Tag Archives: Matt Van Gessel

Matt Van Gessel’s Mysterious “Willy Wonka”

Lots of people like “Willy Wonka.”

Matt Van Gessel loves “Willy Wonka.”

The 2011 Staples grad — now a rising sophomore at North Carolina School of the Arts — has vast experience playing not-quite-normal characters. (Remember the dentist in “Little Shop of Horrors”?)

This weekend he gets his shot at another. Matt stars as Willy Wonka in Staples Players’ summer production of the same name. The show runs Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m., in the high school auditorium.

Matt Van Gessel (Willy Wonka) and Maddy Rozynek (Violet Beauregarde). (Photo/Kerry Long)

Matt knows a lot about the 1971 movie “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” He says that Gene Wilder — Willy — saw it as a movie for adults, not kids.

Wilder “seems whimsical and crazy, but viewed from an adult perspective, we see the creepy resentment he has toward kids,” Matt says. “Every time I watch his performance, I find something new and unusual.”

Matt says that Willy feels “very pleased with himself when each kids gets his comeuppance — like when they turn into blueberries and shrink. Justice has been done. It’s a twisted way of teaching kids lessons.”

Matt adds, “Willy Wonka is an instantly recognizable cultural character, like King Kong. Everyone knows who Willy is, but I’m approaching it with an open mind. I’m not copying Gene Wilder. I’m just using him for inspiration, so I can arrive at my own interpretation.”

Matt has also seen the 2005 movie version, with Johnny Depp.

Using those two actors as inspiration, Matt says, “I think I can bring the arc of a real character.” His Willy is “a bit more accessible as a real human being. He has depth, and soul.”

Matt draws upon the lives of “real life eccentrics,” like Salvador Dali, Howard Hughes and Michael Jackson.

Johnny Shea (Grandpa Joe) and Will Haskell (Charlie) in the “Fizzy Lifting Room.” (Photo/Kerry Long)

Directors David Roth and Kerry Long have enjoyed working with a large ensemble. The show features popular songs like “Candy Man” and “Pure Imagination.” It’s got every trademark of a Staples Players production, including spectacular costumes.

Matt is excited about all that. But — as a self-described Willy Wonka “obsessive” — he always comes back to his character.

“I’ve put a large amount of thought into Willy’s objectives, and ulterior motives,” the lead actor explains.

“Some of those ideas I haven’t told to anyone, including Mr. Roth. I like being able to keep Willy Wonka’s secrets. It adds an air of mystery to everything.”

(Click here for ticket information on “Willy Wonka.”)

This Is Not A Broadway Trailer. It’s Better.

Still on the fence about seeing “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” Staples Players’ current Black Box Theater production?

This trailer will push you over that fence, and send you hustling for tickets.

The video gives a great flavor for the show — but it does not include Matt Van Gessel (double-cast as Stanley).  That’s because the talented senior actor also shot and produced the trailer.

Kids these days…

(“Brighton Beach Memoirs” will be performed tomorrow [Sunday, March 6] at 2 p.m., and this coming Thursday, Friday and Saturday [March 10, 11 and 12] at 7: p.m.  Click here to order tickets.)

Doing “The Dumb Waiter”

Back in the day, kids looking for something to do would say, “Let’s put on a show!”

They’d make up a few lines, rummage around for props, and a few hours later they’d stage a play.  Out in the barn.

Here’s the 2010 version.

Recent Staples graduate Adam Bangser and current Staples Player Matt Van Gessel decided to create a piece of theater that’s their own — a 2-man show.

Adam’s uncle Tom Shaner — a former Player, and Tisch School graduate — suggested “The Dumb Waiter.”  Harold Pinter’s play — a dark comedy about two hit men who receive strange messages while waiting in a basement to kill someone — is “short, quick and fantastic,” Adam says.

They booked Toquet Hall, for this weekend (Friday and Saturday, August 13-14; doors open at 7:30 p.m.).

They bought plywood at Home Depot.  With help from a carpenter working on Matt’s house, they build a dumbwaiter.

They painted the set, and procured props.

Matt designed posters; he and Adam put them up around town.

The pair did everything themselves (though the dumbwaiter is operated by Max Samuels, a fellow Player just back from the Yale Summer Drama program).

“This really is our own little 2-man production, with as few outside influences as possible,” Adam says.

Last month, Adam appeared in Players’ spectacular production of “Rent.”  “The Dumb Waiter” is as different from “Rent” as possible.

But it’s all in a summer’s work for today’s theatrical teens.

Facebook Characters

After Staples Players director David Roth casts a show, he makes sure his actors understand their characters.  Last fall, for example, everyone in “Guys and Dolls” wrote biographies, describing their character’s parents, hometown, childhood, economic status and other “personal” details.

Sounds like info you’d find on Facebook? Adam Mirkine thought the same thing.

Adam Mirkine (right) directs Max Samuels. (Photo by Kerry Long)

Adam is just a 9th grader, but this spring he’s co-assistant director of “Book of Days.”  The production — which opens next week — is a challenging look at the clash between theater and religion.  “Getting each person to actually be his character is key,” Adam says.

To help the process along, Adam asked each actor to create a Facebook account for his character — including information like marital status, interests and favorites.

Now anyone on Facebook can find — and friend — people like “Boyd Middleton,” “Ruth Hoch” and “Walt Bates.”

“The script has nothing about their favorite quotations, books, music, movies and TV shows,” Adam says.  “But they know their characters so well, they fill in what they like.”

"Boyd Middleton"'s Facebook photo.

Some actors did even more.  Matt Van Gessel plays director Boyd Middleton, so he took a professional-type picture for his profile.  Jake Yarmoff’s photo of Conroy Atkins — a small-town sheriff — sports a cowboy hat.

“Sheriff Atkins” is particularly good at updating his status.  The other day he wrote:  “Conroy Atkins is alerting the residents of his hometown about the presence of a sex offender in the community.”

The fun project has helped bring the cast together, Adam says.

There’s only 1 problem:  Staples’ internet filter blocks Facebook access.  So any “Book of Days” cast member wishing to add a friend, change a relationship status or post a photo must do it at home.

(“The Book of Days” will be performed in the Staples Black Box Theater on May 13, 14 and 15 at 7:30 p.m., and May 16 at 3 p.m.  Tickets are available at www.StaplesPlayers.com, or at the door 30 minutes before curtain.  For more information, call 203-341-1310.)