Christmas from the Stage – Matt Kowalyk

I have a love/hate relationship with acting.  It’s very strange – I liken it to a veteran pilot that’s terrified of heights – it doesn’t make sense on so many levels including the BIG question:  If you’re afraid of heights, why become a pilot in the first place?  It’s a fair question.  Some personal insights into theatre from my perspective before I go into the memory part.

  1. Theatre is beautiful, always, and I love it deeply
  2. Being on stage causes great anxiety in me and for the duration of the run I will inevitably be an unstable, emotional and physical mess.  
  3. See 1.

So the dichotomy is quite real and for that reason I’m super picky when it comes to auditioning – I really need to hear a character call to me like when I played Hoyt in Godhead.  When I heard that the Players were doing Miracle I was interested as I had had a great deal of fun in Jack Boyagian’s first version of It’s a Wonderful Life.  When I found out Heather Jopling and David Hoare were directing/producing, I had to be in it.  I didn’t care in what capacity or what character, I HAD to be in it.  I deeply love Heather and David and I value and relish the art they make so to be a part of their creative world for a few months was a no-brainer.  

Matt Kowalyk, Anne Marie Bouthillette, and Jim Finan in Miracle on 34th Street.

I should also say here that I love Christmas.  I didn’t always, but I totally do now.  Thank Atticus 🙂  

I went to the audition and had a blast (auditions and rehearsals are no problem by the way, I love them) and was cast as Fred Gailey.  At the first rehearsal I was super excited to see so many new faces and so many faces I sorta kinda knew as well as dear friends.  I’ve been lucky to get along with almost every cast I’ve been in, but this cast…this cast became family quick.  I counted (not including Heather and David) 3 other people with directing experience and lots of natural lead performers.  Singers, musicians…This was an all-star group.  That can be a double edged sword – lots of talent can equal lots of ego but it never happened here.  Heather, David, Jim Finan, Anne Marie Bouthillette – award winning, experienced people who could have ‘pulled rank’ never did.  They never needed too.  We all created together with Heather’s hand guiding us into the visions she could already hear and already see.  It was beautiful and it’s my absolute favourite way of making theatre.  I was so happy – making friends, making art, making memories – too cool.  

Opening night.  I’m nervous but not too nervous.  I’m anxious but not too anxious. I warm up with the cast, I feel good and loose and ready.   I’m sweating a lot, but I can live with that if that’s the worst of it.  And it was.  It was the worst of it.  Some nights were sweatier than others (hahaha) but by the end of the run I felt very normal and manageable amounts of nerves.  It was a Christmas Miracle.  

Matt Kowalyk, far right, watches as Jim Finan whacks Matt Blundell in Miracle on 34th Street.

Throughout rehearsals and the run we all hung out as much as we could.  We’d talk about anything and everything but we always got back to theatre eventually.  We were, for a group of talkers, excellent listeners and that made it a very special time for me.  I remember one time asking everyone when they first fell in love with theatre.   Everyone told their story the same way – without hesitation and looking slightly off in the distance.  We were very connected, those of us in this show.  It was a genuine pleasure to be a part of.

So that Christmas I spent looking out from the stage, under the lights, trying not to sweat, squirting Brylcreem into my hair and trying not to laugh at all the great bits in the show.  It’s a really fantastic perspective – I know that there are people that come out to see the Christmas show every year – families make these shows part of their Christmas traditions – to be a part of that was a very special thing and it’s a memory I cherish.   

This Christmas I’m going to miss the Firehall a lot.  I’m going to miss jokes and hugs and random bursts of song and all the good stuff.  But I’m grateful for the memories and knowing the Firehall is still there, waiting for us all.

See you in the wings.

The cast of Miracle on 34th Street.