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BWW Interviews: Matt Shingledecker Talks his Role as Fiyero in WICKED

Matt Shingledecker has been performing most of his life and loving every minute of it. From the time he got his first paying show at age 16, Matt has been hooked. Matt is currently playing Fiyero in the touring company of Wicked and has been loving every minute of it. Broadway World caught up with Matt not too long ago and he shared his feelings about his new role as Fiyero and what led up to this moment.

Tell us a little more about yourself. Where are you from? Where did you go to school?

I am from Charleston, South Carolina originally. I grew up there. I went to a school called Porter-Gaud until I went to college. I did some stuff regionally and did some community theater there. There is an amazing theater festival called Spoleto in Charleston and an incredible theatre company called Charleston Theatre Company that I worked at growing up. Those were some of my big inspirations along with school. I ended up going to Elon University for Musical Theater in North Carolina and I studied there for 4 years and I got very, very, very lucky and ended up hitting Spring Awakening my last semester of my senior year and they ended up hiring me on my spring break. I left early. I finished school online and I started with Spring Awakening then.

What are some of your favorite shows other than Wicked that you have done?

The 3 shows I've done sort of Broadway/off-Broadway have been incredible. First one being Spring Awakening was amazing because it was my first big thing so there was something really special about that. Actually, here on tour on Wicked for a week I got to do shows with Lilli Cooper who was the original Martha in Spring Awakening. And we had gotten to do Spring Awakening; I was in the original cast for Spring Awakening. I ended up replacing somebody and we got to work together I think for about 3 months. She's going off to do Three Penny Opera at the Atlantic but we joked that every 5 years or so we'll do a show together for a month or so and then we'll see each other in 5 years. That was a pretty cool experience. West Side Story was incredible because Arthur Laurents was the director and to work with a director and writer of that magnitude, the ones who wrote such an incredible piece was life changing for me. He featured me in his book before he passed away as well. That experience was amazing because it was my dream role West Side Story when I was a kid I always wanted to do that role. I loved the music and that was pretty cool. Then soon after that I got to do the revival of Rent off-Broadway. And sort of the cool thing that I noticed in my career that I'm very thankful for as I've had a wide variety of roles and styles. I think West Side Story is completely classical. Spring Awakening is folk rock and Rent is Kurt Cobain, that kind of style. And Wicked is contemporary music theater and I've just been very lucky being able to bounce around from style to style.

When did you get the role of Fiyero?

I booked Fiyero a little bit before Thanksgiving. I was doing this underground show called Dani Girl. It's an invite only theater company called Exit, Pursued by a Bear. I was doing a little 4 person musical and I was auditioning for a bunch of things. I went in for the role a couple of times and got the feedback that I was too young. They kept bringing me back in and saying I was too young. I guess this go around I wasn't too young. It was good for me because the show I did ended in early December so I got to take a really nice vacation. I went to visit my old grandparents' place in Portland with my dad and we got to have some amazing father/son bonding time in Portland. I went to Miami to visit my girlfriend who's shooting a movie. Got to go home for the holidays and then got to go back to New York before I started this new adventure. It was perfect timing because in the past I've gotten roles last minute where I had to drop everything I was doing and go. I was in LA when I got Rent and I had 3 or 4 days before I had to fly out to New York and start rehearsals. It was really nice to know you had a job coming up. That's not always so it was nice to have that time where I knew I would have something and be able to go and take a bit of a respite from it all.

What do you enjoy most about playing Fiyero?

I've always considered myself and actor/singer/mover. The cool thing about Fiyero is he has some incredible choreography so it's been amazing to dance a little more than I'm used to. I'm jumping up and down on statues; all that good stuff. The costumes are incredible. Actually it's the same costume designer as Spring Awakening but it's totally different feel obviously. That's been pretty amazing. I think that a big part of the show that's such a huge success that people just love so much; it's amazing to go out there and know the audience is really really on your side. You don't have to sell them. You can do your show and live in that. You don't have to worry about making a product because the product's already there. It's an incredible piece and there's so many things to it. When I was in Buffalo doing rehearsals, I was sitting in the orchestra pit and listened down there to all the moving parts. There's so many pieces. It's such an amazing machine. I couldn't talk long enough about it.

Did you read the Wicked Book Series by Gregory Maguire? What is your opinion of them?

I have read both Wicked and Son of a Witch. I've also read some of his other novels. He is a wonderfully nuanced novelist. I'm currently rereading Wicked. Rereading it nearly a decade later has been a testament to how much one grows and changes throughout a person's life. The novel is both political and mirrors historically the past century which is definitely touched on, though to less of an extent, in the musical. Fiyero is wildly different in the novel, but I have still found much to draw from about the imagery of the world as well as the musical's origin.

Fiyero has a huge metamorphosis in the show. He goes from being very aloof and self-centered to the realization that there is so much more in the world to care about. How do you as an actor approach each layer of the character?

