This week's Take Ten finds Matthew Schleigh, currently portraying George Bailey in the Toby's Dinner Theatre production of It's A Wonderful Life, The Musical running through January 10. A Toby's veteran, Schleigh uncovers Shakespearian ambitions balanced by a longing to catch that classic Doors concert.
1) What was the first show you ever saw, and what impact did it have?
I vaguely remember seeing a local production of Peter Pan when I was three years old. All I took from the experience, though, was the guy playing Peter had my middle name as his first name. I remember it being a big deal at the time because my middle name is fairly unique. And no, I'm not going to tell you what it is.... Unless you ask nicely....
2) What was your first involvement in a theatrical production?
My elementary school used to present a Shakespeare play with the fifth grade class each year. When it was my class's turn, we did As You Like It, and I played Oliver, the brother to Orlando. We had stage combat! (My arm was twisted behind my back, and I was forced shamefully down to my knees!). I'm still apologizing to my parents for that show... But we had a blast!
3) What’s your favorite play or musical, and why do you like it so much?
I really love Ragtime. It's such a sweeping show with fantastic music. The story is both heartbreaking and hopeful. There's so much to mine from the interconnected relationships, and I feel as an audience we're able to relate to nearly every character despite being a show set over 100 years ago. I could talk for hours about it!
4) What’s the worst day job you ever took?
One summer I stocked inventory in a warehouse for a wireless communications company. Every day, 8:30am to 5pm, the trucks delivered pallets of goods, each of us would use handheld devices to find their corresponding place on the shelves, and we'd input the amount, put the product on the shelf, and repeat. I knew I had to get out when I began stocking in my dreams.
5) What is your most embarrassing moment in the theatre?
During the final concert sequence in The Buddy Holly Story, I broke a string in the second of about ten songs. That in itself wasn't embarrassing, but the subsequent attempts of trading guitars and tuning and communicating with Sound and Stage Management on the fly led to the most terrifying 30 minutes of my life. I put on full new sets of strings every week after that ordeal...
6) What are you enjoying most about working on It’s a Wonderful Life, The Musical?
For me it's not "what", but "who": the cast. I think I knew everyone but one person before beginning rehearsal, which I think can be so rare in theatre. And most everyone in the cast has a previous experience with this show specifically, so I've sensed a feeling of warmth and camaraderie from day one. Working with a group of actors you love and trust makes every performance a joy.
7) Other than your significant other, who’s your dream date (living or dead) and why?
Natalie Portman. She's a tremendous talent and very driven. I admire that she sought a degree in a non-theatrical concentration (from Harvard no less), and she just seems very approachable. And she's beautiful.
8) What is your dream role/job?
It's cliche I know, but Hamlet. I'd love a shot at Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar as well. And any of the men in Long Day's Journey Into Night.
9) If you could travel back in time, what famous production or performance would you choose to see?
Does it have to be theatre? I'd want to see The Doors at the Whisky a Go Go in LA the night they got kicked out for Morrison first including the Oedipal section of The End. It must have been exhilarating and terrifying.
10) What advice would you give to an 8 year-old smitten by theatre / for a graduating MFA student?
Play. Listen. Learn. We're never finished with honing our craft. Be open to new methods different from your own. And most importantly, be a good person.
MATTHEW SCHLEIGH is a DC/Baltimore based actor and musician hailing from the Hereford area of northern Maryland. In addition to being a veteran of thirteen Toby's productions, over the past decade he has gratefully appeared with Ford's, Shakespeare, Everyman, Constellation, Olney, Rorschach, Signature, and Folger Theatres, and Imagination Stage. Matthew graduated from the Catholic University of America and studied with the London Dramatic Academy. As a musician, he currently plays guitar for The Chance Club, a four piece cover act, and an Irish group called The Hooligans. He lives in Elkridge, MD with his wife, actress Jessica Lauren Ball, and their two cats.