Matt Seidman is a founding member of Flying Carpet Theatre and has created and toured new work with FCT in the US and UK, including Liliom, The Mystery of Chung Ling Soo, and Extropia. He is an integral part of the Flying Carpet Team, and is now working on developing a new work with other company members. He has helped to create many of FCT’s most memorable productions, and has toured with them throughout the U.S., Ireland, and the U.K. We caught up with this well-traveled performer to talk about karaoke, drag queen nurses and The Unfortunate Squirrel.
What are the highlights of your career thus far?
Certainly, performing to sold-out houses and five-star reviews in the Edinburgh Fringe production of Chung Ling Soo. It was so far beyond our expectations, it was a little like a dream, and a little like celebrity—people stopped us in the street to tell us how much they loved the show. I was doubly proud that that we’d created the show essentially from scratch, that we’d figured out how to tell the story in a unique, entertaining, visually stunning way. It was great to get to revisit the show last summer in the workshop at Emory; a whole new set of fascinating conundrums popped up in the conversion from stage to screen that shed light on some of our original struggles. I think we’d do a great production of the show for stage now…hope we get the chance…Adam?
What are you working on right now?
I’m about to start work on a workshop of a new musical called The Unfortunate Squirrel. Flying Carpet is producing one of the readings; Adam connected me with the playwright Sonya Sobieski. I can’t wait because a) most of my singing these days comes in the form of over-the-top, more-growls-than a-pre-hibernation-brown-bear karaoke renditions of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ and ‘Midnight Special’ and b) my character, Guy, has two solos and is described simply as ‘A cad’. In addition, I’m psyched about the potential for an upcoming show with the Sundance Playwrights Lab in which I’d play an Israeli documentary film maker in 1970s Tel Aviv who becomes ensconced in the world of Phillipine immigrant drag queens that double as nurses for the Hasidic elderly. Typecasting!
What has your experience at Flying Carpet been like?
Creating our own material can be phenomenally difficult—and hugely rewarding. Hammering out the narrative, scene structure, dialogue, staging and character development over the course of a standard rehearsal period makes for an intense process. With each show, we’ve significantly streamlined our approach, and have gotten both more creative and more efficient. Adam is a gifted facilitator—he knows how to get the best out of people, and he is always willing to try an idea to figure out if it has potential, or if it’s really as bad as it first appears.
How does your regional theater work compare with FCT?
Regional theater requires a fairly different mindset. You have to carve out your creative space, typically confined to your own character’s actions. It can be collaborative, even delightful, but there’s always the sense of having to please a certain audience. With FCT, I always know that Adam will accept as much creative input as I can whip up, and I can take on as much creative responsibility as I want. It’s sort of night and day: the difference between fulfilling one director’s, or one theater’s interpretation of a play—and working through the much more difficult, much more exciting question of what the play actually wants to be.
How do you and Hilda balance family life and the life of an artist?
Well, Hilda and I are both fairly psychologically fixated (she’s working towards certification in Jungian analysis at the Jung Institute of New York; my mother is a therapist…) so we use the 3 P’s: process, process, process. We talk though things, perhaps ad nauseam at times, but it keeps us on the same page. Our kids keep us young.
How do you get into character?
It depends on the character…but as I start to work on the show I typically want to get to the point where I can think and talk (or improvise) as the character. I want to be able to be in the character off the page, so I’ll take an aspect or circumstance of the play and talk to myself about it, start to walk the line between my thinking about it and the character’s perspective, until I’m able to move in and out of what feels more like his thought or speech patterns. Along the way, I frequently find a physical pattern too—how he walks or holds his weight, a squint, or a gesture—that clicks me in. Then that gets incorporated into my pre-show ritual, so that I’m thinking, and moving in character backstage before I enter. Some shows it’s easier to move in and out of character—with Billy Robinson in Chung Ling Soo, I could literally be eating a hamburger and talking about soccer scores, then walk onstage and feel right at home. With Liliom, I stayed away from people backstage, didn’t shoot the shit, didn’t chatter between scenes or intermission. I kept to myself and stayed in character before and during the show. That guy needed some space.
If you could go back in time to visit any era where would you go and why?
I really want to know what the hell happened during the Cambrian Explosion.
Any last words?
I’m just starting rehearsals with Adam and FCT on an as-yet-unnamed project that’s seems sort of a Glenngarry-meets-David Blaine. No idea which directions it’s really headed: can’t wait to figure it out!