[Sign Up Now] to Receive Our FREE Daily SCVTV-SCVNews Digest by E-Mail

Inside
Weather
Santa Clarita CA
Clear
Clear
50°F
 
Calendar
Today in
S.C.V. History
December 13
1900 - Automobile Club of Southern California founded; first car in SCV appeared 1902 [story]


It was just another rejection letter at first glance.

At least that’s what Matt Gould thought when he saw another skinny envelope in the mail collected after he and partner Griffin Matthews returned home from a performance in Lake Tahoe.

“We had just done a bunch of songs at a seminar in Lake Tahoe,” Gould explained. “We came home and were really amped up and had such a good time, we weren’t thinking about the show, really.”

The show is “Witness Uganda: The Musical,” a documentary telling of Matthews’ difficulties keeping a nonprofit helping Ugandan children afloat and the futility so many young people feel when they try to do something good.

“We got home and got this thin little letter from the Society of Arts and Letters and I was like ‘Throw it out, it’s a rejection letter. I can’t do rejecting right now, throw it out.”

Matthews persisted and opened the envelope. Inside was a piece of paper that will change the young mens’ lives.

“It said ‘Congratulations, we’ve chosen one winner this year and it’s Witness Uganda. Signed, Stephen Sondheim,’” Gould said. “We just cried.”

“It’s a huge honor, it feels unreal, he continued. “(Witness Uganda) is really a piece that is a labor of love. It’s a show about a character who is of our generation (Gould graduated in 1997 from Hart High) who is trying to do good in the world and the play asks the question ‘is changing the world even possible?’”

Previous winners of the Richard Rodgers Award include Maury Yeston for “Nine” and Jonathan Larson for “Rent.”

The musical chronicles the struggles Matthews experienced at a nonprofit organization he started in Uganda several years ago. It’s solo purpose: to help 10 orphans get an education, because in Uganda, school is not free.

“It’s a true story,” Gould continued. “A couple of years ago, when the economy collapsed, all his donors were poor artists and nobody could afford to give money anymore.”

When Griffin “ranted” about his difficulties and self-doubt, Matt secretly left his computer running to record them. He later segmented the speeches and wrote music around them. Soon, the stories of Griffin, the orphans he helped and some of the staff were scored and the men had a book musical that Gould said could be considered “an adventure story.”

“In the end he comes to the point where he asks the question ‘what is the point of this?’” I think that’s something a lot of people in our generation face, like we want to do good, we see all these problems in the world, we see people constantly in need, and we so badly want to help, but people don’t know what to do and they’re stuck, so they do nothing.

The show is meant to inspire a movement not just in our theater community but in our country to do something, because doing something matters.”

Their goal with the musical seems to parallel those of the Occupy movement sweeping the nation, sharing a vision but not the same execution.

“Those guys are trying to get the bankers and politicians to listen and we’re trying to get bankers and politicians to listen, but I write musicals, I don’t want to camp out in City Hall, I write musicals, that’s my skill.”

Readings of the piece were done for potential backers and other interested parties, but creating a musical is a long process that takes years.

“It costs so much money to get a group of 10 to 15 actors in a room for two weeks to learn a bunch of music, just to sit at music stands and read,” Gold explained.

The staged reading portion of the Rodgers award will cover those costs, which could range up to $50,000. Although he could not divulge exactly where, Gould could share that the reading will be done within the next year and at a major nonprofit theater in New York.

“It’s basically a backer’s audition, to show it to all the producers and all the folks in New York who might potentially want to put on a full production.”

Gould and Matthews know they have something in “Witness Uganda” when they perform.

“People weep. They weep because people are hungry to see theater and see art that moves them and inspires them,” Gould said. “We are caught in this idea that everything needs to be entertaining and funny and flippant and crazy and ridiculous and that’s all well and good. But if I’m going to pay $120 to watch a Broadway show, I damn well better leave that theater feeling empowered or inspired, not just ‘that was a pleasant afternoon.’ I don’t want a pleasant afternoon.”

He also feels that the soul of classic plays, such as “Gypsy” or Rodgers and Hammerstein standards like “Oklahoma!” and “South Pacific” is lost on modern audiences.

