Matthew Cameron Clark 

Matthew Cameron Clark never planned to be an actor. But after being cast in a small role in college, the Boise native found his calling. He returned to his home city more than 10 years ago and founded his own company, Boise Contemporary Theater. Now at the decade mark, the company has recently been able to purchase its home at the Fulton Street Theater, and is gearing up for its 2007-2008 season, running Oct. 10 through May 3.

Clark took a break from getting ready for a fund-raising gala to talk to BW about theater in Boise.

What made you want to start your own company? It's not easy.

No, it's not, but it's very rewarding. I was an actor and wanted to also be a director. I had been living in Seattle, but had worked for the Idaho Shakespeare Festival for summers as an actor and wanted to create an opportunity for myself and some of the talented people I knew to work on contemporary theater, which wasn't being done necessarily consistently in Boise.

How did you get into theater?

Apart from a small role in the Scottish play [MacBeth] as a sixth grader, I didn't really get involved until I was in college in Walla Walla, Wash., at a place called Whitman College. My degree is actually in English literature, but I got involved in the theater about my junior year.

What was the first role you auditioned for?

I don't even remember what it was, something about elves in the woods. And they needed tall people, so they said, "Let's get that guy to audition." And I was so excited they had picked me out of the crowd of students to come and audition for this part. And I auditioned, and I didn't get the part. But shortly thereafter, two classmates who were in the theater department cast me in two short plays that were part of a student-written one-act competition. I learned how to go to rehearsals and learn lines and started hanging around the theater, where you can learn so much just by watching. I got hooked pretty quickly.

What is it about live theater that sucks you in?

It's the same quality of theater that makes it the artistic discipline that most interests me. It's an inherently collaborative art form. You can't create theater completely by yourself. I like sharing a project with other people. When you have a group of people working for the same goal and an intense period of time and a very obvious deadline, that means public presentation of what you've been working on, it bonds people together, and you end up making some great friends. And it's a very satisfying feeling when you work that hard on something and put it out there to be experienced, and people enjoy it.

How has the theater scene in Boise changed in the last 10 years?

There are people moving into Boise from places where there's more theater, and they seek it out. Between the Shakespeare Festival and BCT, there are a growing number of professional theater artists working in Boise, and many end up calling Boise home, at least for a good part of the year. I think it's getting more and more support as the community grows, and from my perspective just looking at BCT, I'm very excited about the new possibilities that come with the stability of surviving this long.

What does it mean to actually own the theater?

It's huge. The feeling of permanence is half of it. It's felt like home since we moved in, but there's a new level of permanence that's really satisfying and allows you to dream a little bigger for the future. And financially, it's a huge accomplishment, because it means that we don't have a mortgage to pay every month. We have a building that costs money to own and operate, but it's a very different model.

Where did you perform when you started?

The first BCT performance was in the Neurolux, and we did a show at the Flying M so that people under 21 could come.

What is it about contemporary theater that has drawn your attention?

The newness of it. That sounds trite, but new ideas are exciting to me and seeing something on stage that I've never seen before. Now, not to say that that doesn't happen with Shakespeare, because I think it often does, and it's sometimes what's greatest about some of the work that the Shakespeare Festival does, is a new way of interpreting an old work. But there's an extra level of excitement for me when the words are completely knew as well. The characters are new. You enter this world knowing nothing about where you're headed, and you discover characters and issues and ideas that resonate with your life.

How do you select a season? Are you worried about it being cohesive?

For me, the struggle is less about trying to create coherence and more about creating diversity of stories. I have happily had to expand my taste in theater in this job over the years to make sure the stories I'm presenting aren't just representing the same kinds of characters and the same kinds of ideas.

You have a world premiere this season.

That's very exciting. Maria Dahvana Headley, who's an Idaho native, she's from Marsing and someone I've known for a very long time, did one of the first BCT plays from 1998, was a world premiere of her play Drive Me, that she wrote when she was 20. Ten years later, BCT has commissioned a new play called Last of the Breed, that will premiere this spring. We did a reading of it last May, just one night as part of our five-by-five series, and I've never heard a theater audience laugh that much. It's a special kind of funny.

What do you see for the future of BCT?

More world premieres, more shows overall. I'd love to expand the season overall, to a five- and then maybe six-show season. Some exciting new names joining us, whether that's designers or actors or directors or playwrights. As Boise grows, our audience grows, and being able to introduce our version of contemporary theater to new people is really a thrill to me. I love seeing new faces in the audience. To know that we're in a good place right now, a stable place, to plan for the future and know that there are going to be a lot of new people coming through the front door to see what we do is really a thrill.

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