Directed by TS McCormick
Scene Design by Amber Kuennen and Jessica Donovan
Costume Design by Emily Kimball
Lighting Design by Luke Walchuk
Sound Design by Michael Stamp
Jo (Laura Schaefer) becomes the journalist and begins recording her meeting with Jules (Matthew Stairs) as Barbara (Alex Blesi) looks on.
Not everything between Jules and Jo goes well from the start.
There is much questioning and exploration.
And some quieter moments.
But not always.
And through it all, Barbara (Alex Blesi) is unable to retain her objectivity.
Matt Stairs has always wanted to be a performer. He refers to a photo of him performing karaoke at age 3,
down on one knee while his mother holds the microphone for him. Performing is something that’s in his blood, it seems.
But there’s something else inside of him that has challenged him every step of the way since at age 12 his parents noticed
he was holding one of the ever-present books closer and closer to his face as he read. His eye doctor was stumped, thinking
perhaps it was a pre-teen’s attempts to get attention.
After visiting a specialist, however, the true cause was determined: Stargardt Macular Dystrophy. With just 25,000 cases
in the United States, Stargardt is extremely rare, requiring the combination of a recessive gene in each parent to occur.
Matt and his brother are two of those 25,000.
A major function of the diseased gene is to keep harmful particles from collecting on the back of his retina. Without it, there
forms what Matt likens to a dirty spot on your car’s windshield. Looking directly at someone is like viewing the world through the
snowy static on an analogue TV set. Peripheral vision is the clearest and becomes his natural fallback.
Today, as a first-year transfer student in the Minnesota State University, Mankato Department of Theatre & Dance, people
are getting an idea of where Matt is heading. He’s had two roles already—“Gaston” in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast
and “John Wilkes Booth” in Assassins—and he’s earned Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival Irene Ryan Acting
Scholarship nominations for each. And he attained Semifinalist status in the regional competition in January.
He returns to the Andreas Theatre stage March 25-28 as Jules, a marine biologist graduate student who lures a young lady to his
subterranean lab under false pretenses. But his intentions are somewhat pure: To be ready in case life on Earth ends and he needs
to help repopulate. How does he know this may be happening? His fish told him, of course.
“Jules is a very interesting journey, to say the least,” Matt says. “He’s a very eccentric character. He’s used to being by himself,
so when he brings someone else into his lab, and into his life, essentially, he doesn’t know exactly how to incorporate that
and how to connect. At least for awhile.”
What about the fish? That’s one of the many things he won’t delve in to, preferring to leave that to the
audience to discover, just as Jules does.
“It’s a comedy, it’s serious, it’s wacky, strange, it’s off the wall, and yet it all makes sense,” he says of the Peter Sinn Nachtrieb show
being directed by first-year MFA Directing candidate TS McCormick. McCormick played John Hinckley in Assassins. “If somebody’s
looking for something intellectual, farcical. If someone’s looking for something more ‘sci-fi-y.’ If somebody’s looking for something
with a weird love relationship, more off the wall, there’s all of that in this show.”
When asked why people should see the show, TS is clear: “Because despite your personal beliefs it is important to maintain hope. The
play is really fun and entertaining. It's very strange in the best possible way,” he says. “It is also funny —and a bit lewd at times. Most
importantly, it might make you think about the world we live in.”
The world that Matt has lived in for the last 10 years or more is a bit unusual, but it’s one he’s constantly adapting to. He credits a
director at Casper College in his native Wyoming, James Ohm, with helping him through a personal and artistic catharsis a few years back.
Ohm reminded him that, even during auditions, people will consider it rude if he appears to look off to the side, even though it is his natural
inclination to having cloudy vision directly in front of him.
“It’s been a very interesting thing acting-wise, too. I still try to connect with people on stage without actually seeing them. It’s a
very interesting process and a fun journey,” he says.
So far the characters he has played in Mankato have engaged him. While Gaston was a more one-dimensional character with whom he just had fun,
playing John Wilkes Booth was much more intriguing. Like many people, Matt had known Booth simply as the man who killed a president.
“I still don’t agree with what he did, but I understood why he did it and I understood what he was trying to prove.”
Matt hopes the road he is on leads eventually to Broadway. Perhaps not right away, but sometime. In the meantime, you can see him
this month in boom and this summer he will be in Highland Summer Theatre, in a supporting role in The Foreigner
and as “Gomez Addams” in the musical closer, The Addams Family.
Photos and story by Mike Lagerquist