it going.

I've seen quite a number of funny, funny shows in that tiny basement space. What shows did you just love?

I will always buy a ticket for any of John Cantwell's LOVE, CONNIE experiences and CHICO'S ANGELS. Also Poppy Fields performs there and was how I got brought on to WOMEN BEHIND BARS.

What's your take on the near future of live theatre?

Honestly, I feel it will take a while to full production. And that is ok. While every show will end, the actor's life will continue on. I appreciate the unions working to ensure that that will happen. And that is just dealing with the actors. Think about the audience, their safety is just as important. But for the near future, I see smaller cast shows and an uptick in solo/cabaret. Also venues having a hybrid live/virtual audience.

BWW Interview: Matthew Herrmann Juggling KAREN CARPENTER, THE WOODS & Many, Many OthersEven when live theatre opens up, do you see Zooming as remaining a viable theatre venue?

I see the possibilities of Zoom and having worked with it very closely, I would say yes, to an extent. Not musicals, not with that lag time and not live. Nothing will replace the energy and applause of a live, present audience. Which is why I'm doing what I can to help ensure that these theaters stay around for when that time comes again.

Thank you again, Matthew! I look forward to Zooming you October 1st.

To view the livestreaming cast reunion of ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT'S ME KAREN CARPENTER, with performance clips from productions at The Attic Theater, The Cavern Club Celebrity Theater and The Hudson Theater; log onto here on October 1, 2020 at 7pm PST.

This is a free event, but they will be accepting donations for The Cavern Club.



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From This Author Gil Kaan