“Rodgers and Hammerstein had a message,” he said. “They were trying to inspire people, they were trying to end racism, they were making a statement about the country. We’ve lost that, because now the theater is run by commercial producers who want to make money and have to make money otherwise they can’t afford to do the shows. I think we’re living in a time where people actually are starved for something that matters.”

He also feels that the soul of “Witness Uganda” is what Sondheim and his judges hope to nurture.

“We’re still working on the book of the show, still working on getting more specific and clear on how to tell the story,” Gould said. “The heart of the piece is there, that’s why we won the Rodgers award, people are feeling it, the guts are there.”

Bits and pieces of the show have been performed on stages, conferences and living rooms, Gould said, adding that they are open to anyone who invites them to present the work.

Along with “Witness Uganda,” Gould is also working on a commission for Yale Repertory and has written and directed “Free Style” for LA’s Reprise Theatre Company, and wrote “Twilight In Manchego,” which received the Jonathan Larson Foundation Award.

During high school, he acted in shows with Hart and the Canyon Theatre Guild. After graduation, Gould went to Boston University, then immediately joined the Peace Corps, living in Africa for two years. That’s where he had his “aha!” moment.

“I thought I was going to be a famous actor,” he said. “I love to perform, I just think that there was a higher calling, after college, I went straight into the Peace Corps for two years because I felt like, as an artist, I didn’t know what I had to say. And the year I graduated from college was the year Columbine high school happened. I got a great education, my classmates went on and they’re in movies and blah blah blah.

“I felt like there was something else, something else was missing. I lived in Africa for two years, I wanted to change the world, I really did, I wanted to do something good. I would up doing theater with girls.

“I did a production of Romeo and Juliet in Pulaar with a bunch of girls in a village. And one night these girls were standing in the middle of a soccer field with a single light bulb hung off the goal post running off of a generator surrounded by 150 kids watching them, screaming at the actors, “Don’t, don’t do it” – and I was like “Oh my God, this is the most powerful amazing medium ever created, this is what I’m supposed to do, I’m supposed to tell stories and I’m supposed be a storyteller and tell stories that matter. For them it was Romeo and Juliet, because it was a village where girls were dealing with forced marriage and we chose that subject to tell their story and highlight that.”

Around that time, he met Griffin and the two were a perfect match. “Witness Uganda” is their best and brightest collaboration.

“We have met with some incredible Broadway producers we love the show, they tell us ‘we think it’s brilliant, we want to do it, but we have no idea how to do it, there’s no way to sell a show called “Witness Uganda”’, Gould said. “We’ve had producers literally telling us we have to put more white people in your show, we had people telling us ‘you have to change the name, you have to do this,’ we had one production lined up that, at the last minute the producers backed out and we lost our production because we didn’t want to bow to the demands that that person was making on us.”

“For a long time, we said you know what, we’re going to finish our show and leave it. But in the meantime, we have a lot of other stuff to do and now this opportunity has come up. We’ll have a chance to put our show up in a reading in front of everybody.”

And the world is paying attention. The pair have been invited to TEDex, a business and cultural gathering of some of the world’s biggest thinkers.

“We’ll be performing selections from ‘Witness Uganda’ at the New York Stock Exchange in front of 300 of the most powerful bankers,” Gould said. “To walk into a room like that and watch bankers, – these are the guys people think of as “the enemy” – to watch those guys get some of that medicine. It’s the same feeling as standing on that soccer field and watching those girls and it matters.

“It matters.”

Comment On This Story
COMMENT POLICY: We welcome comments from individuals and businesses. All comments are moderated. Comments are subject to rejection if they are vulgar, combative, or in poor taste.
REAL NAMES ONLY: All posters must use their real individual or business name. This applies equally to Twitter account holders who use a nickname.

0 Comments

You can be the first one to leave a comment.

