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September 22, 2020

Soulpepper Perspectives: Diego Matamoros, Founding Member


Theatre is a shared experience. Every individual at a live performance somehow affects and changes the temperature of the room. 
If a play ‘works’, as we sometimes say, then the effect of it may remain with us for many years after: “By the way, do you remember seeing that show?  Oh, yes, I remember it alright, really magical. For everyone who was there, yes,… really special.”  

I’ve spent the better part of my life working in live theatre, performing on a stage.  Over the years I’ve also had the opportunity to act in films, on television, and radio.  I’ve done many voice recordings, recorded cartoon animation, and more recently even recorded a podcast or two. But what the theatre delivers that’s different from these other more technological forms is its immediate sense of a shared experience. 

In theatre, the live actor/audience relationship defines the medium. Theatre is a shared voyage where the performer guides the audience through story and character; actor and audience both present in the same space and at the same time. That is what I have always loved about performing theatre – Individuals coming from their separate worlds and environments and joining with others, mostly strangers, to collectively experience the sharing of stories. 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I love movies. And I loved, LOVED! recently watching the new movie release of HAMILTON, the hit Broadway musical which Disney recorded as a film.  I sat with my wife and two grown daughters in our darkened basement TV room and enjoyed every minute of that film.  However I also clearly remember the four of us applauding after some of the bigger musical numbers yet all the while realising that, of course, the cast were not actually present to hear and receive our enthusiastic responses.  We were in a darkened room alright, but what we stared at for two hours or more, was a screen.  The wonders of modern technology are, no doubt, something to be grateful for, and certainly preferable to not getting any chance to see that famous musical at all, but it was not the experience of actually being there with everyone at the theatre, of course. 

Six months before gathering in our basement to watch that wonderful musical the global pandemic shut down every live theatre venue in our city and pretty much right round the world.  As the late & former Beatle John Lennon once said:  “Life’s what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”  So there we all were, suddenly caught by life’s unpredictability.

When the theatres along with so many other public venues closed back last March, I felt that sense of strangeness and shock that often accompanies such unexpected & monumental events. During those first few weeks there was no question that what was most important and essential was to make sure the spread of the virus was kept to an absolute minimum.  And as I remember it was also during those first weeks that I began to newly appreciate the great benefits of modern technology. Every online media outlet began reporting the latest news relating to the spread and/or containment of the pandemic.  Artists everywhere took to making wonderfully entertaining and informative videos and blogs, bringing humour and perspective to the new crisis.  My family started tuning in nightly to whatever they found relevant online and then discussed, debated, laughed and sometimes even cried, as they watched the various online offerings and postings from family, friends, various news channels, world famous orchestras and dance companies. Artists from all over the world were sending out messages of hope and solidarity through the medium of internet.   

As the weeks and months have passed, however, I’ve found myself missing that very particular shared experience that is live theatre. Not having a show to perform or an audience to perform it for is taking a lot of getting used to.  

The shared experience of live theatre, however, may have ancient roots – may contain a seed – the memory of a time, way back when, when stories were first told huddled round a fire, perhaps in the middle of an enormous wood, sitting under an even more enormous panoply of stars.  A circle of faces, lit and warmed by the few remaining embers, voices excitedly sharing with each other the joys and woes of the day.  

I’ve spent the last few months taking more walks than I’m pretty sure I’ve ever taken before, and noticing more flowers than ever before, and different kinds of trees and plants.  I’m learning the names of nearby streets and have started visiting regularly two different outdoor markets in the area. Our tiny backyard garden’s produced one green pepper and one whole green cucumber. Also, in our small backyard we’ve found more time to invite and visit with a few close friends. Sometimes the visits happen on our front porch and other times it’s us who visit our friends’ backyards or decks.  We bring our own drinks (no sharing) and perhaps a bit of food as well, and bring each other up to date on recent happenings and events of the past few days.  And as I’m writing this I realise that of course we’re all finding new ways to connect. To share our stories and experiences.  

Having recently found more time to read and even to write, I’d like to finish by sharing with you a short poem I managed to get down on paper. It’s called Imagining The Room

The walls
Have long been 
Out of  
Existence and  
In three of its corners
Has been painting itself 
Rain clouds 
The floors more
Have been sprouting grasses ‘n mushrooms 
(And even the occasional 
But the windows 
And door
(Slightly opened and curious) 
Are only 
Beginning to wonder
Where I’ve gone 

Diego Matamoros