INTERVIEW WITH MATT RITCHEY
“I’m a Shakespeare fanatic, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is the greatest movie of all time, and if I can’t be on a Disney Cruise, I want to be on set. I’ve got a quick wit, a sharp mind, and corrective lenses.”
Matt Ritchey is a director, writer, actor, and acting coach. He holds a BFA in Acting from NYU’S Tisch School of the Arts, a Certificate in Shakespeare from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London and is a recent graduate and Associate Producer at Director’s Lab West. His original play Blackboxing (writer/performer) won “Best Cabaret/Variety” at the 2019 Hollywood Fringe Festival, as well as “Standout Song Award” from For Love of Parody Productions, “Trope Buster” Awards from They Played Productions, the “Larry Cornwall Award for Musical Excellence” from Indie Voices, the “Encore Producer’s Award,” and a Platinum Medal and “Essence of the Fringe” award from The TVolution. To find out what else this fantastic writer is up to log-on to www.mattritchey.net
What inspired you to write about this romantic couple and place them in hell?
I actually wrote this play in college – I loved Shakespeare but I hated “Romeo and Juliet” because I always thought “why is this two-week love affair with pre-teens the ‘greatest love story ever’? They were just obnoxious!” So I put them in Hell. I also hated musical theatre at the time so I gave “Romeo and Juliet the Personal Hell” of listening to musical theater – the one that was based on their story. But then, hey, I needed an actual STORY so I wanted to create comedy chaos by Shakespeare’s dead characters performing the PLAY “Romeo and Juliet”… this led to the idea that Heaven and Hell are fictional and that ultimately, it’s not being sinful that gets you there, it’s just that you’re imaginary and when you die in a story, you go to Hell. The Bob Fosse character is new – originally he was Doctor Faustus, but Kawika came in to the audition and had such a grace in his motion and a “Fosse” look that I changed the character just for him. I’m keeping it for future iterations, though – I think it works well.
What are Romeo & Juliet supposed to learn about themselves in hell?
It’s not that Romeo and Juliet are supposed to learn something, it’s that the REST of us learn something. Romeo and Juliet go through the pangs of jealousy, etc. – all the emotions they “missed out on” in their relationship above… they kinda have a compressed five year relationship. But ultimately, it comes back to how they feel about one another. As much as I hated the play because of the “pre-teens” angle, the play is really about love… we’ve all felt this way at some point, and when we finally see them reprise their death scene, we and the rest of the characters finally FEEL what Romeo and Juliet have been feeling…. so now we get it. And they do it THEATRICALLY which is why it works in this theatrical Hell.
What part of the “Romeo & Juliet” comes from Shakespeare and which part comes from your genius mind?
When I finally had the idea to take all of Shakespeare’s dead characters and put them in “Romeo and Juliet” I went through every play and picked out the most recognizable lines… what could Hamlet say that is a real line from HAMLET but he can say as “Romeo” in the play-within-a-play? What about Othello? Lady M? How can this be mixed up so that it’s not confusing but funny? I spent a LOT of time just marking famous lines down and thinking about where they would fit comedically. I’m a pun guy and I love malaprops, and the reason Shakespeare is both so good and so important is because of the language he uses rather than the stories he tells. By the time college was almost over, I’d read and performed bits of all of the Shakespeare plays that are in this show, so I knew the material, now it was just about culling it for comedy.
What do you hope the audience get from your story?
I just want people to have fun and, know, tell others. My goal is always to tell a fun story, let people laugh and experience the ridiculous, have one sobering moment of theme, then go home laughing again. If people have a fun 60 minutes and “get it,” that’s perfect.
What is your next show about?
I have a new play called SHPIDER with a similar insane comedic tone taking on the Hollywood B-movie system. I don’t know when, where, or how, but that will be my next show.