INTERVIEW — As I talk with the various arts organizations across the state I often ask who they think we should approach with our 10-Question Interview. This past month I’ve been hearing the same name over and over again: Matthew Ivan Bennett.
I was first introduced to the work of playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett at KUER and Plan B Theatre Company‘s radio-hour production of Frankenstein in 2008. Most recently you may have seen him onstage in Plan B’s Amerigo by Eric Samuelson. While the Resident Playwright at Plan B, Matthew also serves as the Assistant Business Manager at Pioneer Theatre Company. He is a perfect example of how many hats we often take on working in the theatre.
Here follows our most recent 10-Question Interview:
1. What is your title?
Assistant Business Manager / Resident Playwright
2. What show/shows are you currently working on?
At PTC I’m currently managing concessions for “Hamlet” and yesterday handled the hire paperwork for “Dracula.” Right now I’m cutting reimbursement checks to actors who had to travel from New York.
For Plan-B I’m finishing up a rough draft of a new play called WHAT ARE YOU? that will have a reading in November. It’s about the meaning we attach to physical differences and features a biracial person, a transsexual man, and a spiritual seeker.
3. In one sentence, describe your job.
As Assistant Business Manager at PTC I manage concessions, reconcile accounts, help with the payroll, and pay the theatre’s bills.
As Resident Playwright at Plan-B I write plays.
4. What skills are necessary for a person in your position?
Being the Assistant Business Manager at PTC requires a tolerance for distractions and willingness to do odd jobs — like drive an actor to the ENT if the company manager is at another doctor’s office with another actor, stuff envelopes in the box office, and perform surgery on a copy machine with needle nose pliers.
Being the Resident Playwright at Plan-B requires dropping my ego on a periodic basis and learning how to think more like a director and actor.
5. What kind of training did you go through to get to your position?
On the job type. I had an assistantship in the business office at the Utah Shakespearean Festival when I was a student, co-managed its ticket resale booth, worked in the box office (and also acted for them a few times). After college, I worked at Chicago Shakespeare and the Royal George Theatre. I began at PTC in the box office (2005) and was promoted to the business office in 2007.
As far as playwriting and Plan-B, most of “training” has been writing and doing a reading and writing and sitting in rehearsals and talking to audiences and writing again. I got a theatre degree and spent the last two years in the Plan-B / Meat & Potato Playwright’s Lab.
6. What was your first job in theater?
Playing a victim of the Pied Piper in “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” in the fourth grade.
7. Why do you think theater is important?
There’s so many possible answers to this… The best I can do right now is to point out that it just won’t go away. Narrative, of which theatre is a complex development, is so glaringly central to human consciousness that it’s impossible to imagine a life where people don’t tell stories (even by standing up in front of other people to do it). Theatre is important for the same reason that mathematics is important: it’s a way for us to make sense of the world.
8. What is your profession’s greatest challenge today?
I could say the economy, but what profession isn’t floundering right now due to it? Personally I see our challenge as confronting cultural overload. Never in our history have so many stories been available to us. Think of how many forgettable novels, TV episodes, movies, plays, or immersive videogames, have been produced in the last five years alone. The great challenge is to create a play that isn’t only half-chewed and excreted by the audience’s mind as it starts in on something else. The challenge is telling a story that will be remembered the next day, in a year, and referred to in ten because — unlike the others — it truly helped someone make sense of life.
9. If you could change just one thing about the industry with the wave of a magic wand, what would it be?
I wouldn’t change anything about the industry per se. If I could magically change something, it would be the cost of theatre. The problem is it costs so damn much to pay ten actors and twenty crewmembers, a director, designers, etc. (Not to mention the playwright.)
I wish it were possible to do theatre — and still have lights, sound, smog, authentic costumes, flash pots, swords and blood — and sell the tickets at $10. Pioneer is able to sell some of its seats that cheaply, but it couldn’t subsist on $10 tickets. Plan-B couldn’t either.
The tragedy of it is that theatre is largely sustained by people with disposable income and produced by people with none.
And yet it keeps going on…
10. What advice would you give to someone who wanted to do what you do?
To be in theatre you truly, madly, deeply have to love it because it will hurt you more than once and not apologize for a while and then do something extraordinarily kind followed by months of comfortable quiet. (And then again.)