Monday, October 13, 2014

Spotlight On...Matt Opatrny

Name: Matt Opatrny

Hometown: New York City is home now, and I was raised in Shelton, Connecticut

Education: I got a degree in Biological Sciences from Clemson University, which rarely comes in handy when doing theatre, though this play delves a bit into psychology and neurology so I found myself drawing on a lot of what I learned back in college. I also studied theatre at Clemson, and have trained a good deal with SITI Company in physical theatre. Most of my education has come from working with my beloved collaborators at Blessed Unrest over the last 14 years.

Favorite Credits: I cannot choose favorites of the plays we have made at Blessed Unrest. It would be like picking your favorite child. I love them all. Also I have been teaching physical and devised theatre a lot in recent years with Jessica Burr, Blessed Unrest’s Artistic Director, and I am quite proud of what we have created in a short amount of time with students at Texas Tech, Stephens College, and Centenary College.

Why theater?: Because it’s fun, and the people who do it are fun, and passionate, and dedicated, and nuts in all the best ways, and I’ve never met anyone else, in any other line of work, who works as hard for as little money as theatre people do. We’re all obsessed. And as technology dictates more and more of our culture we need places where people gather together and share an experience. My favorite part of my job as Managing Director of Blessed Unrest is giving the lobby speech before opening the house, when I get to look at a room full of people and tell them to turn off their phones. If nothing else, theater is a place where groups of people sit together with their phones turned off. (Well, at least most of them are off.)

Tell us about LYING?: It’s an incredible feat on the part of the cast and director Jessica Burr. The design is gorgeous, and I think the elements have all come together better than possibly any other play we’ve produced (and there have been 25 of them). The acting is stellar, and oh so personal and close and deep. The staging is genius, really, it’s lovely and fun and complex and really really smart. The play takes you for a ride, with four of the five actors playing 36 characters and there are no pauses for transition. It’s like a train that only picks up steam as it plows ahead, and then in Act 2 the train takes a turn into a deep long tunnel that goes places you don’t expect and rarely see in a theater. It’s bold. It presents sexuality and nudity boldly. It questions perceptions of reality and self-knowledge. It asks us to release our firm grip on what we think we know of the world. “Give up the ground, which you never really had to begin with. The greatest lie of all is the feeling of firmness beneath our feet.”

What inspired you to adapt LYING?: Lauren Slater wrote this incredible metaphorical memoir. A friend recommended it to me and as I read it, it felt like it was begging to be staged. She is a mind-blowing writer. She’s smart and hysterically funny and is pointing at things that need to be looked at and thought about. She asks huge questions, questions so big that even after working with this book for almost a decade I am still discovering things and pondering things I haven’t quite grasped yet. And this story I believe is enhanced by the medium of theatre, as we can take the question of identity a step further with the layer of an actor playing a character that is a metaphor for the writer. In her book Lauren uses stories and characters that may or may not be real in order to reveal deep, juicy truths about herself. At its essence that is what I think theatre is. It’s an art form through which real people pretend to be other people and in doing so express deep truths of their own.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: SITI Co and Bill T. (see next two answers), Complicite, Tom Stoppard, Michael Jackson, Hemingway, Ismail Kadare, the US women’s national soccer team, Indigo Girls, Lauren Slater, Pahu Van Riel, Van Gogh, Mike & Ruthy, Mozart, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Beatrix Potter, and mostly my collaborators at Blessed Unrest and our fearless director Jessica Burr.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: Anne and Bill (see next answer) and I would need a year (at least) to prepare my body. (Though I have worked a bit with Anne, and what a pleasure it was.) We are also working to establish more partnerships with brilliant little companies from all over the planet like we have with Teatri Oda from Kosova.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: SITI Company and Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company’s collaboration A Rite. It is the perfect marriage of physical theatre and dance. It was conceived, directed and choreographed by two of the world’s treasures, Bill T. Jones and Anne Bogart. I firmly believe that artists hundreds of years from now will be studying the work and words of both of those geniuses.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: Brad Pitt (why not?) will play me in “The Adventures of a Myopic Swashbuckler”. That’s a play I’m going to write someday. And then sell to Hollywood. And then make oodles of money. And then do more theatre. It’s gonna be great.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Watching movie trailers on the internet. I rarely go to movies, but see the trailer for nearly everything that comes out. Except the scary ones. Why are there so many horror films made? And violent action films? Who pays to watch these things? I suppose this is part pleasure and part curiosity for me. Movies are such a huge part of our culture, and a part that we export all over the world and many people I have met travelling have a very strong image of the United States based on what they see at the movies. I like to know what people are seeing, but am rarely inspired to go see them myself.

What’s the most played song on your iPod?: I am a bit of a Luddite and do not have an iPod, or a smartphone. I still play CD’s, and sometimes cassette tapes. Lately, our Cyndi Lauper CDs have been getting a lot of play as she is integral to the soundtrack of this show.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Farming artichokes on a mountainside in rural Italy, and in my spare time hunting for truffles with my truffle pig. Seriously.

What’s up next?: We’ll be hosting Teatri Oda from Kosova for the US premiere of our play The Sworn Virgin with which we toured the Balkans in 2012. It’s a bilingual play (English/Albanian) that I co-wrote with Lirak Celaj of Teatri Oda, and it is centered on an ancient Albanian tradition in which women take a public oath of lifelong celibacy and are instantly seen as men, with all the rights and responsibilities that come with that. It’s fascinating.

For more on Lying, visit