Leave a Comment


ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT LINKS
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT NEWS
Wednesday, Dec 13, 2017
The Caribbean is back, better than ever, and Valencia-based Princess Cruises is offering the best fares of the season during the “Exclusively Caribbean Sale,” on 7-, 8-, 10-, 14-day sailings departing February through April 2018.
Wednesday, Dec 13, 2017
Designer and animator Jamie Tan (Film/Video BFA 15) started baking cakes and fancy French pastries as a meditative practice to help her balance the 20 credit semesters she was taking as a student at CalArts.
Wednesday, Dec 13, 2017
CalArts School of Critical Studies faculty Janet Sarbanes recently received a grant from The Creative Capital | Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program for her essay "Reframing the House of Dust: A Meditation in Many Parts."
Wednesday, Dec 13, 2017
Artist and CalArts alumna Carrie Mae Weems (Art BFA 81) concludes her year-long residency at New York’s Park Avenue Armory with a day-long convening of artists, writers, poets, musicians and social theorists on Sunday, Dec. 17.
Tuesday, Dec 12, 2017
Continuing more than a decade of Christmas tradition, Faith Community Church will host the 12th Annual “Festividad for Christ” Christmas celebration for its neighbors in Newhall.
Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
The Sheriff’s Department and CHP will participate in a special year-end "Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" enforcement campaign from December 15 through January 1.
LASD, CHP Join ‘Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over’ DUI Campaign
The Caribbean is back, better than ever, and Valencia-based Princess Cruises is offering the best fares of the season during the “Exclusively Caribbean Sale,” on 7-, 8-, 10-, 14-day sailings departing February through April 2018.
Princess Cruises ‘Exclusively Caribbean Sale’ Offers Season’s Best Fares
Designer and animator Jamie Tan (Film/Video BFA 15) started baking cakes and fancy French pastries as a meditative practice to help her balance the 20 credit semesters she was taking as a student at CalArts.
Jamie Tan on Art, Baking for Rojas’ ‘Theater of Disappearance’
CalArts School of Critical Studies faculty Janet Sarbanes recently received a grant from The Creative Capital | Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant Program for her essay "Reframing the House of Dust: A Meditation in Many Parts."
CalArts’ Janet Sarbanes Wins Writers Grant from Creative Capital
Artist and CalArts alumna Carrie Mae Weems (Art BFA 81) concludes her year-long residency at New York’s Park Avenue Armory with a day-long convening of artists, writers, poets, musicians and social theorists on Sunday, Dec. 17.
Dec. 17: Weems Wraps Year-Long NYC Residency
Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk Dean C. Logan was named winner of the 2017 Electoral Ergonomy Award at the International Electoral Awards on December 5 in Dead Sea, Jordan.
LA County Registrar-Clerk Wins International Electoral Award
The CSUN women's basketball team looks to extend its winning streak to four when the Matadors return home to face the Northern Arizona Lumberjacks on Monday, December 18.
Dec. 18: CSUN Women’s Basketball Team Goes for 4
Sport fishing permits for 2018 are now on sale from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Sport Fishing Licenses for 2018 Now on Sale
The National Weather Service has issued a Red Flag Warning for the Santa Clarita Valley and other areas of Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties through Friday morning.
Critical Fire Conditions in SCV Though Friday
Steve Gerischer, proprietor of Larkspur Garden Design, will simplify the art of rose pruning and share tips on keeping your roses flourishing at the next installment of CSUN's CSUN-al Gardening series on Saturday, Jan. 13.
CSUN-al Gardening to Tackle the Prickly Topic of Pruning Roses
The Master’s University profiles 2017 men's basketball star Brock Gardner.
TMU Basketball’s Brock Gardner – Tough Decisions, Terrific Transfer
The list of Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athletes, released recently, was backloaded with four athletes from The Master’s University.
4 TMU Men’s Soccer Players Named NAIA Scholar-Athletes
During October, 15 junior high and high school campuses in Santa Clarita hosted a toiletries drive as part of their annual DFY in SCV community campaign.
DFY in SCV Students Help Others in Need
SCV Sheriff's Station deputies are still looking for two men who allegedly stole a wallet from a woman shopping in a local market, and posted images from surveillance video seeking the public's help to identify and locate the men.
