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BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Matt Torney

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BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Matt Torney
Matt Torney. Photo by Teddy Wolff.

Today's subject Matt Torney is currently living his theatre life as the Associate Artistic Director of Studio Theatre. Their excellent current production of Doubt: A Parable is helmed by Torney and plays through October 13th in Studio's Metheny space.

Mr Torney is in his fifth season as Associate Artistic Director at Studio, where he has previously directed If I Forget, Translations, The Hard Problem, MotherStruck!, Hedda Gabler, Jumpers for Goalposts, The New Electric Ballroom, and The Walworth Farce.

Prior to his work at Studio, Matt served as the Director of Programming for Origin Theatre in New York, an Off Broadway company that specializes in European new writing. His New York credits include Stop the Tempo and Tiny Dynamite at Origin Theatre (Drama Desk Award nominee), The Twelfth Labor at Loading Dock, The Dudleys at Theatre for the New City, The Angel of History at HERE Arts, and Three Sisters and A Bright Room Called Day at the Atlantic Theatre School.

Other area and regional credits include Brighton Beach Memoirs at Theatre J (nominated for two Helen Hayes Awards), Sherlock Holmes and the Crucifer of Blood and Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme at Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre, and Improbable Frequency at Solas Nua (Helen Hayes Award nominee for Best Choreography).

His international credits include Digging for Fire and Plaza Suite with Rough Magic (National Tour), Angola workshop at the Abbey Theatre, Paisley and Me at the Grand Opera House Belfast, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot at Making Strange (Irish Theatre Award nominee for Best Director), and Woyzeck at Rough Magic (Best Production nominee at the Dublin Fringe Festival). Originally from Belfast, Matt holds an MFA from Columbia University.

He is married to the crazily talented director Amber McGinnis. The couple recently welcomed their baby daughter Isla.

As you can see Matt Torney has spread his artistic talents all over the world. DC is very lucky to have him in our theatre scene. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. Read on to see what 2020 has in store for Matt.

For those looking to see a superb production of a great modern play, grab yourself some tickets to see Doubt: A Parable at Studio Theatre. The production stars Sarah Marshall in what should be a Helen Hayes Award winning performance (Voters- Are you reading this?) and the wonderful direction of one of the area's finest directors Matt Torney. I have no doubt that Doubt will rank up there for you as a top theatre going experience.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Matt Torney
An early career pic of Matt Torney (right, center on first rise of stairs) in the 1999 Ulster Theatre Company production of West Side Story.
Photo courtesy of the artist.

Had you been working as something else in theatre before becoming a director?

Like many folks who work in theatre, I started out as a performer. My first big break was acting in a tour of West Side Story in the 1990s as one of the Jets, and it was my dream to go on to act in plays and movies, and to write as well. I took one directing class at Trinity College in Dublin, and that was it. I was hooked and never looked back.

Did you go to school for your training in the arts?

After graduating with a degree in Drama and English from Trinity, I got an apprenticeship with a company called Rough Magic, which arranged for me to train with directors all over Europe, including the National in London and the Vígszínház in Budapest. After that I went on to do an MFA in directing at Columbia University in New York.

What was your first professional directing job?

I directed a play called Paper Tigers by Ben Schiffer that toured to the Edinburgh Festival in 2004. It was a cracking play about a group of lonely kids who escaped from a harsh reality into a fantasy world. We all lived together in Edinburgh in a tiny house and worked during the days to market the show. It was an amazing summer, and a great way to kick off my career.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Matt Torney
Sarah Marshall in the Studio Theatre production of Doubt: A Parable.
Photo by Teresa Wood.

The play Doubt has been seen a few times in DC over the years. What attracted you to wanting to produce and direct it at Studio Theatre?

The play is disturbingly relevant to 2019, and feels like it was written years ahead of its time. The characters are incredibly specific, and John Patrick Shanley fearlessly explores the tension between doubt and certainty, suspicion and justice, and faith and reason. The play dissects power and gender in really specific ways, and explores its themes in a complex moral landscape. Also, it's an amazing play for actors and I really wanted to see Sarah Marshall in that role. Spoiler alert: she is amazing!

What would you like the audience to take away with them after seeing Doubt?

First and foremost, I want the audience to be deeply immersed in the world of the play, and to be gripped by the characters and drama. As they walk home after the show, I want them to disagree with their friends and partners about what the play means (and in particular the final line), and to examine what they would have done in that situation.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Matt Torney
Matt Torney with his wife director Amber McGinnis and their daughter Isla at the Atlanta Film Festival. Photo courtesy of the artist.

You are married to the very talented director/filmmaker Amber McGinnis. How did the two of you meet and what are some of the challenges in becoming new parents while both of you hold jobs in the arts?

Amber and I met the old-fashioned way-at a friend's birthday party. We hit it off instantly, and the rest is pretty much history! In the space of a few months, Amber finished directing her first feature film, International Falls, gave birth to our daughter Isla, and has taken her to six film festivals all over the country. It's been a challenge to make it all work, but so far we've found a way and are having a great time.

You will soon be leaving Studio Theatre for a new position elsewhere. Can you please tell us about your new artistic endeavor?

In the new year I will be moving to Atlanta to become the next Artistic Director of Theatrical Outfit, one of the leading theatres in the South. The theatre is housed in a former restaurant in the heart of Downtown Atlanta that was the first in the city to desegregate. They produce classics and new plays, and have an amazing reputation for thought provoking work. I can't wait to get started.

BWW Interview: Theatre Life with Matt Torney
Matt Torney in rehearsal for Studio Theatre's production of Doubt: A Parable.
Also pictured are performers Sarah Marshall at desk and
Tiffany M.Thompson.
Photo courtesy of Studio Theatre.

Can you please pick a few of your favorite productions that you have directed at Studio Theatre during your tenure as Associate Artistic Director? Please explain your choices.

Besides working with the wonderful cast of Doubt, I have been very lucky to direct some amazing plays at Studio. Translations by Brian Friel will always be very close to my heart - as an artist it was a powerful meeting between my old home and my new home, and its warning about the dangers of miscommunication felt very timely. I also have an extremely soft spot for Motherstruck! by Staceyann Chin. It was such an original play and Stacyann was such a unique collaborator-it was unlike anything I had directed before.

What will you miss the most about working in the DC theatre community?

From the moment I arrived I was blessed with such a warm and sincere welcome. The theatre community here is so supportive of one another and so willing to collaborate, that it has been easy to make friends all over town. I have made many friends for life and had the chance to work with some extraordinary artists on work that matters. I hope to be back often!

Special Thanks to Studio Theatre's Associate Director of Marketing and Communications Mike Fila for his assistance in coordinating this interview.

Theatre Life logo designed by Kevin Laughon.



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