Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: The play, Blackboxing, will soon be appearing as part of the 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival. For those who may be unfamiliar, what can you tell us about its premise?
Matt Ritchey: Blackboxing is a show about Travis, a newbie to acting and the theater world, who is at the Fringe tech rehearsal for his one-man show. He wrote it himself, he’s directing himself, it’s all him… and he kinda doesn’t know what he’s doing. He assumes that Jim, the stage manager who’s assigned to his theater space, will help him, but he quickly decides that Jim just “doesn’t get it” and starts to get combative and obnoxious. And Jim decides to take “technical revenge” during the performance the next night.
BD: As the writer, producer, and star, what inspired the project and your participation in this year’s festival?
MR: Every Fringe, stage managers across Hollywood have to run light and sound cues for an average of 15 shows apiece, each performed about six times. They rarely get breaks, they’re stuck in a cramped dark room for hours, they’re dealing with a mixture of theater professional and newbies who may or may not need hand-holding, and there can be some very… trying personalities putting up shows. Everyone is working to put on an A+ theatrical production in a very limited situation, and it can get very stressful. Making it easy on your tech people is the best thing you can do… always, but definitely at Fringe.
I’ve worked with Jim Niedzialkowski, who is the actual stage manager for the Dorie Theatre at the Complex during the Fringe Festival, on several shows. I love Jim. Not only is he a consummate professional, but he’s smart and extremely funny and a super nice guy. And he’s physically imposing as all get-out. So, last year, I was joking with Jim that we should do a show about a guy teching his one-man show who is just so obnoxious that the stage manager finally snaps and decides to retaliate and screw with his lights and sound during his performance. Like stage manager catharsis. A fight in a blackbox theatre.
BD: What can you share with us about the creative process of working with the team and bringing the show to life?
MR: I’ve directed nine shows at Fringe in the last five years, and I wasn’t going to do Fringe at all this year. But I found myself thinking about that conversation with Jim and how much fun it could be. And then I had this “lightbulb” moment where I just knew I had to do it - and not just write and direct someone else in it, but actually perform it, and I haven’t been on stage like this in about nine years. I’ve been trying to live a very “leap and the net will appear” life recently, so I booked the theatre the next day with no script. I don’t do that. I’m a perfectionist who needs everything prepped. So now, the pressure was on to write something. It took me a few drafts to even understand what I was trying to do and say, but I got some great advice from some writing pals and finally “got it” about a month ago. Then, I asked Matthew Martin if he’d be willing to direct, because we’ve always wanted to work together, but also because I knew I’d need an outside eye and guide… and someone to keep me accountable. And, of course, because he’s a great director. And Jim, my real stage manager, is playing himself, and he’s got a lot of lines, so we’ve been rehearsing together on weekends.
BD: What do you hope that audiences will take away from the show?
MR: I try to write material that is goofy, fun, and crazy and then hits the audience with something serious once they’re emotionally open. I was originally going to make this show about dealing with my depression. I was suicidal for the last few months of 2018 and while I knew how to get myself out of it because I’ve been on this roller coaster before, there’s still a stigma about mental health that I think is worth examining. This theme is still very much in the final version of the show. So, while I mainly want people to just have fun, if they come out with an emotional understanding of why these characters are doing what they’re doing and why they behave the way they do, it’ll be even more rewarding.
BD: What makes the Hollywood Fringe Festival an ideal venue for Blackboxing?
MR: I wrote the show specifically for the Fringe, as it’s a very unique theatrical experience - time is compressed, the pressure is on, excitement is in the air, and the challenges are great. And a lot of the audiences at Fringe are very into theatre, meaning that they’ll appreciate jokes and situations based in theatre life – gags about how to do a show, about sound and light cues, about storytelling, etc. The actual compressed time of doing a Fringe show gives Blackboxing a completely organic “ticking clock” story-wise – if you can’t set the lights, sound, and video during your tech time, it won’t be ready for your show. Now add some personality conflicts, mistakes, financial issues, and the stress of having only one performance to get your message across, and you’ve got a great recipe for conflict, drama, and comedy.
BD: The show will be appearing at The Dorie Theatre (at The Complex) from June 6-29, 2019. Are there any future plans to perform the show at other venues or as a part of other festivals?
MR: As of this moment, I’m focusing on just getting the show ready for June, but I’d love to travel with it, extend the run, and, ultimately, have it lead to more work. I’ll probably get more optimistic and crazy with ideas by the middle of June!
BD: Are there any upcoming projects that you would care to share with our readers?
MR: Well, this one is less of a project and more of a fun game for anyone attending the Hollywood Fringe Festival this year. Last Fringe, there was a group of about seven guys named Matt who all joked about getting together and having a Fringe show or some kind of get-together. So, for 2019 we’ve created something called MATT - THE GATHERING. It’s a card game, with seven Matts from Fringe who each have a personalized Playing Card. During the Fringe Festival, anyone can seek out one of the seven Matts and ask them for their Card. If you collect them and take a photo of yourself on Instagram holding all seven cards with the hashtag #mattthegathering, you’ll be invited to a special event at the end of Fringe, sponsored by the Broadwater Plunge. It’s a fun way to promote, get people involved, and meet new friends!
BD: Lastly, what would you like to tell readers who want to learn more about and purchase tickets for Blackboxing?
MR: Head over to tinyurl.com/blackboxing for tickets and info. Tickets go on sale May 1 or there are pre-sale tickets when you contribute at the crowdfunding site! I look forward to seeing everybody there!
*Photo (above) by Matt Kamimura