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

Inside
Weather
Santa Clarita CA
Sunny
Sunny
56°F
 
Calendar
Today in
S.C.V. History
September 22
1969 - College of the Canyons opens with first class of students in temporary quarters at Hart High School [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
Thursday, Sep 21, 2017
Auditions for the the upcoming Canyon Theater Guild's production of A Christmas Story are just around the corner.
Thursday, Sep 21, 2017
David Wolfram will demonstrate pastel-over-watercolor painting at the Santa Clarita Artists Association (SCAA) meeting on Monday evening, Nov. 20 at 6:30 pm. This event is free, open to the public and meets at Barnes & Noble, 23630 Valencia Blvd.
Thursday, Sep 21, 2017
Autumn Gratitude, Santa Clarita Artists Association's new show will be open on Sept 28th and run to November 4th, with a free artists’ reception on Friday October 6th, 5 to 9 pm.
Wednesday, Sep 20, 2017
Tickets are now on sale for James Hand with the Carolyn Sills Combo on Saturday, September 30 and INCENDIO in Concert! on Saturday, October 7, both groups appearing at The MAIN in Old Town Newhall.
Tuesday, Sep 19, 2017
Preview of Santa Clarita arts-related events for Sept. 18-24.
Latest Additions to SCVNews.com
1969 - College of the Canyons opens with first class of students in temporary quarters at Hart High School [story]
The most prestigious recognition for government assessment agencies has been awarded to the Office of the Assessor in Los Angeles County.
County Awarded Prestigious Government Assessment Award
The Dodgers, who have clinched a postseason berth for the fifth consecutive year, return home tomorrow to open their final homestand of the regular season against the San Francisco Giants (Sept. 22-24) and San Diego Padres (Sept. 25-27).
Dodgers Back Home Friday; Last Homestand of 2017 Season
Auditions for the the upcoming Canyon Theater Guild's production of A Christmas Story are just around the corner.
Sept. 30-Oct. 1: Christmas Story Auditions at CTG
Now that the formerly great state of California is a sanctuary, I’ve got to compare that action with the actions in the early 1860s of the Confederate States of America. They decided what laws they wanted to follow and what ones they didn’t.
No Home for Me | Commentary by Darryl Manzer
Santa Clarita Valley residents have known the family-owned Italian restaurant, Sisley Kitchen, since 1993 when their doors first opened at the top of Valencia Town Center Drive in Westfield Valencia.
Renovations Complete at Sisley Kitchen
The Women's Soccer team will be finishing up their non-conference matches this weekend.
Sept. 22-24: CSUN Athletics Roundup
David Wolfram will demonstrate pastel-over-watercolor painting at the Santa Clarita Artists Association (SCAA) meeting on Monday evening, Nov. 20 at 6:30 pm. This event is free, open to the public and meets at Barnes & Noble, 23630 Valencia Blvd.
Nov. 20: Pastel-Over-Watercolor Demonstration at SCAA Meeting
Beginning October 1, all 23 California State University (CSU) campuses will accept applications for admission to the fall 2018 term.
Oct. 1: CSU Accepting Fall 2018 Applications
College of the Canyons launched its First-Year Promise (FYP) program this fall, and to ensure the future of the FYP program, which offers full-time freshman students waived tuition and fees during their first year of study, the COC Foundation has committed to fundraising $500,000 over the next two years
COC First-Year Promise Fundraising Campaign Underway
The city of Santa Clarita is inviting our younger residents to take part in the 30th anniversary celebration.
City Launches, “30 Things for 30 Years” Contest, Students Invited to Take Part
California State University, Northridge’s Friends of the Oviatt Library welcomes members of the community to nominate their favorite stories about the San Fernando Valley for consideration of the San Fernando Valley Award for Non-Fiction.
CSUN Library Group Invites Community to Nominate Favorite San Fernando Valley Story
The Los Angeles Dodgers today announced sellouts for all seven potential postseason home games in the Division Series and League Championship Series just hours after tickets went on sale to the public at 10:00 a.m. It’s believed to be the quickest that the club has sold out of postseason tickets in Dodger Stadium history.
