Note: This is a guest posting from Clare O'Connor, production dramaturg and assistant director for our fall MainStage production of The Killer Angels.
Matt Fletcher, Producing Artistic Director of Sideshow Theatre Company, makes his Lifeline debut as the Troubadour in The Killer Angels.
Q: You've got a pretty prominent role as the Troubadour. Are you actually in every scene? How'd you tackle line memorization?
A: I think I am in every scene. I never really thought about it but I think that's true. I remember during cue-to-cue in tech rehearsals not having much downtime because I bookend practically every scene in one form or another and cue much of the action. It's interesting, too, that you use the word "memorization." I typically hesitate to use that word, I prefer "learning" my lines. Semantics, it's true. But in scene work, it's easy to learn lines because you're in scene, it's conversation, there's logical progression in dialogue, and there's no need to drill lines and "memorize," if that makes sense. At least for me. It's organic. With this play, though, since I'm often just spewing facts, dates, and locations, and "narrating," (or "troubadouring") I found myself "memorizing" lines. How did I do it? Magic. Okay, not really. Basically the same way I studied for history tests. Read something aloud about ten times, looked off the page, said it without looking at the script, and 9 times out of 10, it was memorized. That was my grandaddy's trick.
Q: Speaking of your grandaddy--you're from Virgina, yes? Was the history of the Civil War a big part of your childhood?
A: I am from Virginia, born and raised, where your entire fourth grade year is spent learning Virginia (Civil War) history. So Grandaddy was from my mom's side. A United Methodist minister and a damn fine actor. But Grandpa was from my dad's side (again, semantics, but that was how they were differentiated for my brothers and me). He lived on a big farm across from where we lived in Port Republic, Virginia. His house was actually used as a hospital by both the North and the South during the Battle of Port Republic (which was part of Stonewall Jackson's campaign through the Shenandoah Valley). It was not uncommon that Grandpa's farm equipment would get messed up by running over a cannonball. There was this huge drawer in a bureau in the dining room full of artillery shells and bullets.
My great great grandfather, Abner Kilpatrick Fletcher, Sr., enlisted in the 10th Virginia Volunteer Infantry in 1861 as a Sgt. [Note: The 10th Virginia was actively engaged in the fighting around Culp's Hill during the Battle of Gettysburg.] He was wounded in the Battle of the Wilderness in 1864, and carried a Yankee musket ball in his side until he died in 1917. He didn't own any slaves, but like most Virginians, he had that Virginia pride thing that can't really be understood these days, even by me. And I'm very proud of where I came from, but we live in a different time.
Q: That's incredible. I take it that most of the historical material from the play was already familiar to you, then? I grew up in Seattle, so I only found out that there WAS a Civil War when I read The Killer Angels novel in June.
A: Yes, I guess a bit of the historical material was familiar to me, but the nitty gritty of this particular battle was pretty fun to learn about. It's fascinating stuff. And really fun to do on stage.
Q: There are a couple moments in the play when you're standing in rockstar lighting playing your guitar and singing. Two part question: 1. What are you thinking to yourself in these moments? (What I'm looking for here is "I am a rockstar, I am a rockstar"), and 2. How long have you played the guitar?
A: Hahaha!! In moments like those, I think about my idol, and I ask myself: "What would The Boss do?" Actually, my thoughts in those moments are usually: "Don't look like an idiot, don't look like an idiot." I'm trying very hard to not be That Guy Who Keeps Playing Guitar. I've never really played in front of people before, with a few drunk exceptions. I've always liked playing, though. Guitars are simple machines, but they can make such an amazing impact. I love simple things that can evoke complex reactions--I think we do that well in this play. Not just with guitar, but simple gestures that literally mean life or death. My brother Mike (who is a great musician) taught me some chords about a dozen years ago, and I've been playing ever since. I should probably be a lot better, having played that long, but I've never played as consistently as I have over the last 2 months or so, and now I've got some rockin calluses on my fingers, so hopefully I'll keep it up.
Q: I'm glad to hear our play has given you finger calluses. Nobody ever said theatre was easy, right? Any last words you'd like to share? Do you have a favorite word?
A: This has been and continues to be an awesome experience. I get to play guitar and play war onstage with big guns, climb things and run around like a soldier--it's like I'm 12 again. Matt Miller captained the ship very well, allowing a ton of input and really letting us take ownership of this piece. We always had a lot of smart minds in the room and we had a lot of time to flesh this thing out. We had some awesome creative sessions where Matt literally said: "Guys, I have no idea what to do here. You guys over there play with coats, you guys over there play with guns, and you guys see what you can do with these blankets. Let's see what you come up with." And that was great. And Karen was so generous with her willingness to make this the best possible play it could be, cutting and adding things literally up to opening night. She wasn't precious or selfish about anything, and I admire that a lot. It's been a luxurious and pleasurable process, and I give Lifeline a ton of credit. Great crew to work with.
Favorite word? This is going to sound precious, but I think Virginia is my favorite word. It's just a pretty sounding word. V is a lovely letter. And it's home, and there's no place like home.