The Making of An Artistic Director
Like so many who come into the theatre world, Matt August discovered his love for the arts in his adolescence. Since then, August has gone on to develop an extensive resume that includes working alongside Tony-winning artists and a number of celebrities before they were launched into stardom. Now, as he adds Artistic Director to his long list of titles, we’re reflecting on the journey that got him here.
Sitting in English class wasn’t Matt’s strong suit. In fact, the teacher agreed and often threw him out of the class for being disruptive. His dyslexia made it difficult to engage in the course, so he indulged in making the other students laugh instead. As you might imagine, it’s pretty difficult to pass English class if you’re hardly in it. So, it was time to look for alternative options. He turned to drama class where, as fate would have it, he unveiled an unexpected knack for acting. With educators dedicated to cultivating those skills, August was armed with the support and confidence to make theatre his college focus.
After earning his BFA from the University of Colorado, August went to the British American Drama Academy in London where he was transformed. While his intentions were to broaden his skills as a performer, he found it difficult to resist asking in-depth questions about the director’s choices. The central focus being “Why?” He couldn’t help wondering how he might do things differently. As the urge to challenge choices refused to sink, August came to the realization that a need to create meaningful work was engrained in him. Without knowing it, he was thinking like a director. “As soon as I started taking directing classes and started directing, it was like everything in my life made sense.”
He went on to earn his MFA from the California Institute of the Arts and went straight to work assisting some of the biggest names in the theatre industry. Working alongside Craig Noel, John Rando, and touring three shows with Nicki Martin, August had gained a wealth of knowledge. He set the goal for himself to drop the apprentice act by the age of 30, but Jack O’Brien had other plans.
Artistic director of the Old Globe Theatre and soon to be three-time Tony Award winner, Jack O’Brien enticed August to one more assisting position. The new Tom Stoppard play, The Invention of Love, would be his first Broadway project. Following the opening of that production, things started to pick up speed for ole Matt August. He was promoted to Resident Director at the Old Globe Theatre. The Coast of Utopia trilogy, another Stoppard work, scored the August-O’Brien directing duo again. And just then the rights for a show near and dear to his heart got picked up by some commercial producers in New York. That show was Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas The Musical.
Back in 2006, August was entrusted with The Grinch from the Old Globe Theatre. Coming from a theater that sat 550 patrons and going to Madison Square Garden was quite the growth spurt. A mammoth of an arena, the Garden could seat 5,000 people! The space for spectacle was there in abundance. And it was up to Matt August to fill it. He worked alongside another Tony award winning artist, John Lee Beatty, to conquer this feat. To continue his efforts in ramping up the spectacle of the show, he put some Dr. Seuss songs into the show that he thought should have been there all along. Songs we know and love, like “Welcome Christmas” and the iconic “Mean One”.
The team brought their A-game with their updated vision. A few workshops of their new adaptation and they were ready to go. Then suddenly they lost their slot in Madison Square Garden. After picking up another venue, and having that fall through too, they finally landed at the then Fords Theatre on 42nd and Broadway. There were only a few tweaks needed to conform to the new space despite having expanded their set and cast to fit in Madison Square Garden sized proportions. And while every company strives for success in any production, The Grinch went above and beyond the marks of what they had hoped.
The rest is history. While he ended up assistant directing on a few more projects at 30, they were conducive for achieving his goals. August took courage in the words of Jack O’Brien, “You’ve learned what you need to learn. You know what to do. You just need to get out of the nest.”
Out of the nest he flew! Matt August brought structure to new works and fresh ideas to classics. He learned from highly trained artists like Martin Landau, Kevin Kline, and Norah Ephron. He witnessed and nursed the making of great artists yet to be like David Harbour and Mireille Enos. And when the opportunity came to join these two groups together, he evened the playing field. He even seamlessly weaved between different mediums – from the stage to the screen.
Now, Arizona Theatre Company gets to feel the full effects of Matt August’s 30 years of experience. It is certain that history is about to be made.
Join us to witness Matt August’s inaugural season at ATC.