Expanded and polished, Matthew Scott Montgomery's multi-award-winning DEAD BOYS begins at the Celebration Theatre July 1, 2018. Matthew's one-act on two millennials trapped alone in their old high school basement morphed into a full-length dark, but comedic piece. Matthew most amiably agreed to answer my probing inquiries.
Thanks for agreeing to this interview, Matthew!
How did you originally come up with the premise of DEAD BOYS? You weren't in a trapped situation somewhere before, were you?
Well, it started because I love two-person shows! I got addicted to the idea of working on one after acting in a workshop of a two-person play called COROMANDEL, by Nick Johnson with EST LA. It seems like the purest form of acting to me - just two people for 80 minutes. There's no hiding! So I definitely set out to write a two-hander, and knew I wanted to tackle race and sexuality, and the first draft happened very quickly. I basically took a long weekend marinating with these two characters in mind and I just went with where they were taking me. And the "trapped" aspect and the bit-of-horror element that came along with it kind of happened organically. My personality is really upbeat and find myself doing comedy a lot, but underneath, I'm actually more drawn to dark side of things - and I love a good twist. One person who saw DEAD BOYS last summer called it a millennial Brokeback Mountain meets Moonlight meets 10 Cloverfield Lane, and that feels really apt!
Your 2017 production of DEAD BOYS won a number of awards. Can you give us a run-down of your various initial reactions to being notified of your honors (City of West Hollywood: One City One Pride Scholarship Award-winner, Best of Fringe, Encore! Producers Award, and a Diversity in American Theater Award finalist)?
The scholarship grant I got as part of WeHo's One City One Pride was TOTALLY unexpected and really exciting. That was also awarded before we opened, it was just based off of the script, so I thought, "Maybe I'm onto something here!" It definitely helped build anticipation to give us that boost of buzz before we had our first performance and I felt like I had a lot to prove to live up to that scholarship. At the same time, I didn't think ahead too much, mostly just focused on putting on the best show we could each performance at a time, so the fact that we got extended so many times thanks to the Encore! Award was a thrill. To be recognized by Fringe specifically felt very COOL, like I was at the cool table, and to be a finalist for Diversity in American Theatre was really special too. DEAD BOYS poses some tough questions and is really frank in the character's points-of-view, but it's actually a celebration of diversity; I'm really glad it was and is continuing to be seen as that.
This isn't your first dance at Celebration. You acted in revolver in 2013 at their former location on Santa Monica Blvd. Was revolver your first collaboration with Celebration?
revolver was my first time ACTING with them. DEAD BOYS is my first time co-producing with them and my first time on the Lex stage! I feel like I'm in great company with a lot of the actors and shows. I'm such a big fan of that have come before me. I love the whole team at Celebration and revolver was a lot of fun. When I did DEAD BOYS as part of Fringe, multiple people commented that it seemed like a good fit for Celebration, and I agreed. And I had been talking with Todd Milliner, who has worked on several shows there, for a few years about potentially working on something together. He and the literary director Nate Frizzell and one of our producers Tom DeTrinis have always been champions of my work and they're great friends; they came to see it last year, we stayed in touch about it and the timing worked out great. Tom and Jay Marcus, our other producer, are incredible and have been really enthusiastic about it.
Tell us what factors led you to exercise your creative chops at the Celebration.
I couldn't be happier that DEAD BOYS' first official home is at a place that is known for being a beacon in Los Angeles LGBT entertainment. The show has definitely evolved since last year - it was a one act then and now it's a full-length. I had invaluable help working on it in The Living Room Series at The Blank Theatre; Beth Bigler and the whole team over there really brought DEAD BOYS to life (pun intended). I consider both theaters homes of mine, but it was important to me to embrace the queer aspects of the story as much as possible, so Celebration was a perfect fit. Celebration is such a great name for the company because it's exactly that - celebrating all things LGBT. They do such respected and important work and are always telling colorful stories; I'm really honored to be co-producing with them.
When did you become a company member of Celebration?
2013 when I did revolver. I was hooked!
How do you address Celebration's four Michaels (Kricfalusi, Matthews, O'Hara, Shepperd) when they're in the same room? Nicknames? Last names? Michael #1, #2, #3, #4?
Ha, ha! GREAT question! Michael Kricfalusi is "Kric." Michael Matthews is "Michael Matthews." I'm not sure why this is, but for me; it's always the full name! Michael O'Hara is "O'Hara." And Michael Shepperd is "Shep." Please don't ask me to pick a favorite!
Did you grow up wanting to be an actor or a writer? Or both?
