Matthew Olver started out in sketch comedy and improv and from there went on to work on a number of commercials and TV series. Olver admits that, like many actors, his favourite place to be working is on the stage and he is thrilled to be making his debut at Lighthouse Festival Theatre. We sat down with him to talk about his upcoming performance in the world premiere Fair and Square by Derek Ritschel.
What’s it like for an actor to work in a new town for a new theatre?
It’s wonderful! I enjoy travelling, meeting people and experiencing new things, that’s one of the great perks of the job.
What drew you to Lighthouse?
I’ve wanted to work with Derek (Lighthouse Artistic Director) for a long time now. I’ve known him for quite a while, so when this play came up that he had written, I jumped at the chance. Both Derek and Lighthouse theatre have a great reputation.
What was your first impression when you arrived?
Lighthouse has been awesome and on the ball with everything. The rehearsal hall is fabulous; it’s really nice to have a dedicated space to work. You don’t always get that.
Fair and Square is a brand new show and you were part of the read through and development process back in the winter. What was that like?
I absolutely loved that part. When a writer looks for an actor’s input, when you get to really work together to tell a good story, that is a very exciting time. Being there at the start of a brand-new play allows you to explore the story even more than you normally would. It’s rare to be involved in a world premiere from the beginning. It hits on all of my loves; acting, improv, storytelling, playing.
Derek’s very open and collaborative, so that sets a great starting point. The first read-through is very important because often, it’s the first time a writer has heard their words spoken aloud. Writers love to hear people’s different patterns of speech because we don’t always speak in the same way as we are written. Whenever I write anything, I find the first read-throughs the most illuminating.
Luckily, this play arrived piping hot and ready to go, and that makes my job a lot of fun.
How is it going now that you’re in the rehearsal hall?
Really fantastic! I had never worked with any of my fellow cast members before, but I was absolutely right in knowing that we would all get along great. I think they are all hilarious, so the only danger I see is in not being able to keep a straight face. And everybody from our stage-management team to our director, Ralph, has been top notch. Ralph is a very calm, very astute director who has excellent ideas and lets everything happen naturally… And he lets us try anything.
Is that rare for a Director?
Directors usually want you to try different things, but some can be more rigid than others or have a very specific idea of how they want the story told. Ralph has a strong vision for the show, but his guidance has been very supportive and positive.
Is it nerve-wracking putting on a play that the Artistic Director of the theatre you’re working for has written?
Why, has he said anything? Kidding. No, Derek is my boss, but he’s really easy to get along with. Certainly, as an actor you want to be respectful to the writing and get across what he wants to say. When you’re reading a script, there can be any number of ways to interpret it, so I want to be true to his point.
What’s it like to work on a brand new show?
I find it freeing. I played Henry Higgins a while back and because it’s such a well-known role, you really have to do one of two things – do the best impression in the world of the original or something completely different. With this show, you’re the first one to do the role, so you invent a lot of your character from scratch. Ralph and Derek really encourage that.
How does a new show affect you as an actor in the rehearsal hall? Are re-writes still taking place?
Whew! Thankfully, no. I’d have to start pasting script pages around the set.
There are a few tweaks here and there, but the play was really ready as is. Full rewrites would be tough. A lot of times on television, they’ll be handing you new script just before you go on camera, and that can be challenging.
Do you approach the work differently than you would a show that has been done a number of times?
I like to incorporate a lot of improv, that’s my background. With a new play, you can really work that in at the beginning. Plus, writers of a new show are more willing to play around with it before it’s been performed. After that it’s pretty set. Generally speaking, you don’t mess around with a script too much after it’s been performed.
What do you like about Fair and Square as a show?
It’s a very sweet story about life happening when you’re busy making other plans.
I love the characters. They’re archetypes that cover a lot of ground. You’ve got a buffoon, a nut, a tight-ass and his very strong wife. There are endless variations of those types and within them, you can have a lot of fun. Also, the plot moves along very quickly with tons of good, funny action to propel it.
You play the character Earl … are there similarities between you two?
Yeah, I think I’m probably more like Earl than I want to admit. I certainly recognize a lot of him in me or me in him. I try to funnel characters through my experiences. So perhaps I haven’t experienced everything he has but I can certainly see how that would affect me if I were in that scenario.
Earl likes things done in a certain way and doesn’t like when things stray from his plan. But we all know what happens to the best laid plans. We all have a journey and that’s Earl’s.
How do you prepare for a role?
I have a pretty set process. I get the script at least a few weeks in advance and familiarize myself with it as much as I can. I break it up in to “beats”. There could be 10 pages in a scene but maybe 100 different topics, so I find it helpful to separate each subject change. I break the script up into small chunks, and then those get broken up into even smaller pieces. There are so many lines and boxes and notes on my script that by the time I’m done with it, it looks like a crossword puzzle!
I tend not to actually memorize my lines before I start rehearsals, otherwise my performance could be too rigid. I am highly influenced by the other actors onstage with me; if I have my lines memorized before I’ve worked with them, then I’m not connecting with them the way I should be.
Does it make you nervous not having it memorized beforehand?
No, not before rehearsal. Lighthouse offers a luxurious 3 weeks to rehearse, 2 weeks is the norm and some plays you only get 10 days… If I can’t get my lines down in 3 weeks of 8-hour days there’s a problem.
What do you hope the audience takes away from this show?
First of all, I hope they will be entertained and have fun, because it’s very funny and we have fun doing it. Second, there are a lot of really nice moments and relationships between the characters. There are comments on the ups and downs of friendship and love; some very funny and some less so.
Silly and serious… Just like life.