Matthew G. Brown
Self Isolated Artist
I first saw Matthew’s work on stage at the Stratford Festival in an extraordinarily moving ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ (directed by Nigel Shawn Williams). Matthew’s marvelously anguished performance as the wronged Tom Robinson earned him a Broadway World Award nomination for best performance by a male in a featured role. Matthew’s brief appearance and image as the eerie Soothsayer in ‘Julius Caesar’ that summer was haunting. Here is someone whom I hope to see on stage in the future when it’s safe to return to the theatre.
And holy moly, Matthew Brown is one busy guy after I read his biography. His diversified project work in television, theatre, and film are solid. Along with these projects, Matthew has also received excellent training at fine institutions across the country including the Canadian Film Centre.
Matthew and I conducted our interview via email:
It has been the almost three-month mark since we’ve all been in isolation. How have you been faring? How has your immediate family been doing during this time?
My immediate family and loved ones have been good and healthy which is lucky. I’ve been doing ok…for the first part of the pandemic I would swing from ‘completely unbothered’ by everything to ‘I want to pull all of my hair out! When will this be over?!’ It would all depend on the day that you caught me.
Since the topic of race has come into the global conversation, it has brought up a whole new set of challenges and mental health hurdles to navigate. That being said: I am hopeful that this wave of activism and the calls for change won’t just disappear when it’s no longer trendy and things open up again.
As a performer, what has been the most difficult and challenging for you professionally and personally?
Not having access to any gyms or dance studios has been rough. I’ve invested in a tap dance board just so I can have somewhere to dance and stay fit. It’s also a challenge when it feels like there is no end in sight. We’re sort of programmed as performers to hustle and always be on, looking for the next thing. While I believe sitting still is a very good thing, it can cause anxiety when you don’t think there is any end in sight.
Were you in preparation, rehearsals, or any planning stages of productions before everything was shut down? What has become of those projects? Will they see the light of day anytime soon?
Just before the lockdown, I had shot a series of commercials for a major company. They had asked me if I was available to shoot another one at the end of March, which was obviously canceled. The commercials that I’ve already shot are currently in limbo as the company is putting the ad campaign on hold.
I was in the planning stages of having a reading of a Web Series that I’ve been developing for the past two and a half years at the end of March (again, canceled) and I was about a month away from starting rehearsals for Musical Stage Company’s “Kelly V. Kelly” at the Canadian Stage’s Berkley St Theatre. Once’ Kelly V. Kelly’ was finished I was set to play Antipholus of Ephesus in ‘Comedy of Errors’ in Toronto’s High Park this summer.
COVID blew a lot of things up for me :D
We’ll see if the commercials see the light of day…hopefully they will, I thought they were funny.
What have you been doing to keep yourself busy during this time?
As I mentioned above, I tap dance to try to keep myself moving (apologies to my neighbours). I’ve also participated in some Zoom readings of film scripts and Shakespeare just for fun. I’m trying to move the read-through of my Web Series to Zoom so that I can finish developing the show and begin to work on pitching it.
Speaking of pitching, a friend of mine (John Virtue) has written a great feature film that I hope to be in. Funny enough, the movie is about being trapped in a room, so you know…topical! During quarantine, he and I have chatted about how we can possibly make this movie/get funding…so I’ve been trying to remain positive and keep myself busy.
I’ve also invested in a home studio with a microphone so I can try to do some voice work from my home.
I’ve also been playing a TON of video games as that’s my favourite form of escape. Currently, I’m playing ‘Persona 5: The Royal’, ‘Samurai Shodown’ and building up a sweet island in ‘Animal Crossing’.
Any words of wisdom or advice you might /could give to fellow performers and colleagues? What message would you deliver to recent theatre school graduates who have now been set free into this unknown and uncertainty given the fact live theaters and studios might be closed for 1 ½ - 2 years?
I can’t imagine just coming out of theatre school and into this climate, so that’s a bit of a tough one. I would say take this time to do the work and research you can from home. Read plays, research roles that you would like to one day play, dabble in some writing if you can.
Finding ways to stay artistically motivated during times like this are hard, but they will be helpful. That being said, be kind to yourself on days where you don’t have it in you. Take the time for self-reflection, don’t feel guilty if you didn’t do any work today. There’s no “machine” running right now, so just do what you can so you’re prepared for when things start again.
