A Degree Is Not Enough: A Talk With Matt Kemple Pt. 1

Jan. 18, 2009
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Ohio native Matt Kemple has been very busy since he first arrived in Milwaukee. The man who started the Milwaukee Sketch and Improv Festival has also been involved in a number of other theatre companies over the course of the past couple of years. He now serves as a producer for Pink Banana Theatre and the PR/Marketing Manager for Next Act Theatre. Kemple and I talked backstage at the Off-Broadway Theatre last month.

First Moments In Theatre

Me: You’d graduated from St. Norbert in Green Bay. What’s your connection to theatre? What was the first professional production that you’d ever seen?

Matt Kemple: . . . I really don’t remember. Probably in Columbus, Ohio . . . The Nutrcracker or something like that . . . years and years ago. And I just knew that I always wanted to be involved with the theatre some way. And just a very young age. When I was really young I liked dinosaurs. And then the Indiana Jones movies came out and I wanted to be an archaeologist. And then I really got into running around my house . . . tumbling around it, mostly scaring my mom out of her wits. And so . . . maybe I’ll be a stunt man THAT’LL be really fun. And I kind of realized that the people on television and the people onstage are actors and I started to kind of understand what that world was. Somehow even before I’d really been involved in theatre, decided that that was a job that I wanted to do. And it just kind of got me to where I am now.

Me: You’re from Ohio?

Matt: mm-hmm

And then you went to St. Norbert. I’m not real familiar. You don’t see St. Norbert’s on many min-bios in Footlights. What’s the program like there?

Matt: It’s a really tiny school. The year I graduated I was the only theatre major.

Me: [laugh]

Matt: And the year before there were actually there of us in the program.

Me: That makes for a really small production.

Matt: Well, it was unfortunate because a lot of the shows had sort of a community theatre aspect where we’d have open auditions, but we’d also worked with UW-Green Bay, which actually has a really nice theatre program. I just knew that I wanted to do something theatre related. I wanted to go into being a newscaster, was something that was really interesting to me. I really liked the radio. I really loved being able to use my voice. So St. Norbert had a communications, media and theater degree with an emphasis on one of those specialties, so I chose the theatre degree but I still had a lot of background in communications. At the time I was in school, I didn’t really feel like I was learning anything. I was doing all the different aspects of working on the shows, I was helping build the sets, working on stage crew, I was running the sound and light board. I’d paint the stage and then act in the shows . . . I was taking theatre classes at the same time. I started to get the flavor of working backstage and working onstage. College really emphasized a lot of those qualities. And I really realized how much I loved working in different aspects . . . when I graduated, I didn’t really feel like I’d learned anything even though I had kind of immersed myself into this theatre world. Being a very small theatre program, I got a lot of attention. We had one class that I actually had a friend of mine who had graduated and he came back just to take that class with me because I was the only one in that advanced acting class.

Me: wow.

Matt: So it wasn’t until probably two years after I graduated that it kind of hit me that I had this huge encyclopedia of knowledge. I didn’t even realize that I had gotten all of this education. I just sort of lived my college life focusing a little bit more on having fun than education and it took a little while to let education come to me. And [after college] I moved back to Columbus, which was the last thing I wanted to do. I said, ”I’ll never live in Ohio again and I’ll never live in Wisconsin again.” And those are two things that I did. So I know I can’t say that anymore. I can’t say that I won’t do that, ‘cause it always happens. So I moved back to Columbus, (luckily not with my parents,) and I started to get involved in the scene there. Worked with a few companies. Had a few really horrible auditions. I just assumed that, with this degree, I could just get a job anywhere. And I was really naïve about thinking that I could take this piece of paper and I would start getting phone calls. I sent resume and head shot out across the country. In fact, when I was moving a couple of years ago, I actually found a note from Next Act Theatre, ironically. I had sent David Cecsarini out that headshot. He was one of three people in the whole country who actually got back to me. And he was the only one who didn’t give me a “thanks, but no thanks,” answer. He did give me a “thanks, but no thanks,” but he sent me a hand-written note on a card. He said, I really appreciate you taking the time to send this to me and this is what you can do in the future and this and that. And it was really helpful. It wasn’t until years later when I started working here, I didn’t make the connection.

TOMORROW: Kemple discusses his theatre experiences in Columbus, Ohio: What do you do when there’s no theatre scene? You make one. He also talks about the last minute move to Milwaukee and more . . .


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