Dodgers NLDS, NLCS Tickets Already Sold Out
Sales of existing single-family homes increased 7.4 percent throughout Santa Clarita during August while the median price of homes that changed owners rose 6.6 percent, the Southland Regional Association of REALTORS® reported today.
Increase in SCV August Home Sales, Prices
Mountainview Elementary School parents were greeted with a voicemail Thursday morning informing them of a break-in on campus believed to have occurred the night before.
Vandals Trash Library, Computers, Classrooms at Mountainview
Hans' family did not know too much about his childhood or the country he had grown up in. About all the family knew was that Hans and his wife were born in Germany but had lived in this small Minnesota town for the last 60 years or more.
Lesson from History | Commentary by John Windsor
A gang sweep targeting Newhall 13, a well known Santa Clarita criminal organization, netted three arrests Thursday.
Three Arrests Made in Newhall 13 Gang Sweep
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is proud to announce the launch of our new LASD Facebook Español.
LASD Facebook Español Now Online
Autumn Gratitude, Santa Clarita Artists Association's new show will be open on Sept 28th and run to November 4th, with a free artists’ reception on Friday October 6th, 5 to 9 pm.
SCAA’s Newest Show, “Autumn Gratitude,” Opens
September is for seniors. Businesses around Santa Clarita are taking part in the following SCV Senior Center New Building Campaign events and asking the community to show support.
SCV Businesses Holding End-of-Month Events to Support New Senior Center
Kaiser Permanente Panorama City Medical Center will kick-off it’s no-cost flu shot clinics this Saturday, September 23, 2017 in the Atrium of Medical Offices 2 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Kaiser Permanente to Hold Flu Shot Clinics Saturday
Starting September 23, Santa Clarita residents can get a flu shot at no cost — no appointment needed.
Sept. 23: SCV Flu Shots
The College of the Canyons Athletics department is inviting all staff and students associated with a Santa Clarita Valley school district or campus to attend Saturday's Cougar football game free of charge.
Sept. 23: COC Football Game Free to SCV School District Staff, Students
There is a common insect that most people are not aware of because you never see it. It is mostly active underground. However, if you know what you are looking for, its traps are in many places and are very obvious.
You Won’t See Them | Commentary by Evelyne Vandersande
1974 - COC's new Cougar Stadium opens for first game of football season; Harbor beats COC, 26-21 [story]
A “fabulist” coming-of-age novel about a queer mixed-race boy in the bayous of Louisiana, written by California State University, Northridge English professor Martin Pousson, has won the 2017 PEN Center USA Fiction Award.
CSUN’s Martin Pousson Wins PEN’s Literary Award for Fiction
Public notification that the Santa Clarita Community College District (College of the Canyons) Early Childhood Education Center on the Valencia campus is participating in the USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program.
COC Valencia Participates in USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program
Public notification that the Santa Clarita Community College District (College of the Canyons) Early Childhood Education Centers are participating in the United States Department of Agriculture’s Child and Adult Care Food Program.
COC Canyon Country Participates in USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program
The Santa Clarita Valley Service Center has moved from its previous location in Newhall to a new location in the Santa Clarita Plaza, and will host a grand opening celebration Thursday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Sept. 21: SCV Service Center Grand Opening, Resource Fair
The Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Urban Search and Rescue Team, known internationally as USA-2, has been deployed to Mexico to assist with the aftermath of a 7.1 magnitude earthquake near Mexico City.
L.A. County Fire Sends Search and Rescue Team to Mexico
The city of Santa Clarita invites nonprofit organizations interested in learning more about the city's 2018 Community Services and Arts Grants Program to a meeting on Wednesday, September 27 at 12 p.m.
Sept. 27: Info Session for Nonprofits Seeking City Grants
The Santa Clarita Valley Economic Development Corporation has published an ebook free to entrepreneurs titled '10 Characteristics of a Successful Startup.'
SCVEDC’s 10 Characteristics of a Successful Startup
A Lebec woman charged with murder and kidnapping the children of her half-sister was sentenced 13 years in state prison on Tuesday.
Murder, Kidnapping Suspect Pleads Guilty, Gets 13-Year Sentence
Crime Prevention Unit deputies from the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station conducted probation searches in several locations Wednesday, and arrested two people for outstanding warrants.
SCV Deputies Arrest 2 in Neenach Probation Search