Wednesday, January 20, 2016

a conversation with Brian Maticic, the writer of WINDFALL, premiering this week at the Brelby Theatre Company

Brian Maticic
by Gil Benbrook

Eight years ago husband and wife Brian and Shelby Maticic, who met while studying theatre at Northern Arizona University, decided they wanted to create opportunities to challenge themselves and other actors, directors and designers and so they founded the Brelby Theatre Company. In 2013 they opened their own theatre space just off Glendale Avenue in downtown Glendale.

While Brelby may be one of the youngest theatre companies in the Valley, they have a year round schedule of productions plus an Improv troupe that performs weekly and offer both classes and workshops and have a company of actors that call Brelby home. They also foster new works with Brian, Shelby and other up and coming playwrights contributing several new works each season.

Brelby's latest original offering is Windfall, a play that Brian wrote that officially opens this Friday, January 22nd. Brian took a brief break during rehearsals for the show to answer some questions exclusively for PHX Stages.

Since Windfall is a new play, what can you tell us about it?

"Well, this is a little bit of a dangerous question because I have been working on this script for years, and could talk about it for hours.  It’s a modern day adventure. Everyone has fantasized about winning the lottery, imagining that all their debt and problems would be wiped away, but in Windfall, we get to see a lottery create whole new, ridiculous, and consuming problems for these characters. It’s hilarious, but also tragic, and honest.  You’ll laugh so hard you’ll cry, then you’ll cry for real, then you’ll get really mad at a character (and probably me as the playwright) then you’ll laugh till you cry again.

The story centers around three millennials approaching their 30s each dealing with the realities of the new economy in different ways. Owen works hard dreaming of starting a business as he slaves away at a dead end cubicle job. Olivia pursues a master’s degree in hopes of creating better opportunities. Trent, the loveable slacker has continually chosen the easy route and now is buried in debt, unable to hold a job wasting all his money on video games and lottery tickets.  Things get so bad for Trent he decides the only recourse he has to escape his debt is to fake his own death. Once dead, Trent realizes he’s won the lottery, but can’t collect because he’s dead.  It’s a show about relationships, responsibility, family, and how the mistakes we make affect those around us."

Devon Mahon
photo by Fernando Perez
Lottery frenzy reached a fever pitch this past week with the over $1 billion Powerball prize, so the opening of Windfall seems perfectly timed. But Brelby recently also received a “windfall” of your own in winning $20,000 in the Bank One Elevator Pitch contest.  What was that experience like?

"It’s hard to put into words. To say that building Brelby from the ground up has been a challenge sells the struggle short. We’ve had some incredible successes, and have produce incredible theatre, but cash flow has always been a major hurdle making every single production a make or break endeavor.

Our windfall lifted so much weight off of our shoulders I can’t fully explain the relief. For the first time, we have a cushion or a safety net. We have been able to invest in a com system for our stage managers and run crew, upgrade our lighting systems, put a little money toward marketing, and redouble our focus on the work.  We are so incredibly grateful for the opportunities that winning the First Bank Elevator Pitch is providing, and we want to make sure we fully utilize it to take Brelby to the next level, and bring more quality original theatre to Arizona."

How did the idea for the play come to you?

"I think it went something like this…

Me: 'God, how am I going to pay my student loans. I’m working full time in addition to the theatre, and not making it.'

Someone else: 'What about bankruptcy'

Me: 'I’m not going to file bankruptcy, it’s just hard.   Besides you can’t get rid of Student loans with bankruptcy'

Someone else: 'Seriously? That sucks. Just win the lottery. That’s pretty much my life plan'

Me: 'Or I could fake my death.'

Someone else: 'Yeah man, I’d cover for you.'

Me: 'With my luck I’d win the lottery after faking my death and couldn’t collect.'

Someone else: 'No worries, I’d collect it and give you like twenty bucks'

Me: 'huh. That would make a good play.' "
Shelby Maticic, Devon Mahon and David Magadan
photo by Fernando Perez

I know you've been writing the play for the past few years. Were there any major changes you made over the years in writing Windfall?

"Yes. Absolutely. Many rewrites. Much Change. Wow. Rewrites are so very important to the process. I’m not sure I could put an exact number on it, but the version that will be presented on stage represents something like the 14th draft. While I am writing I am continually circling back and rewriting scenes as I go. I had rewritten the majority of the first act several times before even finishing the second act. I learn so much about the characters, the action and the story that needs to be told as it unfolds, and these discoveries help build a much better, more cohesive script.  The biggest change the show underwent, was the scope. Windfall was originally conceived as a three-character play in a single location. I realized quickly that this didn’t adequately serve the story that was being told, or provide the opportunity to explore the characters’ depth or the range of emotion and conflict the story presented.  Looking at it now, it’s hard to imagine it working at all with any smaller of a cast than it is now."

What do you hope audiences will take away from the show?

"This is one of those shows from which everyone will take something a little different. I hope they are entertained obviously, but I hope they also are able to relate to the struggle of one of the characters their strengths, and their flaws.  I hope some are left wanting to call their mom, or recognizing the importance of not taking your relationships for granted. And I certainly hope it causes audiences to question what it means to be responsible, or successful.  But, if I can’t get that across audiences will at least leave having enjoyed the ride with damp eyes, and sides hurting from laughter."

Do you have a favorite moment in the play?

"This is really hard to pin down, and it changes frequently. Currently I’m very fond of the video game inspired dream sequences, and the Yoga scene. If I had to pick one moment however, it would be the crescendo of the climax. To call it intense, I think, would sell it short."

Did you learn anything during rehearsals that made you rewrite anything in it?

"Of course. I had several reading early on and would hold discussions with the group after soliciting feedback and responses (not that I necessarily took their advice but looking for how they reacted to certain things). After each I would make quite a few rewrites to further develop characters, make moments more impactful or honest, or capitalize on missed opportunities.  I was learning something new about the script and the characters each time I revisited the play."

You call Brelby the “West Valley New Works Incubator” – what can you tell us about your thoughts on presenting new works?

"It’s vital. Theatre is a living art form and it has to be encouraged to grow and adapt, and the best way I can think of to encourage that, is to foster new playwrights and new plays. Do I think that theatres that produce classics, and big showy commercial musicals for the 100th time are important? Yes, absolutely. They are a great gateway for newcomers to become exposed to what theatre has to offer, and are an important aspect of the art (and I love the big showy musicals, and Neil Simon, and all the rest). That said, theatre should engage an audience and ask them relevant questions to our current social, economic, political, creative, ever changing world.  New plays can expose us to new ideas, ask new questions, and tell new stories to inspire, educate, challenge, or entertain in relevant ways that performing a show from twenty years ago may not.  Producing new shows is difficult, and may be a greater risk than producing something you know audiences will show up to, but I think it’s important and exciting. There is nothing quite like playing a role for the first time, or being the first director to stage a new play and present it to its first live audience. Working with a playwright as a show is growing and developing has repeatedly been one of the most fulfilling experiences I’ve had in theatre. There are so many incredibly talented writers with incredible stories that should be showcased (I hope audiences consider me one of them after seeing Windfall), and I think by supporting new works, and presenting and developing as many as we can we are adding to and improving the cultural landscape of Arizona."

For more information on Windfall, or to purchase tickets, CLICK HERE

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