Profile: Matt August
Named Arizona Theatre Company’s Kasser Family Artistic Director in January 2023, Matt August brings experience as a theatre, opera, and film director as well as educator. His productions have broken Broadway box-office records (Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas) and played in London, across the UK, Off-Broadway, in major regional theatres, at festivals, on national tours, at the Grand Ole Opry, and for three holiday seasons at Madison Square Garden. His work has also been featured on television and radio including NPR, in many film festivals, and even at the White House.
You are no stranger to ATC; what was your first involvement with the company?
In 2016, I directed The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord, and we had our most sophisticated version of the show here. It was visually stunning. Then I was asked to do King Charles III in the fall. We took the approach of designing it like a big musical. During those back-to-back productions, I really admired ATC’s robust and talented production department that enabled us to build two of the most visually astonishing shows that I’ve done in my career. It was pretty easy to fall in love with ATC, and from there I began the conversation with the board about coming in as the Artistic Director.
What do you look for in a project?
I really enjoy the experiences where I get to deep dive into the script and culture that the stories come from. I have tried to only do projects that I feel very passionate about, so it becomes something that I am deeply invested in on a personal level. I work to figure out methods to speak to the audience in a way that is going to both delight and emotionally move them, but also hopefully somehow change them.
What are your peak professional experiences?
The first play that put me on the map was Sixteen Wounded. I directed its premiere, and I knew from the moment I read it that it was saying something very special; it had a message that the playwright and I really wanted to share and stand in front of. That play started in a small downtown venue, grew into a star vehicle with Martin Landau, and later ended up on Broadway.
Another peak experience for me was the premier of Baby Taj, which allowed me to immerse myself in South Asian culture. The play is about a young woman who travels to India in search of motherhood. With all the research I needed to do, it became a very expanding experience for me, and what we came up with was a beautiful bridge between the two cultures.
Similarly, I had an opportunity to direct Shakespeare’s The Two Gentleman of Verona, and I asked a question that I had never seen asked of the play before, “What if you actually took it seriously?” What I learned was it’s a perfect rough draft for some of Shakespeare’s later characters. I found a production that worked that I was fortunate to do a couple times. Ultimately, we came up with a fantastical story that was unique, thrilling, and emotional.
What excites you about the future of ATC?
We have a passionate core support community in Arizona made up of adventurous audience members who are very smart and love to laugh, and that is going to allow us to have some very exciting and ambitious programming as we return to larger-scale productions. We have a really interesting model with a two-city operation. We are building every single show we produce to essentially tour. There is huge potential to continue our theatre’s reach around the state and around the country. Our staff and production teams are fantastic. The level of talent and motivation in our infrastructure is very exciting because everyone is on board with the possibilities and how we’re going to get there. Finally, I’m so excited about our move to Tempe Center for the Arts! We are thrilled to be welcomed by the City of Tempe and to have found a new home in metropolitan Phoenix.