Do you see anything positive stemming from COVID 19?
I think that, whether we like it or not, COVID-19 has forced the world to collectively pause and examine itself. I genuinely think that’s why so many white people are finally hearing us about police brutality right now. There are no other distractions, no theatre to see, no sports to watch, no room for blissful ignorance, and that may end up being a good thing.
I hate that it took a global pandemic that equals thousands sick and dead, and the death of more black people, for society to take racism seriously; but I definitely hope that it will make people really examine the systems that we have in place and how they negatively affect our society. If not now, then when?
Do you think COVID 19 will have some lasting impact on the Canadian/North American performing arts scene?
Yes, both negatively and positively. As I said, it has forced us to examine our industries and their practices. I think this can lead to a positive change. We’re already seeing that begin with the proposed changes to “as Cast” contracts. Hopefully, more action will be taken to make performing arts across all platforms more inclusive.
I also think that there will be a negative impact on house sizes and getting people to return to the theatre because there will be the worry of feeling safe from COVID. Not to mention the financial hit the industry is taking by closing all of its sets, theatres, and sound stages.
However, if we bring new and exciting voices to our big stages and give BIPOC an opportunity to tell their stories as well, the positive impact could fix the negative impact as people will want to rush back to the theatre to hear their voices represented…if that makes sense.
Some artists have turned to YouTube and online streaming to showcase their work. What are your comments and thoughts about streaming? Is this something that the actor/theatre may have to utilize going forward into the unknown?
I’ve thought hard about this one since Quarantober began (that’s what I’ve been calling this since March…it’s just one long month…right?). Nothing will replace live theatre. The experience of sharing the same oxygen as the performers you’re watching cannot be duplicated.
However, I do think it may not be a bad idea to examine other ways to make theatre more accessible to more people.
Take sports for instance: for better or worse, sports are going to find a way back. They will play with no fans in the crowd and rely on their TV deals and merchandise to make money. If you watch a sporting event on TV, it’s fun, you enjoy it. However, I think most sporting fans will agree that there is nothing like being there. Sports have been televised for years, and yet they still are able to sell their live experience as well as sell their product on television.
Why can’t theatre do the same?
Maybe if we had the infrastructure in place to shoot our shows, there would be a path to get back to work sooner? Perhaps a pay-per-view service of some kind where a season subscriber could have access to shows online, but everyone would know that to get the best experience you have to be there live. Of course right now, we’d be doing theatre with no audience, but we could still do something and be able to (hopefully) keep performers safe at work, while providing theatre to our audiences in the safety of their own home.
Also, I’m fully aware that this kind of thing could only apply to really big-budget theatres like Broadway, Stratford, Shaw, Mirvish, and the like. If something like COVID-19 has the ability to shut down our entire industry for a year, it might not be a bad idea to revisit how we get our medium out there for people to experience.
Despite all this fraught tension and confusion, what is it about performing that COVID will never destroy for you?
Family and friends. We’re blessed to live in a time where a loved one is just a phone call or video chat or text away. We’re also blessed to have the outdoors, books to read, internet to stream with, hours upon hours of television to consume and tons of video games to experience.
Although this pandemic really does suck, we have a lot to be grateful for if we just slow down and appreciate all of the small ways that we are privileged. COVID can’t take away the little things.
As a respectful acknowledgment to ‘Inside the Actors’ Studio’ and the late James Lipton, here are the ten questions he used to ask his guests:
1. What is your favourite word?
2. What is your least favourite word?
3. What turns you on?
4. What turns you off?
5. What sound or noise do you love?
6. What sound or noise bothers you?
Sliding a full metal water bottle across a table. You know the sound…
7. What is your favourite curse word?
It’s a Jamaican curse word and my mom would kill me if I dropped it in this interview, so I’m a chill. (laughs)
What is your least favourite curse word?
See you next Tuesday
8. Other than your own, what other career profession could you see yourself doing?
For a while I really wanted to be a massage therapist.
9. What career choice could you not see yourself doing?
10. If Heaven exists, what do you hope God will say to you as you approach the Pearly Gates?
You can reach Matthew at his social media handles of Twitter and Instagram: @ItsMrMGB.