Getting the chance to work in ‘theater paradise’

Company member Matt Frye talks about what it’s like to work in Door County in last week’s Key to the Door.

“I began to hear whisperings of a theater oasis in rural Wisconsin.”

Third Avenue Playhouse, Published 11:02 p.m. CT July 10, 2017

In the hustle and bustle that is the Chicago theater scene, it is often easy to get trapped in the rat race. The constant drive to go to audition after audition, the seemingly endless number of opening nights featuring numerous friends, and of course there’s always rehearsal.

It was in this urban jungle that I attended the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. For the vast majority of my time enrolled in the Musical Theater program at CCPA, I was in class from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. After class, I had a short dinner break and was back at rehearsal as either a part of the cast or the crew for various shows and showcases from 5 to 10 p.m.

It was in this forge where I honed my skills as a singer, dancer and actor and upon graduation was released into one of the greatest theater cities in the world. Over the six years I’ve lived and worked in Chicago, I have met countless theater artists of all ages and experience levels, and whenever spring would roll around I began to hear where people were going to work over the summer.

 It was during these conversations that I began to hear whisperings of a theater oasis in rural Wisconsin. A place where actors could be challenged and energized by the material while at the same time surrounded by natural beauty. They are the tales of legendary Door County.
 

The various descriptions of the Door County experience as told to me by fellow actors were quite uniform. The county is absolutely beautiful, the people are charming, and the work that happens on stage is top-notch. Essentially it is the “theater camp” every performer dreams of. There were stories of hiking the trails of Potawatomi State Park, fishing the waters of Lake Michigan and having dinner on the shores of Green Bay around a fire as the sun sets. All of this before you head to the theater for your call time.

Although I had heard all of this through the grapevine of the Chicago theater community, I never had the opportunity to work up here until this year. In February, I was in the middle of a season-long residency at Milwaukee Repertory Theater when I was able to attend Milwaukee general auditions. These are where theaters from not only Milwaukee but from around Wisconsin get together and see a ton of talent from the Midwest region.

I was very fortunate to receive one of the highly coveted audition slots. Hundreds and hundreds of actors apply for spots and only a small percentage are granted an audition for the 25-plus theaters in attendance.

It was from this audition that I got a callback from Third Avenue Playhouse in Sturgeon Bay. My chance to experience Door County had finally come. I went to that callback and met co-artistic directors Robert Boles and James Valcq, as well as famous-in-Door-County Drew Brhel. The callback was one of the most pleasant audition experiences of my career, and a few days later, the deal was sealed and I was about to become a part of the Door County family.

I arrived at TAP on June 13 and immersed myself in the work I knew would be so fulfilling. Currently, I’m playing Ken in the Tony Award-winning play “Red” by John Logan. Playing opposite me as the fiery abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko is Brhel.

“Red” is not just a story of the work of Rothko; it’s an examination of what art is, how it effects the spirits and emotions of the human beings who experience it, and the toll that producing art takes on the artist’s soul. It’s a truly unique opportunity to see an outstanding piece of theater in the most intimate performance space in Door County. It is currently running until July 22.

Later this summer, I will be playing many roles in TAP’s production of Leonard Bernstein’s comic operetta “Candide.” This witty and hilarious adaptation of Voltaire’s 1759 novella has one of the most beautiful scores in the musical theater canon, and some of the most timeless and relevant lyrics of any show I have ever been a part of. Candide runs from July 27 to Sept. 2.

Outside of the work I’ve been doing onstage, my short time here in Door County has not disappointed. I’ve had the pleasure to work and mingle with some of the best theater professionals in the country. I’ve seen numerous stunning sunsets over Sturgeon Bay, my walks along the lake have been beautiful, and the friendly people of Door County are some of the most wonderful I’ve ever met.

Although I’m just beginning my time here in the county, I can already tell that I will deeply miss this place when I depart in September. But until then, I will savor every moment I have in Door County, a real-life theater paradise.

Matt Frye plays Ken in John Logan’s “Red,” on stage through July 22 at Third Avenue Playhouse in Sturgeon Bay.