Matt Crabtree won a 2012-13 Best Understudy Performance Scenie (click here for my review) for his star turn as David/Crumpet in The Blank Theatre’s The SantaLand Diaries, roles he’s now reprising in his very own production of David Sedaris’s hilarious one-actor-show. Following my 2012 interview with Matt, I was delighted to catch up with the talented L.A. stage star about his latest (and quite possibly most exciting) project to date.
Hi Matt. I can imagine how thrilled you must be about returning to the true story of David Sedaris’s humiliating but hilarious-in-retrospect stint as Christmas Elf Crumpet at New York City Macy’s “SantaLand.” What makes you love The SantaLand Diaries so much?
I love this play because of the journey David goes on. It has a heart at its cynical and irreverent core and I love to discover it every night.
This is the third time you’ve played David (and assorted supporting roles) in Hollywood but the first time you get to be the bona fide star, having understudied Paolo Andino in two successive Blank Theatre productions, been given your own “dedicated understudy performances” to sold-out houses, and won a Best Understudy Performance Scenie to boot. What were those understudy gigs like for you?
I loved standing by for the show. Daniel Henning, the Artistic Director of the Blank, was amazing. When he decided to hire an understudy for the show, I jumped at the chance to learn the role.
What was it like for you to step on the stage that very first time back in 2011 without the benefit of weeks of rehearsal?
It was an intense adrenaline rush. You stand backstage waiting to go on. You step out. The lights come on and you open your mouth with the first few words then enjoy the ride.
Matt outside his dressing room at the Disney Concert Hall
How did you go about prepping for your evenings in the spotlight, and more specifically, how did you go about making the role(s) your own?
It’s great because every actor is different. Every actor gets to interpret the same show in their own way. My interpretation was a little more sly and a little more bitter and sarcastic. So I loved diving into that.
SantaLand didn’t return to the Blank last holiday season. Was that part of your inspiration to mount your own production?
Yes, it didn’t return last year which is why I went off to Florida to do a production in Ft. Lauderdale. More recently, I asked Michael Matthews, the previous director of the show at the Blank, if he thought they were going to do it this year. He didn’t think so, so I contacted Daniel and he said they were taking a few years off. I asked if he would mind if I tried to get the rights and put it up myself and he said yes. I wanted to get his blessing. I have a long history with the Blank and love them and wanted to make my intentions known.
You used Kickstarter to fund SantaLand 2014. How important was the relatively recent phenomenon known as crowdfunding in your decision to mount the production?
I wanted to do this show so I had money set aside. But I needed help and Kickstarter seemed a great way to go. Plus they always say, never put your own money into your projects. I had some success with crowd funding Failing Upwards The Series and wanted to see how Kickstarter compared. I must say I like it better. It was great to see many $1-$5 contributions from people who just want to be a part of the project.
That must make you feel great!
Yes, in the end, seeing how many friends, family and strangers loved me or the show enough to contribute … It makes your heart full to realize you have so many supportive people in your life. It was very humbling and encouraging.
This time round, you’ve got a new director (your friend and webseries costar Deidra Edwards) guiding your performance. How different can we expect this David/Crumpet/et al to be from the cast of characters we’ve seen you portray in years past?
Completely different. We’re approaching the storytelling from a different perspective. Deidra is amazing and knows how to find the truest meaning of a piece and she has helped uncover some lovely moments and I am trusting her completely.
What about the production’s design elements?
Our scenic designer, David Mauer, is a complete genius and has crafted such a Christmas jewel of a set. Amanda Mauer, our lighting and sound designer, helps to compliment Deidra’s vision. And it couldn’t be done without my co-producer, Brenda Davidson.
As a Hollywood working actor, you’ve amassed quite a number of TV guest spots, most recently on Masters Of Sex and Modern Family? Given the stiff competition, how tough is it for today’s Hollywood actor to book a guest spot, particularly as compared to ten or so years ago?
It is not easy at all, I had a couple dry years and it can be discouraging. But this last year was pretty amazing and I look forward to what this next year holds. We all have our ups and downs and you have to take the good with the bad and continue to make or produce your own projects.
Matt with Eric Stonestreet on Modern Family
What’s been your favorite guest spot so far, and why?
Modern Family has been my favorite of the past few years. Just to be on that set was a dream. Casting Director Jeff Greenberg and his associate Allen Hooper are responsible for getting me in that room and I could not be more grateful.
Matt with Michelle C. Bonilla, Deidre Edwards, and Pip Lilly in Falling Upwards
You and your SantaLand Diaries director costarred in Falling Upwards, the webseries you co-created with Michelle C. Bonilla. How did the webseries come about?
The idea of the story came about with Michelle and I wanting to work together and we sat in my living room and hashed out the idea. Then we thought about who we’d want to work with and brought Deidra and Pip Lilly on to help tell that story. We wanted to tell stories and play characters we don’t always get a chance to play.
Matt and Kevin Held in Dr. Anonymous
Unlike a lot of Hollywood working actors, who prefer to stick entirely to commercials and film and TV roles, you perform regularly on our 99-seat theater stages.
I do want to pay my bills, but I am an actor and we cannot not act. I like to balance out my life and work. I love the creative experience that L.A. theater gives me. It is so fulfilling and I get a chance to work with other theater artists in town. That is the biggest reward. We have some of the best actors in the world here. I cannot imagine my life without theater.
Why not just stick to what pays the bills, as I’m guessing all those other actors opt to do?
I don’t understand some actors who want to sit idly by and only wait to do TV and film. That is their choice, but sometimes guest spots or co-stars on TV don’t always creatively satisfy an actor, financially, yes … but creatively …
One last question. What’s been your all-time most memorable experience as an actor so far in your career, and why?
Honestly, it’s all exciting and every time I step on that stage there is a part of it that I remember. But … being on that stage for the first time I went on in SantaLand at the Blank. That was a moment and experience I will never forget. The joy and love that radiated from that audience was the icing on my acting cake … And of course talking about an iguana with Annika Marks in a reading we did together is by far a close hysterical second.
Thanks so much Matt! I’m excited to get to see you as David/Crumpet for the third time, and get to write about your performance for the very first time!
I can’t wait too!
Matt recently won two Golden Fists (Best Actor and Best Parody as Producer) at the 2014 TOSCAR Awards for his portrayal of Joaquin Phoenix as Ted in Terminate Her (a parody of her).
Stage: the Homosexuals, The Book of Liz, Epic Proportions, Mommie Queerest, How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying and a few World Premieres including Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as Bashful at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, Who Lives?, Frank Zappa’s Rock Opera Joe’s Garage, and The Boarding House.
TV: Modern Family, Dads, Monday Mornings, Bones, N.C.I.S., Grey’s Anatomy, and had a blast recurring on Will & Grace.
Film: Jamesy Boy (with Mary-Louise Parker), Daddy, The 41-Year Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall and Felt Superbad About It.
Matt co-created and starred in Failing Upwards and has three upcoming web series he helped produce: Firsts, Mentor, and Adam Astra Casting with Doris Roberts.