Fusing Passions into a Profession
Take a step back to your senior year of high school when you're picking that one class guaranteed to give you an A with not a lot of work. Now, how many of you found your dream job in that class? Probably not many, but senior Matthew Meeks found just that.
Meeks chose to take a theater production class at his Orange County, CA high school where he helped out with their fall production. His job was to run the soundboard, which according to Meeks, is "essentially pressing go when the stage manager tells you to." At the end of the show, the director, Mrs. Barth, asked about what his plans were for the spring production. He responded with a simple, "I'll do what is needed," but Mrs. Barth saw potential in young Meeks, and asked him to be the stage manager after just one short introduction to the world of theater.
The following year, Meeks began college at the University of Minnesota studying Management Information Systems (MIS), but he still found himself thinking about theater. His solution was combining the two by pursuing MIS with a minor in theater, creating a strong foundation for a career in stage management. "I have a knack at computers, but the theater bug bit me and has not let go," said Meeks.
He describes stage management like being "the mayor of Showtown USA, or the conduit for everyone." The stage manager works with the entire cast and crew from the very first rehearsal to the last moment on stage to handle communication between everyone, document all the tiny details, and time out the technicalities from sounds to lighting. Meeks brings a unique advantage to this position, because his MIS major allows him to apply his deep knowledge of computer and technology systems to theater production, giving him the tools to be a quick problem solver.
His natural talent, sheer determination and luck have landed him in a variety of stage management positions throughout college, including an internship on Broadway with Wicked. Meeks took a risk sending "snail mail" to a number of theaters and productions in New York City asking to shadow a stage manager during his one week trip, and the only one to reply: Wicked. After shadowing for a day, he was selected to be an intern during his junior year winter break. Being thrown into one of Broadway's longest running musicals was certainly a new experience, but one he took with respect and responsibility—whether it be catching Glinda's wand as she darts off stage, or helping Elphaba fly during "Defying Gravity."
Meeks also gained experience at a London Theater Pub and then three productions with the BFA program including the most recent, The American Clock, staged at the Guthrie Theater. This elaborate vaudeville musical involved numerous aspects for him to track: 50 characters played by 21 actors, cueing light and sound effects, shifting stage scenery, and safely landing a character suspended in mid air to the stage floor. Meeks was responsible for documenting and coordinating the multiple facets of this production to ensure any costume’s button needing re-sewing or any sound effect just a second off could be fixed before opening night and giving acting notes to the cast right through the final performance.
Written by Arthur Miller, the play focuses on the Baum family's challenges as they face the Great Depression in New York City. It's full of immense hope as the world crumbles in front of the wealthy family before striking them too.
As Meeks graduates this spring semester and looks back on his time at the University, he realizes he has found a positive community and home in Rarig Center that fosters creativity and exploration in everyone. "The students in those programs are always nice and open. We pick up what everyone's talent is and roll with it beyond the acting aspect. We aren't all actors. I'm Matt the stage manager and then there's Nick the lighting guy and so on," said Meeks.
However, he does have one regret: "I would've double majored. There's still so much to learn," he says. The University is full of professors and staff who are wise beyond their years and are eager to pass the lessons of their own experiences onto a new generation. "You can learn as much sitting in a room while they teach as you can from listening to a story here and there in office hours. There's something very valuable in those stories."
Moving forward after college graduation is an often daunting process, but one Meeks will embrace whole heartedly. Taking the path less travelled, he found a way to combine his two passions, theater and technology, into one career path. He experienced dreamable opportunities with dedication and a lot of grunt work. As he makes his way into the real world, keep an eye out for this aspiring stage manager—because chances are his high school drama class, combined with his college education and experiences, set Meeks on a course to land that dream job on Broadway.