Matt Baram and Naomi Snieckus
It’s an interesting climate right now where you don’t have the same license as an actor/artist that you once did
Matt Baram and Naomi Snieckus’s ‘The Script Tease Project’ opens September 16 and runs until September 22.
What’s more essential for me for this profile/interview? I got an initial look into their lives as husband and wife, and I had fun talking to both through Zoom. They jokingly teased each other. At one point, Naomi had to leave briefly and said Matt speaks for her.
Baram added: ‘And that makes me the better performer.”
I love it when couples can tease each other like this.
Their individual biographies reveal an extensive background in the medium of film, television, and theatre. Matt recently returned to the theatre and appeared in a co-production of Mirvish and Studio 180 of ‘Indecent.’ He loves the immediate connection with a live audience not present in film and is sometimes not there on television. Naomi likes the variety of involvement in the three mediums because different muscles are used. Matt added that the ongoing SAG strike in the U.S. has also been challenging here in Canada for artists involved in film and television. Out of necessity, this was an excellent time for the two of them to explore the theatre.
But even before we discussed their upcoming show, I wanted to learn more about them as individuals.
Matt obtained his Bachelor of Fine Arts training from the Conservatory Acting Program at the University of Alberta under the instructor of the late Tom Peacocke, one of the creators of the Acting Program at U of A. Peacocke became a mentor to many individuals, including Baram. He holds beautiful memories of Tom as he touched the lives of many students. Baram then started his comedy career preparation in Edmonton at Rapid Fire Theatre, which was just starting at the time. Calling Edmonton a great theatre town, Baram called that experience fruitful and successful.
When he moved to Toronto, Baram was fortunate to get into Second City, where he performed in six mainstage shows. It was at Second City where he met Naomi, his future wife.
Their sly wit came through when I misunderstood and thought they received training from Second City. They cleverly said they had already been potty trained when they came to Second City and that I was dealing with ‘raw talent’ during our conversation.
And I also thought they are a delightful couple.
Naomi attended Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly known as Ryerson). Before that time, she attended the University of Waterloo for two years. When she completed her training at TMU, she went to Vancouver. She jumped into the Second City touring company. Naomi still takes acting classes as she feels:
“It’s part of my craft to keep my muscles limber. It’s important to me personally to continue to train.”
Matt is always interested in trying new things and being innovative. He learns a lot from observing. When he and Naomi were in Los Angeles, he took a UCLA class on sitcom writing.
He continued taking a stand-up class as a gift from his wife for the holidays last year and jokingly said:
“I didn’t want to take it personally that I needed a comedy class. Standup is a completely different set of rules and ideas. It’s a tricky field because you’re on your own and collaborate with yourself and your demons with an audience that might not know whether to trust you.”
They agree that professional artists should continue training in their craft because it keeps them connected as social animals.
What about the art of comedy still intrigues the two of them as artists?
First, after a pause, Matt thanked me for calling ‘comedy’ an art because not many people do. For him, it’s rewarding that he and Naomi can make people laugh. It makes them feel good when that happens. Naomi and Matt love to make each other laugh and thrive on it. Baram complimented his wife, saying she has a fantastic laugh, which makes her an easy laugh. In his words: “I lucked out.”
For Naomi, performing with Matt is one of the most beautiful things she gets to do because she fell in love with him there. She considers herself blessed and fortunate she had the chance. It’s also challenging to work with her spouse. They’re both so passionate about what they do on stage as artists. They don’t always agree, but every single challenge is worth it to be on stage with Matt.
For Matt, he gently ribbed his wife and said: “For me, I can take it or leave it.” They’re not afraid to bring up their personal life onstage because that’s how art is created. It’s a place of reality, vulnerability, and relatability.
“And that’s not easy,” according to Matt.
“Comedy is something you have to work at…the response is so aggressive that you can’t help but feed off it. That makes it collaborative.”
