Have you ever gotten so lost reading a book that dinner time came and went? Or how about the afternoon a kid in your life danced to his favorite song 27 times in 23 minutes? With all these artistic endeavors happening around you, maybe it won’t surprise you to know that archeological evidence suggests humans have been creating art for thousands of years.
It’s through art we learn about ourselves—especially when it comes to live theater. Theatergoers have been seeking comfort and inspiration in this art form for, well…ever. And it’s this type of experience that Matt Wallace, the producing artistic director of Kentucky Shakespeare, is bringing to the community.
Matt stepped into his leading role as head of Kentucky Shakespeare almost 10 years ago, but as an actor and longtime company member, he knows firsthand how theater benefits its audience. Relieving stress, promoting emotional awareness, and teaching open-mindedness are only a tiny handful of the positives live theater encourages.
Matt says that theater belongs to everyone and this is particularly true of Kentucky Shakespeare—the longest running free non-ticketed Shakespeare festival in the country. “I think one of the amazing things about Kentucky Shakespeare is its mission of access and inclusion,” Matt says. These acts of inclusion and access bring with it feelings of value which bolsters self-worth.
When describing work as an artistic director, Matt says, “This is what I live for.” He goes on to explain he loves telling stories and this enjoyment shines through as he brings out truths in the written word that reassure while taking artistic risks that captivate. Don’t be fooled, because even though Shakespeare was writing at a time when stockings for men were the highest of fashion (but certainly not cross-gartered and yellow), the themes the Bard employed are still relevant today: love, power struggles, and the passage of time are a few of the universal truths Mr. Shakespeare mulls over in his work, thus uniting us in life themes that hold true today.
Sitting in the audience we’re pulled into the drama on stage, and it’s here the emotional story reminds us we’re not alone in our feelings. But it’s good to remember that this cozy feeling of togetherness doesn’t only happen onstage—it’s there flourishing behind the scenes, too. Let’s give props to those actually running the props because Matt has created a backstage crew and production team with heart.
He says his goal is to lead with enthusiasm and his motto has been to work hard and be kind. “If we can do those two things at the same time, we’re going to be fine,” he says. Employing people who practice kindness encourages confidence, happiness, and optimism, and these are essential attributes when building a supportive team that works well together.
Hamlet may have been the best at procrastinating, but Matt is all for facing obstacles as they show up. Procrastination can lead to reduced well-being and feeling demotivated, so when challenges appear, Matt does his best not to be overwhelmed by the totality of the situation. He asks himself, “What steps can I take each day to work towards overcoming that challenge?” Then he takes those steps one at a time. When a situation feels particularly daunting, Matt suggests breaking this question down even further: What’s one thing today I’m going to do to get that goal? In this way, he explains you’re taking practical steps to work through the problem a little bit at a time.
When it comes to staying motivated, Matt talks about how much he loves what he does, and how this passion moves him from project to project. In that same sentence, he includes his family. “My family is the joy in my life, and I have no shortness of motivation,” he says. For those looking for a little more incentive in finding that comfortable space in your life, Matt suggests asking yourself this question: What makes you happy? With the rush of our daily lives, taking time and listening to ourselves can help us discover the answer to this question, Matt advises.
For Matt, the audiences and human beings that make up Kentucky Shakespeare keep him inspired. “‘What is a city but the people?’ I think about that quote from Coriolanus, and I think about Kentucky Shakespeare,” Matt says. And it’s here in the middle of it all, Matt brings up the extraordinary experience live theater offers its viewer. When we’re encountering something in real time together, there’s nothing quite like the excitement of being in a space with other people sharing those moments.
It’s not like sitting at home alone on a streaming platform. “Our hearts beating together, we get to experience empathy and catharsis together and there’s something very comforting in that,” Matt says.
By Tonilyn Hornung | Photo by Patti Hartog
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