EXTRAS
EXTRAS
Q&A WITH PHIL HALL
A chance to sit down with the creator of this exciting new play, here's a little question and answer session with writer-composer Phil Hall.
ON MATTHEW PASSION

Is this your first production?
No, I have been involved in dozens of productions of other shows.  I worked as a musical director and conductor on Broadway for the revival of Mame with Angela Lansbury (associate conductor), and Play Me A Country Song.  I have also conducted Phantom, the third national tour of Cats, Side By Side by Sondheim, The Merry Widow and 42nd Street at nationally renown venues like the Kennedy Center, the Paper Mill Playhouse, Atlanta’s Theater of the Stars, Houston’s Theatre Under The Stars, Seattle’s Fifth Avenue Theatre, and the Michigan Opera Theatre. 

What’s different is that this time with Matthew Passion, I am involved in every aspect of the entire process:  the story, lyrics, music, script, set design, funding, casting, rehearsal and production.  It is important for me to see Matthew Passion realized on the stage the  way I see it in my mind’s eye.

What is the play about? 
Matthew Passion is about embracing and being all of who you are with no apologies.  This message unfolds through three separate stories on the life of Matthew Shepard; Jesus Christ; and a personal friend who realized that a diagnosis of HIV was not the end of his life. Although the three stories take place in three different locations, and are two thousand years apart, they all reflect common themes and dramatically converge in the final scene. 

The themes in this play are like the themes in my life.  I always knew that I was gay even before I knew the meaning of the word gay.  Being gay is an orientation that you are born with.  However, when I was growing up, my family was very involved in the Southern Baptist Church so, being openly gay was not an option for me.  I was too scared to be and express my true self.  Having to hide my sexual orientation affected my entire outlook on life.  I always felt as if I was at a ball park watching a softball game from behind the fence at home plate.  It seemed like everyone else was inside of the ballpark— cheering, playing and enjoying the experience.  And there I was, alone on the outside—watching, but not able to share, enjoy or participate in the experience like everyone else.

Eventually, I went to a therapist to sort this out and I remember asking him, “What do you do if the world in which you live in is not big enough for all of who you are?”  And he replied. “Then you create a world that is big enough for all of who you are.”   Well, that’s what I did and that’s what Matthew Passion is about. 

Why do this as a play?
I learned to play the piano when I was a child, and it has remained one of the purest expressions of part of who I am.  When my parents and brother and sister would visit my grandmother, I would stay home and play for hours on end, pouring into my playing emotions I could not yet verbalize.  I had a natural talent for it, and everyone loved how I played.  It was the only socially acceptable means of expression for me at that time, and it was praised and prized by all.  Soon, I was asked all of the time to play the piano and sing at family events, and professionally in churches.

As a musician, I was fortunate to be given an extraordinary gift.  It’s the one place in my life where I am completely self-assured.  I know my music making blesses people, and speaks to them.  The emotional freedom and immediate feedback that comes from playing before live audiences eventually attracted me to the theater and the Broadway stage.  The theater became the one place where all of who I am was welcome—even celebrated! 

Writing Matthew Passion is a tribute to my journey from being closeted to being completely open and honest for the first time in my life about being gay. 

Describe your favorite scene in the play?
There are so many favorite scenes in Matthew Passion and there is so much of it that is a metaphor for aspects of my life that it’s hard to choose one scene over another.  Some scenes are intensely dramatic—like when Jesus and the two thieves are literally hanging almost naked on these huge ten-foot crosses.  Other scenes are just plain fun, like when one of the characters tries to pick up Jesus in a gay bar once male go-go dancers in very few clothes have finished dancing to a club song about crystal methamphetamine abuse called “You Need A Bitch Slap.”  The play is both moving or entertaining, and has a universal relevance for both straight and gay audiences.

What do you want audiences to get from this production?
A human being has no chance of being emotionally or psychologically healthy unless they can be all of who they are.  Take, for instance, Ted Haggard, former president of the National Evangelical Association, who aligned himself with extreme right religious people and said and did hurtful things to gays because he hated that part of him that was also gay.  The more he repressed that part of himself, the more super-charged it became.  It was a blessing, and, no doubt, a relief that he was forced to come out because he does not have to hide that part of himself anymore.  People blossom the most when they are able to  embrace all of who they are—even those parts they’re not so proud of. The message here is to learn to be comfortable in our own skin, as well as respecting and tolerating others comfortable in theirs. 

What is the biggest challenge for audiences?
There is one scene in the play where an Angel says to a middle-aged HIV-positive man, “Life is for the living, my friend.  Go live the rest of yours abundantly.”  He calls this man to be his authentic self:  to move beyond the doubt, shame and self-loathing to a place of abundance. 

The people I have most admired have made huge contributions to our lives by being authentic.  People like Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy were men of vision, and when they spoke, I remember being moved by their passion and conviction.  Look how they changed the world!  Each of us has the potential to do the very same thing, and that is a message of the play. 

Like the man with HIV in Matthew Passion, we all face the same question and challenge:  with our lives before us, what will we do with them?  

ON MATTHEW SHEPARD

What is the connection between Matthew Shepard and the HIV- positive character?
The HIV-positive character, who expected to die—but hasn’t, wrestles with what to do with the time he has left—while Matthew Shepard’s young life is cut down way too soon.

How involved was his family in the development or production?
The Shepard family is not involved in the development or production of Matthew Passion.

Why is Matthew Shepard important to you?
When I heard the news of the assault on Matthew Shepard I was horrified.  Being who he was cost Matthew Shepard his life.  The same can be said of Jesus Christ.  I remember watching the reports of the beating of Matthew Shepard on a newscast, and there was this one nineteen- or twenty-year-old college girl not even from Matthew’s school crying.  She said, “This has got to stop.  People just can’t go beating each other up because they don’t understand the other person.”  She was outraged.  I thought, wow—this girl already gets it.  There’s one of our future leaders who understands the importance of tolerance.  Though real change seems to come one person at a time, here’s a young lady already taking up the cause. 

How long will this production run?
Matthew Passion opens in New York City on Thursday, March 29th , 2007 and continues through Sunday, April 08, 2007 for 12 performances.  It will be presented at the American Theater of Actors’ Chernuchin Theater at 314 West 54th Street, between 8th to 9th Avenues.  Tickets are available through www.smarttix.com.


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