Editor’s note: The following profiles were originally published in the June edition of Winc.
“Pippin,” winner of the 2013 Tony for “Best Musical Revival,” opened last night at Reynolds Performance Hall.
“Pippin” tells the story of a young man, son of the great King Charlemagne, and his journey to find his place in the world — his “Corner of the Sky.”
Garrett Whitehead, a recent musical theater graduate from Cleburne Texas, plays the title role of Pippin. Joining Whitehead is Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre veteran Dan Matisa as King Charles.
Whitehead was first introduced to AST as an intern last summer. He had such a great time, he said, he had to audition again this year.
“I feel like there’s a lot of weight on my shoulders because I went from interning to a title role, but I’m really exciting,” he said.
[Whitehead performed in last year’s hit, Oliver!, as a member of the ensemble, said Mary Ruth Marotte, AST executive director.
“His gorgeous vocals in that show stood out so distinctly that he was cast as Pippin this year. We are thrilled to have this talented young man lend his talent to this important role,” she said.
In addition to the title role of Pippin this summer Whitehead will also play Bernardo in Hamlet and the role of one of the Players in the murder scene.
“I just graduated and I’m still trying to find myself and figure out where I’m going like Pippin’s internal struggle of figuring out what he wants to do and getting the most fulfillment out of whatever he wants to do — that’s what I’m going through right now,” Whitehead says.
At a transitional point in his life, having just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in musical theatre, Whitehead says he’s not sure what aspect of theatre he wants to do whether it be acting, directing, etc.
Right now, Whitehead is embracing the idea of traveling from town to town and meeting new people along the way, but he says he could see himself settling down as he approaches his mid-30s by going back to grad school or becoming a teacher.
“I definitely believe that family is one of the most important things in the world,” he says.
Whitehead says while reading through the script for Pippin, he’s had a lot of the character’s same thoughts go through his own mind.
“I’m going out into a world where there’s no protection,” he said, “but at the same time it’s exciting and new, so I’m going through a lot of the same things as Pippin.”
As a kid, Whitehead tried sports and academic ventures, but never found his passion until he auditioned for a show at a local community theatre.
“People get really excited about musicals, and it’s an amazing feeling to know you just brought that much excitement and joy to a community,” he says.
Whitehead says the highlights and pitfalls of the career are one in the same.
“The difficulties of not having stability and not knowing where you’re going to be or what [job] you’re going to get next — it’s all open, but there’s a certain thrill about that,” he says.
One of the most difficult aspects of his career, he says, are the times he has to say goodbye to the friends he’s made a long the way, and the effort it takes to sustain those friendships and relationships.
While there’s no telling where he’ll work or whom he’ll meet next, Whitehead says, the life of an actor is a thrilling and exciting experience.
Dan Matisa has been involved with Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre since Matt Chiorini founded the company in 2006.
Chiorini hired Matisa to be in the first productions of Midsummer Nights Dream and Man of La Mancha and he has been back nearly every season since.
“[Matisa] is a veteran of AST, having performed in seven of our eight seasons, most recently as Richard in Richard III in our 2012 season,” said Mary Ruth Marotte, AST executive director. “Everyone loves Dan’s performances, and year after year audiences ask for — demand — his return.”
Matisa says there’s not only great work in Conway, but great people too.
“I really love coming back here year after year — the people, not only the people I work with, but the people who support the shows and come to see the shows . . . everyone is so supportive of this festival,” he said.
The way Conway supports ARS is unlike other places, Matisa says. In this region ARS is one of the few Shakespeare festivals that has experienced growth, he says, it’s rare.
Matisa has been a professional actor based in New York City for the past 15 years working primarily in regional theatre.
Shakespeare Master John Basil trained him in a theatre repertory known as the Asolo Conservatory at Florida State University.
In September, Matisa began teaching Shakespeare as a full-time assistant professor at Elon University.
“I always knew at some point I wanted to give back and teach to give the next generation an appreciation for Shakespeare and acting,” he said.
He’s worked with Shakespeare festivals across the country, but has never been able to truly “sink his teeth” into the art of Shakespeare like he has with AST, he says.
Each season carries special memories for Matisa, but he says the spring 2012 performance of Richard III was the role of a lifetime.
“The only negative thing I can say about that experience is that it didn’t go on longer,” he said. “Every show has to close at some point.”
This year, Matisa is playing the Ghost of Hamlet’s late father and King Claudius in Hamlet and King Charles in Pippin.
Matisa says he’s particularly looking forward to this year’s production of Hamlet because the audience will be on stage with the actors.
“The audience is right up close, so we can have initiate moments with them — break what’s called the fourth wall by speaking directly to them and look into their eyes to see what their reactions are, and I love that — that’s my favorite thing,” Matisa says.