I've always wanted to be an actor, even if at the time I didn't know how to articulate that. Like the character Levi in DEAD BOYS, I didn't grow up in an environment with a lot of obvious outlets to act, so if you kind of trace back and look, that's what I was always trying to do. Writing came hand-in-hand with that a lot because I wanted to perform, but didn't know how to get started. So I'd write stuff for myself. One time in school, I wrote a musical for me and friends to do just in a classroom - guerrilla style - like we met there at 4PM and kind of just did it for ourselves. After working on TV for a few years, I was so surprised how many of my co-stars didn't do theater or know much about it, and I was like, "That's it! I'm taking you to a play so you can see what it's all about!" And they weren't always enthusiastic about that - but if I was in and/or wrote something, they were more prone to see it. So honestly, that's kind of what I did. So writing has always come from the immediacy of wanting to act.
Who were your writing idols growing up?
I'm a huge fan of Kevin Williamson and Joss Whedon. And R.L. Stine.
Would you say you have two distinctly different groups of fans - those of your Disney Channel shows and those of your Celebration and Del Shores work?
Ha, ha, I definitely think that's true. Doing YELLOW with Del was my big break really. That got me recognized by Disney Channel. I started working on the channel while the show was still running. Then, literally the day after it closed, I was full time working for Mickey Mouse for a couple years. It was a strange transition. I had a lot of grown, mostly gay men recognizing me around town for my theater work, and then overnight, it became mostly teenage girls recognizing me for the TV work.
Have the two groups ever mash-up?
Sometimes! Theater helps them mash-up actually. It's always really fun and means so much to me when fans of my work on Disney or people who follow my social media come to see me onstage. For some, DEAD BOYS was their first play they had ever seen. There were adults from the traditional theater world and young adults who know me from TV or Instagram/YouTube who travelled to see the show last summer and were there in the audience together. And I think they both identified with it in different ways, both equally rewarding. Because DEAD BOYS deals with the emotional fall-out of high school, I think millennial audiences can identify with it because of the freshness of that experience. Older audiences can appreciate the things that have never really changed about school and being haunted by it. There's something so volatile and intense, and sometimes sexy, and sometimes heartbreaking about high school that stays with everyone, I think.
Describe the evening at the LADCC ceremony in 2010 you won Best Actor for your role in Del Shores' YELLOW.
That was pretty surreal, one of the best nights of my life probably. I actually on set that day, and I wasn't sure I was going to make it on time to the ceremony. We were filming a scene where I got ketchup sprayed in my hair. I raced to take a shower in my dressing room as soon as we wrapped and barely made it on time. YELLOW was the most rewarding job. Del and the whole cast was really a family, so that night was a blur of pure love. I brought the award with me to work the next day to show a friend, and it was at our table read and our show runner asked me, "What was it that?" And I did a little show-and-tell. That felt cool. I was like "See! This was that thing I kept talking about!"
Any plans for taking DEAD BOYS on the road, or to another city?
You know I was just talking about that with Del Shores the other day. He thinks Palm Springs could be a good fit! I'm also a big fan of Diversionary Theatre in San Diego. I love Los Angeles and the theater scene here - when stuff is good here, it's REALLY good - and so I'm proud to be a part of the scene here for the time being. But I do want to share it with a lot of people, and I do have followers online who live all over. Any excuse to perform it anywhere, or to have it performed anywhere, is a gonna be a good excuse for me!
Can you share what your next script will be dealing with?
I have a couple ideas, and they're equal parts sexy and spooky. There may be a ghost involved... I told you I'm drawn towards dark side of stuff!
What reactions would you like the Celebration audiences to leave with after the curtain call of DEAD BOYS?
There's a part of the show that's in Spanish, and even though a good portion of the audiences may not speak the language, I think they'll "get" what's being said. Also, even though I mentioned the darkness in it and the logline is fairly dramatic, it's also a really funny show. Tragedy and comedy can be so close to each other. So I hope they laugh with, and fall in love with the characters like I have - they're both complicated and imperfect, and the show is a lot of fun. When we did it at Fringe, I was blown away by how different types of people identified with it in different ways. I had a friend who is a straight white woman that was very moved by it. I have a younger friend who is biracial and bisexual and she was very moved by it. And we've had a lot of return audience members who've brought friends. That has been a gift that's kept on giving.
Thank you again, Matthew! I look forward to seeing your BOYS.
No, thank YOU! Insert a "dead" pun here that's in REALLY good taste! I'll knock 'em dead? I don't know!
For DEAD BOYS ticket availability and schedule through July 31, 2018; log onto CelebrationTheatre.com