Deputies Still Seek Suspects in Theft of Shopper’s Wallet
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and 17 other attorneys general have called on the Trump Administration to respect the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s independence.
AG’s File Brief Backing Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
The Santa Clarita Arts Commission's next Regular Meeting is set for Thursday, Dec. 14 at 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.
Dec. 14: Santa Clarita Arts Commission Regular Meeting
The city of Santa Clarita's Parks, Recreation and Community Services Commission will hold its next Regular Meeting on Thursday, Dec. 14, at 3:30 p.m.
Dec. 14: Parks, Recreation, Community Services Regular Meeting
The nonprofit WiSH Education Foundation is out to raise $100,000 to fund improvements in Hart District school libraries.
WiSH Foundation Seeks Funds for Hart District Libraries
Valencia resident Kyanna Isaacson, 26, fulfills her dream of owning a Jersey Mike’s Subs restaurant today, and opens with a free sub fundraiser to benefit the nonprofit WiSH Education Foundation.
Valencia Resident Opens Her Own Jersey Mike’s Sub Shop
1900 - Automobile Club of Southern California founded; first car in SCV appeared 1902 [story]
The City Council named Laurene Weste the new mayor of Santa Clarita Tuesday night.
Laurene Weste Named Mayor for Fifth Time
Paris, Amsterdam, Sydney – Unibail-Rodamco SE (“Unibail-Rodamco”) and Westfield Corporation (“Westfield”) announced Tuesday that Unibail- Rodamco has entered into an agreement to acquire Westfield to create the world’s premier developer and operator of flagship shopping destinations (the “Group”).
French Real Estate Firm Buys Westfield in $16-Billion Deal
NORTHRIDGE, Calif.—CSUN's Channon Fluker was named Madness National Mid-Major Women's Basketball Player of the Week Dec. 11.
CSUN’s Fluker Named Player of the Week
​LOS ANGELES, CA Trammell Crow Company (TCC) and Clarion Partners have begun construction on The Center at Needham Ranch, a 54-acre, state-of-the-art industrial business park in Santa Clarita.
Construction Underway at Needham Ranch
NORTHRIDGE, Calif. - Attendees of California State University, Northridge's Matador Athletics events will be able to purchase beer and wine at home games beginning Jan. 6, 2018 with the start of the Men's and Women's Basketball Big West Conference season.
Beer, Wine Will Soon be Available at CSUN Home Games
A 2-acre brush fire, dubbed the Copper Fire, ignited shortly 4:35 p.m. on the 29100 block of West Hills Drive, according to a tweet from the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Forward Progress Stopped on 2-Acre West Hills Fire
How do we close the graduation gap? How do we ensure students have the resources they need to succeed academically? Those are questions people in higher education — including at California State University, Northridge — have been grappling with for decades.
CSUN Department Changing Way Students are Served After Data Sheds Some Light
Offering more than 150 itineraries to popular bucket-list destinations all over the world, Princess Cruises has earned top honors for its cruise vacation itineraries in the Cruise Critic Annual Editors’ Picks Awards.
Industry Experts Award Princess Cruises “Best Itineraries”
As it wraps up 2017 and looks forward to 2018, the Santa Clarita Valley Chamber of Commerce announced eight new additions to its board of directors next year.
Chamber Announces 2018 Board of Directors
Continuing more than a decade of Christmas tradition, Faith Community Church will host the 12th Annual “Festividad for Christ” Christmas celebration for its neighbors in Newhall.
Dec. 16: Annual ‘Festividad for Christ’ Christmas Celebration
With New Year’s Eve just a few weeks away, the city of Santa Clarita is offering a cash reward up to $500, in the hopes that someone will come forth with valuable information that may lead to the citation(s) of the person or persons responsible for illegal firework activity in the City.
City to Offer Cash in Exchange for Tips on Illegal Firework Activity
On Friday, the facts of the case against Newhall resident, Robert Mount, age 52, were presented to the San Fernando District Attorney's office.
Newhall Suspect Charged with 65 Counts; Bail Set at More Than $2 Million
1891 - Actor Buck Jones, a Placerita and Vasquez "regular," born in Indiana [story]
'The Shape of Water' and 'Big Little Lies' top the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's 75th Golden Globes nominations announced Monday morning in Beverly Hills.
‘Shape of Water,’ ‘Big Little Lies’ Top 75th Golden Globes Nominations