Taking a closer look at Madison theater
Jun 25, 2014
02:53 PM
Stage Write

Stage Right/Stage Wrong: APT's Matt Schwader Rolls with the Noise


"Stop eating all the biscuits!" Schwader, standing in APT's current production of The Importance of Being Earnest, has had his beautiful and bumpy moments on stage. 

As anyone in the theater universe can tell you, there are times when everything on stage goes just perfectly: The audience is thrilled and a unique and memorable magic is created.  

And then there are the times when the line gets dropped, the prop falls over or the actor suffers a Jennifer Lawrence-at-the-Oscars-level stumble.

Most actors, directors and designers have the grace and style to appreciate and/or survive both types of moments, but it’s the really confident ones who are willing to relive and share them with us. American Players Theatre core company member Matt Schwader, currently on stage as the estimable John Worthing in APT’s The Importance of Being Earnest, was only too happy to share a few of his.

STAGE RIGHT: Schwader, who hails from Kenosha, grew up watching APT productions, and there are still times when he pauses in amazement—yes, even when he’s on stage—at the realization that he’s the one in the spotlight now. Like in APT’s 2003 production of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, in which he played Ferdinand,  the eventual princely love of Miranda’s life. There’s a scene in which Colleen Madden’s Ariel and the other sprits performed for Schwader's character, A light rain began to fall, and in the stage light, the raindrops seemed to sparkle and shimmer.

“For years, I had considered myself an audience member first,” says Schwader. “But for this, I had the best possible view. I had to stop and remind myself I was in the show. Sometimes, nature just coalesces to create these magical moments.”

STAGE WRONG: And sometimes, technical issues coalesce to create bumpy moments that challenge an actor’s ability to improvise. Schwader played the dashing pilot Joey Percival in APT’s 2007 production of George Bernard Shaw’s Misalliance. The second act was supposed to close with a loud and boisterous noise that startled the cast; instead, the cast was startled when the noise went off early, right after a line of dialogue delivered by Tracy Michelle Arnold, who was playing the Polish acrobat Lina Szczepanowska.

“There’s this momentary beat of ‘How do you deal with it?’” recalls Schwader. “You can’t just ignore it.”

The cast onstage at that moment—a group that included Jonathan Smoots, Brian Mani, Carrie Coon, Sarah Day and Marcus Truschinski—relied on chemistry to turn it to their advantage.

“We all made the same choice at the same moment,” says Schwader.”We looked at each other, then looked up at the heavens, as if the noise had been delivered by some kind of almighty power.” The audience laughed and applauded, and potential disaster was deftly converted into another moment of APT stagecraft.   

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About This Blog

Once upon a time—okay, it was the mid-'80s—a boy saw a performance of The Two Gentlemen of Verona at the annual summer Stratford Festival in Ontario, Canada, and a spark was ignited. Decades later, that spark’s only grown stronger, burning brightly every time the lights go up and the actors begin to tread the stage.

I’ve spent a long time—okay, more than 15 years—watching and writing about Madison’s theater scene. Now, more than ever, it’s clear our bustling burgh is packed with vibrant theater companies doing important, cutting-edge work, whether it’s original and daring content, stunning musicals or thought-provoking stagings of modern and classic plays. Stage Write is a place where we’ll talk about those plays and the people who make them happen, maybe look behind the curtain a little and gain some new perspective on how and why it all comes together. Theater has the power to transform, to educate, to show us who we are and where we’re going in a way no other medium can. Hey, look: The curtain’s rising.

– Aaron R. Conklin
Follow Aaron on Twitter @arconklin

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