As performers, the two of them are there to deal with the reality of the scene; hopefully, their unique perspective will mine the humour within the moment. Their listening and reacting to each other is of prime importance. It is this listening and reacting which makes for good actors.
The art of improvisation is central to their upcoming ‘Script Tease’ production, and Naomi concurs with Matt. One person can’t tell the story. It’s collaborative with the stage scene partner and the audience. Matt and Naomi can feed that bit into the scene even further if the audience likes what the two do onstage during the improv. It’s remarkable, it’s magical, but it only happens at that moment in that night. It will be something different the next night.
The two of them want upcoming audiences to come out and see ‘The Script Tease Project’ because they bring a theatrical form to their comedy. If people come to a comedy thinking theatre, they’re willing to experience it on a deeper level, and the laughs will be potentially richer.
With the possible return of a new variant of the ‘c-word, how are they both feeling currently:
“We’re very aware of all that and ready for it. Actors and artists are very resilient. We can pivot and find other ways of engaging people. We’ve also partnered with Stream Stage Live. They’re very adept at creating live performance videos, and we will stream the show. Stream Stage Live is very familiar with comedy streaming. They will have a multi-camera, High-definition film of what we will do. You can buy tickets in advance and watch in Real Time or ‘on demand’ up to thirty days post-performance – which will be $30 plus tax.”
What was the genesis of ‘The Script Tease Project’?
Matt and Naomi were doing ‘Impromptu Splendour’ for a long time. They were improvising plays in the style of famous playwrights like Tennessee Williams and Chekhov. The two of them were trying to find ways to get audiences excited about their shows, so they invited actors from the community to come and play with the two of them. As invited guests to watch, these actors had varying degrees of comfort in improvisation and with Matt and Naomi.
What they did next intrigued me:
“We decided to make the playwright the special guest. And so, we invited people like Judith Thompson, Brad Fraser, and Morris Panych. Any Canadian playwright we could think of, we invited them. All these Canadian playwrights said yes to attending.”
Matt said asking playwrights to pen the first two pages of something they do not intend to finish didn't feel like a lot. Naomi and Matt don’t see these pages pre-performance until they open them cold and read them that night in front of an audience. The pressure is on them to finish the playwright’s work in collaboration.
It’s a way in, a silly way in of creating spontaneous theatre. But Matt and Naomi like it. The audience is in a workshop, but there are production values. Matt and Naomi ask the playwright to give a concept of a simple set and costume pieces for the two of them. So, this night is theatrical, and that’s exactly what Matt and Naomi are going for. They want a feeling of being current in the improvisation. The audience is also asked a couple of questions, but once the lights go down, the audience no longer interacts with the actors.
But sometimes, Matt and Naomi got themselves in some hot water over their improv after the two pages provided by the playwright.
And how have they dealt with that?
“It’s an interesting climate right now where you don’t have the same license as an actor/artist that you once did. Naomi and I are aware. We’re as woke as we’re able to be at this time in life. We are constantly learning and adapting. In this way, we’re there with the audience and will ride a line. That also becomes exciting.”
Naomi adds that she and Matt have the power to comment about the audience. There have been times when the two of them have said something where the audience gasped or groaned. They can say that if something is offensive, the other person can comment on it. In this manner, the audience feels heard because they’re part of this performance in their reactions.
Matt and Naomi are aware of the fourth wall in their performance format. But they both agree they are playing characters the playwright has created. As actors, they recognize that sometimes they have to cross a line to make a statement or comment. That’s why we go to the theatre and see life take place before us.
What’s next for Matt and Naomi once ‘The Script Tease Project’ concludes its run?
They’re off to Europe to teach some workshops and take some workshops.
Yes, they continue their training, but they’re going overseas to teach and learn.
How awesome is that?
‘The Script Tease Project’ presented by The National theatre of the World runs September 16-22 at Small World-Centre, Artscape Young Place, 180 Shaw Street, Toronto. For tickets, click The Script Tease Project Tickets, Multiple Dates | Eventbrite or visit www.baramandsnieckus.com for more information.