How did you get started at the Seacoast Repertory Theatre?
When I was 17, I auditioned for Les Miserables: School Edition at The Rep and I was actually cast as the lead, Jean Valjean. It was really my first experience with theatre that wasn’t at my school. That summer they asked me if I was interested in being a counselor at PAPA Camp as well. It was really a big confidence boost for me. I came here with very few expectations and I saw a lot of potential here. I have been seeing shows here since I was little but I was never involved in any of the programming until I was 17 or 18.
What made you start writing shows?
I liked writing silly songs and I’ve always wanted to write musicals. The first one I wrote was called The Upside of Being Down. That’s actually been produced in a couple places outside of The Rep. I like making new stories and ones about the golden rules of life. I didn’t really tell anyone about this show until we needed one for our teen ensemble and it was really well received. There’s actually a clip of our production on YouTube. I started playing piano after my dad passed away when I was 20. He was a piano player. When I would write shows, I let go all of the things I was feeling. For me, it is the perfect way to release what’s inside without having to say it. I can let other people and characters say it. It’s cathartic.
What is your process like, especially for PAPA?
Writing shows for PAPA started because the rights for shows can get pretty expensive and I thought it would be a cool experience for me to practice writing on the spot and it’s good for the kids to get experience with things changing constantly. My grandfather was a professional watercolor artist and he would make paintings with really so many whimsical characters and I really like the idea of writing shows with lots of characters. I just write a list of character names and create the show from there and from the people that audition for it. This allows it to evolve pretty organically. And it’s really cool to watch the kids create these roles. I create more roles as the process goes on as well. Sometimes I think that the kids are more behaved because if they learn their lines when they’re supposed to and they behave I might write them another part and they’ll get to be onstage more.
How many shows have you written?
I was trying to count that. I’ve had 15-20 performed, but in the past 6 weeks, there have been 3. On average I think I can write about five per year, not including what I’ve been hired to write for places outside of The Rep. I’ve written a few shows for Portsmouth High School such as Alice in Wonderland and Hansel and Gretel. That show is actually being done at the Players Ring soon, so that’s exciting. Those are a little darker so we haven’t done them for the kids here.
What is your favorite show you’ve written?
That’s really tough. It’s like picking a favorite child. When I’m working on the shows, I’m not really watching it, I’m mostly playing the music, so I don’t really direct but I’ve gotten to see two of my shows as solely an audience member and that was Life on a Plate: The Story of a Pea and I saw The Upside of Being Down at Emerson College. It’s really an out of body experience watching something you created come to life. It’s awesome. I think my favorite two would be Run Turkey Run, a Thanksgiving musical about a turkey, and Life on a Plate. Those would probably be my two favorites.
What are you working on currently, or do you have any upcoming projects?
The show I’m currently working on is The Fairy and the Ice Cream Man, it opens on Saturday (August 8th) and it’s still not done yet, I have to give them pages tomorrow. Down the line I have a new version of Pinocchio called Made of Wood and then around the holidays we’re doing Saving Santa Claus. And of course near Thanksgiving we’ll perform Run Turkey Run. That show is actually based on a children’s book. I like doing new takes on stories that are already written. I must have read Alice in Wonderland at least 12 times while writing the show. Writing shows based on books takes me much longer because I want to stay true to the source material.
What originally got you involved in theatre in general?
M: I grew up in a musical family and they used to do shows at the Leddy Center. My brother is chorus and band teacher and my mom is a music teacher. She was actually just in our production of Guys and Dolls. My family would always go see shows together. I mentioned my grandfather before and we had this cassette tape and we had this cassette tape of my grandfather singing the “Soliloquy” from Carousel. I remember I wanted to sound like him. I actually do sound like him, which is kind of crazy.
What is your favorite show you’ve been in?
I would say Les Miserables. I actually got to do that show for second time at the Ogunquit Playhouse when I was 22 or 23 and it was awesome. I felt like a professional. Earlier in the season I was also in High School Musical as “Ripper”, the skater dude who secretly plays the cello. I really wanted to be in Les Mis, so I just talked to the right people and I got to do an ensemble track and I got to play “Brujon”, a man who assists an attempted robbery against Jean Valjean.
