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Life as an entertainer: ‘THIS is what I know how to do’

By on October 25, 2017 in Arts with 0 Comments

Matthew Pippin, director of 12 Angry Men.

By Susan Lagsdin

Wenatchee actor and director Matthew Pippin’s life rotates around two major non-competing forces: a love of family and a love of performance.

His devotion to both gives him an intense sense of purpose.

Though he’s 35, he admits, “I don’t make a very good grown-up,” referring to his benign disregard for real-world concerns like taxes, investments, insurance, mortgage, utilities… the to-do stuff that bogs down many of us. “But, (aptly quoting Angela Lansbury in a favorite movie, The Poseidon Adventure) “THIS is what I know how to do.”

Matthew headed straight out of town after Eastmont High School graduation, all the way from The Apple Capital to The Big Apple. He remembers being dazzled by his first distant view of the city’s towers. “I couldn’t wait to be in it — and then I learned that it is sooo huge… you just have to walk one block and you are somewhere else totally different.”

 Studying at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and living in Harlem gave him a lifelong love of the thrilling diversity it offers. He said, “I miss New York City every day of my life.”

It was there, after his dad and sister dropped him off with their good wishes in 2001, that he discovered another family, fellow actors who called themselves the 511’s. Their dorm hangout room in the Stratford Arms Hotel was #511, and 16 years later they still celebrate May 11 as their special holiday. They’ve attended each other’s weddings — his and husband Phat’s was on the Riverside Theater stage — and are still in constant contact.

That surrogate family bolstered Matthew on 9/11, and in the tragic weeks that Manhattan was shut down, he resolved that all he wanted to do in his life was be an entertainer. To bring joy, sadness, escape and healing through his art was a high calling.

He said, “If something ever was to happen to me, I’d hope to be caught in the middle of a scene, or at least die after curtain call in the dressing room.”

Ironically, it was also family that pulled him away from his new best city and back to Wenatchee, and family that keeps him here. His beloved grandmother Melba Pippin needed close attention in the last months of her life, and Matthew became her 128-hour a week companion and caregiver. “She was the sweetest girl,” he said. “Every bit a Southern lady and my very dearest friend.”

Again, family and performance became intertwined.

Because he was new again to his hometown after a decade away, he linked up with old friends in the theater community and eventually became involved in Music Theater of Wenatchee, Leavenworth Summer Theatre, Snowy Owl Theater and Hot August Nights at the PAC.

His birth family, local and loving, is still extant. But now the Wenatchee area theater community — and by inclusion any cast he’s connected with — has become family to him also. The long hours, the collaboration, the shared goals, the unconditional acceptance and the “misfit and loving it” attitude of some creatives all create an undeniable bond.

No venue is out of the question. Early on his return, he even did a few drag shows: “Not my favorite genre,” he said.

Small roles, chorus parts, then bigger roles, a little directing — since 2011 he’s been involved in 30 local theater productions. He wryly quotes comedienne Bea Arthur, “I’ve done everything except rodeo and porn.”

Matthew’s been in Boeing, Boeing, Wait Until Dark, Rocky Horror Show, Chicago, and many more plays. Cabaret was tough. “I played a nazi — I’ll never capitalize that — and it was very heavy,” he said. “I would cry after every performance.”

But his most recent lead role as Albin in La Cage Aux Folles was “terrifying” to him. “I don’t have a pretty voice so ‘I Am What I Am,’ a Mount Everest of a song, petrified me. I lost 54 pounds so I could play the part properly. There were 13 costume changes — three in one song! That was a production to be very proud of.”

In October he directed a stark and highly-charged Twelve Angry Men on stage at the Riverside Theater. Some of Matthew’s best friends were in the cast or backstage, and during the concentrated rehearsal periods he was at Riverside’s front door every day minutes after work.

Back stage, front of the house, under the lights — it’s all good.

“I absolutely love being at the theater. It’s my home,” he said. “But what would be the point of performing if nobody was watching? When it comes to the audience — it’s my life, for you.”

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