That growth and change that I discussed briefly in the previous question is clearly evidenced in Fiyero. Each moment of change is so specific, and while so much happens between scenes as the musical takes place over many years, most of his major decisions occur within the play. I use my own personal life experiences to draw from and am constantly playing with different tactics and intentions which over time creates a much more complex character and keeps it fresh for both myself and each audience night to night. The thoughts from the creative team are also invaluable.

Is there any part of Fiyero's complexity that you can relate to personally in your own life?

So much, more than should probably be shared in a public forum and would be quite lengthy anyway. It's such a joy to play a character that hits so close to home.

How long have you been on the road and what are some of the cities you have enjoyed?

I'm very new to the company. I've only done 11 shows (as of February 7, 2014). I started in Buffalo which was the city before Memphis; I'm in Memphis right now. I had about 2 ½ weeks there. I had a few days in New York with some of the supervisors before I came to Buffalo so I've had 3 or 4 weeks of rehearsals and then got put into the show in Memphis a week and a half ago. It's very new and very fresh and I'm having a really good time. Buffalo is very cold. I had not been to Buffalo. It was January. But the wings were great and I got to go to Niagara Falls and that was amazing. Memphis is awesome because I have never been to Memphis so I got to go to Graceland and that was absolutely wonderful and the Civil Rights Museum is such an amazing awesome experience. I went there last week. The food here in Memphis is pretty great. I gotta watch it getting in those tight costumes that I have to wear in Wicked. I love Memphis. I did Spring Awakening on Broadway for about 4 months before I went on tour and I did that for 2 years. I went to about 45 different cities. But one of the things that interests me about going back on tour not only doing the show, but we only repeat 3 cities that I've been to; Toronto, Fresno and Austin. But, every other city, I haven't been to which is great. I really lucked out in that way; this leg of the tour. That'll be really fun.

Is there anything you are looking forward to doing when you come back to Austin?

I'm excited about South By Southwest but I don't know if I'm going to get to even go to much because I think all of our shows coincide with everything but I am looking forward to the music scene. Last time I was there; Spring Awakening had shorter stops. It sold well for sure but Wicked is like this massive blockbuster. We sit down in cities for a little longer. I'm going to try to see more music.

Do you have a funny or embarrassing moment being on or offstage?

The one that immediately comes to mind is in Rent. I did Rent for about 9 months and there was one night where I was singing "Your Eyes" and I play guitar and sing. I was playing and for some reason I went off on my lines about half way through the first part of the song where I'm playing guitar. So I just played lovingly and sweetly to her chords on the guitar without saying any words. While I'm sure that a lot of people didn't even notice. But for me, time just stood still. Each note that I plucked on that guitar seemed like an hour to try to get back to the bridge where I jumped right back in. It was one of the scariest moments ever. I know people with worse stories than me. I wish I had a juicier tale for you.

If you had not gotten into show business, what would you have done?

I wanted to do it for a very long time. My dad always wanted me to go into the Navy. And my mom wanted me to be a doctor. My mom worked in the Medical University at South Carolina. My dad is a collaborationist and electrician and was in the Navy for so long. Of course I thought about that because they put that in my head so much. But, I had always done music. I was always playing piano. I was always singing. I was always acting and at 16 years old, at the theater company I mentioned earlier, Charleston Stage Company, I auditioned for this show called Batboy The Musical; a really funny show. I was 16 and I booked it. And they paid me $250 for the whole run as I recall. I was 16 and I thought, "I'm rich. I can make money and do this." That was a big moment of me. The aspect of somebody giving me something for the talent in that way and you could actually do that as a job was like, "That's what I want to do." From then on I was hooked so the doctor in the Navy went out the window real quick. That was never quite in my heart.

What advice do you have for people thinking about getting into the show business?

I hear often this sort of idea if music theater or theater; if you can do anything else, don't do musical theater. I hear that a lot and I don't really think that's true. Because for me I think the best performers are the well-rounded performers. They're people who also write on the side. For instance our Dr. Dillamond on tour has a carpentry business. He has been in countless Broadway shows. I think if you want to do it, pursue it in a way that you want to pursue it. Work hard at it. Use rejection as a tool to get stronger and learn from instead of I'm bad and this means something about me and labeling yourself that way. That is the key to sloughing off all of the negativity that we have to go through in this business because for every hundred auditions you get a yes. For me it's been about that. I feel like I've had a very blessed career and I still get a ton of no's before I get a yes. And that's a successful career. You have to see every audition as an opportunity not as an expectation of getting a job. There is this really amazing Bryan Cranston quote somewhere out there on YouTube who is one of my acting idols after watching Breaking Bad he is incredible. It sums up my advice for auditions. See Bryan Cranston video here:

Matt Shingledecker and the cast of Wicked will arrive in Austin at Bass Concert Hall on February 19th and plays until March 9th. Go to http://texasperformingarts.org/season/wicked-broadway-austin for tickets and show times.

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