What is your favorite show at the Rep, or what are you most looking forward to in the season?
I’ve just been really happy about how the season is going and I’m learning more and more as the season goes on. The one I’d be most into if I were a completely unbiased person would be Into the Woods. I also loved our production of Rent as well. That was about five or six years ago. I’m looking forward to seeing if Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Oliver! continue us on the path we’re on. I’m so excited for Oliver!, I’ve been pushing for that show for years.
What is your favorite thing about PAPA?
M: PAPA has proven to be an environment where the kids, counselors, and anyone involved can just be themselves and not masked in any way. One of the most common comments about camp is that the kids can just be themselves, which is awesome, especially if they feel they cannot be themselves at school. PAPA provides a place where there is no judgment. The kids are just being, not worrying.
Do you have a favorite PAPA story?
Oh geez. I was a counselor at overnight camp for eight or nine years. We would do a cabin song and it was always fun writing them with my cabin and trying to come up with a funny song that would beat last year’s song. During my first year as a counselor, my cabin and I were coming back from swimming and one of the kids was in the middle of the cabin tap dancing in his swimsuit. That gave me an idea of what I was getting into. I have countless stories from the program. Every time we open a show and you watch it evolve and everyone leaves feeling good about what they created, those are the moments that stick with you.
I heard you met your wife through the Rep?
I met Taryn in 2011 when someone dropped out of A Christmas Carol and she took their place in the show. She came back to work on other shows and it evolved from there. She just directed and choreographed guys and dolls.
How has your family, especially your daughter, changed or influenced you and your work?
There was a show I was working on when Taryn was pregnant with our daughter Violet. It was a Peter Pan adaptation calledLearning to Fly. The show had subtle themes about how scary it is to be responsible for someone else and being a parent. There have been Violet references in everything I’ve written since I found out she existed. She’s in everything and it gives me a new perspective that nothing is more important than her and family. In a show I wrote called The Race to Spring in Ol’ Seed Town, the first flower that blooms and the flower that wins the race is a violet. She’s the best; she’s the coolest thing ever.
Do you have any plans for the future of the Rep?
I think we’re getting to the place where we’re finding our footing and all those basic fundamental “structure-y” (a real word used by Miles Burns) type of things are falling into place. A huge thing I see happening is making sure we’re proud of what we do every time.
If you could change one thing about the Rep, what would it be?
I definitely want to make theatre for young audiences. I would love to have adult actors performing for children. I would love to just have this theatre full at least 90% of the time. I want to continuously fill our classes so that we have to keep adding more because there is such high demand and people know that we’re awesome.
What do you hope the Rep will be in the future?
The main thing I see is that we’re moving forward. I just hope it will stand on its own. “If you build it they will come.” I can’t really put my finger on what we’re building towards, but it’s new and we can communicate with each other and get everything people want. I want us to be a producer of new theatre, bringing in new playwrights who don’t really get their stuff put on. I’d love to get more people in here to write for the kids and to help us find new stories to tell. My goal for the Mainstage is that people come to see us not based on the title of the show, but from what people have seen us do in the past. My ultimate goal is that our reputation speaks for itself and we can do new things that aren’t usually seen because their title isn’t backed by awards and notoriety. There are cool and amazing things on the horizon.
How does it feel to be the permanent Artistic Director of The Rep?
It’s something that up until last year had never even crossed my mind as a possibility, but it feels right. I am unbelievably happy with how naturally it all came to be; not forced, not preconceived. I believe that story telling above anything else has the ability to change minds, ideas, perspectives and lives and I say that because over the past 12 years SRT has changed and helped to form all of those things for me and I never dreamed I would end up where I am- doing what I’m doing with all of the folks I get to do it with. It’s an honor to be The Artistic Director for the Seacoast Repertory Theater and my hope is that I will be able to help her grow and thrive for many years to come because I believe in the potential this theater has and I am so grateful to know she sees the potential in me.