Friday, December 02, 2011

Student Artist Profile: Matt Stoker's 'eye opening' journey in theater

Matt Stoker, a senior at Fryeburg Academy in Fryeburg, Maine, has acted throughout the valley in numerous productions for M&D and Arts in Motion including “Dog Sees God,” “Rent,” “Seussical: The Musical” and “The Fantasticks.” Last December, thanks to a contest through Dove Haircare, he performed as part of Alpenglow at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. He will next be seen in Arts in Motions’ production of “It’s a Wonderful Life” at the Leura Hill Eastman Performing Arts Center at Fryeburg Academy Saturday, Dec. 17 at 1, 4 and 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 18 at 1 and 4 p.m.

It has been a year almost since the whole Radio City Music Hall thing. How’s it been?

I was actually just thinking about that earlier. It has been good. Definitely looking back on that, that’s got to be my fondest performing arts memory by far. It is incredible to think that roughly this time last year we were scrambling around trying to get votes from the community and pull everything together. I’m really glad that it happened and I kind of wish I was doing something exciting this Christmas. It is kind of lax around here.

That was crazy. Even just from my perspective.

Yeah, it was a whirlwind all right.

Did you feel any different? Do you think anything changed in the wake of that?

Yeah, I mean now I can put in all my bios for my shows that I performed on Broadway. That’s quite an accomplishment. That always brings up some conversation. But being on such a big stage, I didn’t think it was going to feel different than being around here, I mean I did, but not that different. I got out on stage and looked up and there was just tiers and tiers of people and I was like “Wow, this is what it feels like to be one of the big stars, the big leagues.” That’s incredible. So, yeah it definitely has changed my perspective on where I want to go and what I want to do with my life. It was eye opening.

So, it did solidify that this is what you want to do, that you want to be a performer?

Yeah, yeah, definitely. Hopefully that’s going to be where I am. I'll be there permanently. Hopefully. We’ll see.

When did you first get into performance?

Wow. Well, I’ve been singing since I was very little. Back in England, I used to sing in a choir and at my church. Since then I’ve grown up and didn’t really do anything seriously until high school, until I came to the academy with Brent Lacasce. I really got into music and I heard about auditions around North Conway with M&D Productions and I went out thinking maybe it's something I’ll give a shot. And it turned out to be one of the best experiences in my life. It really did show me that musical theater was for me, so I’m very thankful for that and to M&D for that. Since then I’ve had a lot of opportunities open up for me and it has really steered me in the right direction, so it is good. I’m excited about it.

Coming from this as a singer and then trying acting, how did you take to acting?

It was harder. It was definitely harder. Singing for me always came as a natural thing. My grandfather was an incredible tenor. I’ve always just enjoyed singing. I’ll sing badly to the auto-tuned stuff on the radio now. My mom hates it. It was a lot harder acting. Getting on stage and portraying a character who maybe is suicidal or is mentally disturbed in a way or something that is totally outside of the box, outside of what I am and what I am comfortable with is hard at first, but after awhile you get into the character and it becomes something you are more familiar with and it definitely opens your eyes. I don’t know. It is really hard to describe. It is definitely something you need to fall into. It is something you need to get used to, sitting on stage and having the lights blaring down on you. But it is what I live for: the adrenaline, everything, just when I am on stage and everyone is just enjoying what I am doing and what I am putting out there for them.

Now with “Dog Sees God,” was that your first non-musical?

It was. That was an interesting show. I wasn’t quite sure I was prepared for what the show was going to be. I flipped through the script when M&D told me about it and I said “Yeah, I’d love to audition for this” and I got cast as the very reclusive piano player that was gay and everyone hated him for being gay. I ended up finding out a lot more about myself through that character than I have probably through any of my other characters. It was a fun role to play. It was eye opening. Was that the only straight [non-musical] show I’ve done? I think it is. I’ve definitely stuck more to musicals. I am in a straight show right now, “It’s a Wonderful Life” and that will be going up the middle of December in Fryeburg.

What role are you playing in that?

I am Sam Wainwright. Now I am going to be honest: I’ve never actually seen the movie, so I know people are going to be like: “What? You have not seen that movie?” I just haven’t. I know who that is now reading through the script, but yeah that's who I ended up playing.

Are you looking forward to it?

I am looking forward to it. It is going to be a great show. Mary [Bastoni-Rebmann] is, oh my gosh, by far one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with. Going to New York with Mary, we’ve become very close. It is like working with one of my best friends and it is a lot of fun, so I’m very excited to do this show.

What would say your favorite performance is, outside of Alpenglow?

I’m going to have to go with “Rent.” It was a tough role for me vocally as well as acting wise. It is probably the first role I struggled with the way I was going to sing it, the way I was going portray the character. It was interesting being a character who was on the outside looking in, not as much being a part of the story. That was hard to portray, being more of the narrator role instead of being an actual character in the story. I think the camaraderie that came from the cast, we were together for months on end, day in, day out throughout the summer of 2010. It was definitely one of the best casts I’ve ever worked with and I’ve become like family to them and them to me. We still talk and we hang. That was definitely one of the best experiences in theater for me.

What are you hoping to do after high school?

That’s a million-dollar question. I am going to college definitely. I’ve actually got to go home and send off some college applications. As for what I am doing, I’m going to do computer programming and I’m also going to double major in musical theater. Now those are very different things, but hopefully I’ll find, when I get there, I lean one way or the other and I’ll kind of just fall more into that, but it could be I double major the entire way and I get a major in both. We’ll see how that goes. Let’s be honest, actors don’t make a lot of money. Even in the big leagues, the flow of cash isn’t secure, so that’s the reasoning behind the computer programing.

That’s not a bad idea. On the side you can just do some freelance Web designing, make some money that way.

Exactly. Hopefully I’ll be all set in that regard.

Do you have any final thoughts on why you do what you do?

Not really besides to say thank you to all those who inspired me throughout the years: to M&D for helping me find my love of musical theater; to Arts in Motion for providing me with some of the most incredible casts I’ve worked with and most incredible shows; to Brent Lacasce for helping me become the singer that I am today through his vigorous vocal jazz exercises; and to, of course, my mom, who drives me around to all these crazy places. She is definitely a force to be reckoned with, but she’s probably the most inspiring person in my life.

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