Anyone attending an area live performance will recognize the tall, dark-haired, charismatic Matthew Sorensen.
Matt opens up on how he found his sense of place. At only 27 years old, Matt continues to learn new skills as an active part of the Tri-Lakes thriving theatre community. A graduate of Saranac Lake High School, Matt moved to the area for his junior year of high school.
"It was tough moving," he said. "It was a pivotal time to leave and go to a new school. It was beautiful here, but I had my friends all set and had to start again. By the end of my junior year, I had found my niche in the theatre department."
Matt Sorensen finds his place in the Tri-Lakes theatre community.
(Photo — Diane Chase)
He also started attending shows at Pendragon Theatre in Saranac Lake. He reminisces how the first show he saw was "A Doll's House" in 1998.
"That was my first glimpse that there was this great place that is doing what I love and it's right here in town," Matt said. "The reason that I am here today is because of the impact Pendragon had on me.
"We lived in Queensbury before moving here. I pretty much grew up in Queensbury. We moved there when I was six. I was born in Troy, moved briefly to Pennsylvania, Queensbury, then here. My dad was an engineer for the paper industry; we moved to where the work was."
Upon graduation, he did a brief stint at North Country Community College before continuing on to SUNY Potsdam, later receiving a bachelor's degree in theatre.
"Community college is a nice, cheap alternative if you don't know where you want to go," Matt said. "North Country students have guaranteed acceptance to either Potsdam or Plattsburgh, which is really helpful. All the credits you take at North Country transfer. It's a really nice program the three institutions have worked out together."
"I got the basic classes out of the way so I could delve into what I really wanted to do, which was theatre, when I got to Potsdam. I started working at Pendragon right after graduating from high school. The first show I was in was 'The Miracle Worker' in the fall of 2000. I played this doctor who had just three lines."
This wasn't his first experience with acting. Starting in sixth grade, he acted in many of his school's plays. During the summers, he was part of Youtheatre, a Lake George music theatre workshop for students 11 to 18, which produces three musicals in a four-week time span each summer. The workshop covers all areas of musical theatre including vocal, dance, lighting, sound, set design, acting and stage direction.
In Matt's words, that is when the acting bug bit.
Matt doesn't just act, though that is his first love. He is a self-proclaimed jack-of-all-trades. He developed an early passion for the theatre and maneuvered through any obstacle to make it work.
"Sometimes it can take doing many things (acting, directing, costuming and design) all year long to make it work, but it's worth it," he said. "When I was in college, I took a lot of theatre and costume classes. As a student, I even worked in the costume shop. By senior year, I was running it.
"Two years after I graduated, I was asked to come back for a year. The school was looking for someone with a master's degree, so I filled in part-time as the shop manager. Two days a week, I costumed all the shows; dance, drama and the Crane School of Music's operas. The rest of the time I was a full-time company member of Pendragon Theatre. That year, I did a design for a dance concert in the fall and a huge design for the main stage theatre production in the spring, which was 'Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.'
"I then taught the lab portion of the production design class where students learned to do scene painting, sewing and building. I also assisted student designs with five other full-fledged theatre shows. I was also in charge of the construction for the opera in the fall and the spring. I had to oversee the students sewing and also do the sewing myself.
"I haven't done any teaching since. I enjoyed it. Ultimately, I would like to get my master's degree and teach at a college somewhere. My theatre degree was general with a minor in acting. That is what I love to do, act. I am not a fully trained costumer. I picked up a lot of what I know from Kent, a Pendragon Theatre designer and company member. I would work for him in the summer. I learned a lot from him, whether it shows or not," he shrugged in a self-deprecating manner.
Matt admits that getting into costuming was a matter of survival in the competitive theatre world. He chose to learn all aspects of the business because it allowed him to continue to have a career that he is passionate about.
After his year run was complete, Matt felt it was time to experience other locations. He interviewed and received a position at the Downstairs Cabaret Theatre in Rochester.
Matt gives a brief overview of the workings of a small professional theatre like Pendragon. He draws distinctions between his work at the prestigious Geva Theatre and the Downstairs Cabaret Theatre, both located in Rochester. The Geva has a yearly production budget in the millions, where individual tasks have full-time staff members, while at the Downstairs Cabaret Theatre he had access to very few resources.
"At Pendragon we don't have millions of dollars yet," he smiled. "We rely on the creative process of 12 or so people and what they can do and how they can come together. Theatre is a huge collaborative effort. There is only so much one person can do and there is only so much one person can be aware of. There is always all sorts of creative problem solving that go into each production.
"I was used to working hard at Pendragon," Matt admitted. "At Downstairs Cabaret, I was the stage manager and had to cover for one of the actors. For one job, I even custom built four plaid tuxedo jackets. I did the costumes, the props, stage managed and acted. Then I?ended up doing all the costumes for every other show that was in rep there. I would go in at 11 in the morning and leave at midnight every single day.
"I came to realize the difference in the theatres. I completed what I started and finished up through the last run of shows and even acted in the last show," he shakes his head. "That was rough. I was acting and then had to do all the costume mending and staging. There wasn't much relief. At the end of the run, I got a call from Mavis Miller at the Lake Placid Center for the Arts, asking if I wanted a job as the box office manager. I immediately accepted and I have been there ever since. I packed my bags and never looked back," he laughed.
Matt mentions how accommodating his employers are with his extra-curricular theatre schedule. He credits LPCA with being flexible with his rehearsals and productions.
"They seem to like what I do, and I hope I bring something to them," Matt said. "They have been very supportive. I basically do anything that needs to be done from mailings to hanging a gallery show. There are a variety of creative things going on.
"I have done 35 shows with Pendragon," Matt proudly stated. " If you include all the jobs, light board operator, costumes, construction, stuff like that. Many of them were acting, some were directing, other jobs were costume design."
Next to his passion for the theatre, Matt loves to sing. He's sang at friends' weddings, and last year, he sang "Moon River" for the Lake Placid School of Ballet's recital. This past holiday, he even made his ballet debut as Uncle Drosselmeir in the North Country Ballet Ensemble's "The Nutcracker."
Matt acknowledges that the Tri-Lakes community is lucky to have so many different theatrical entities "There is a different standard and completion that people will associate with Pendragon because it is a professional theatre," he said. "If you're in community theatre and you've done your job well, there shouldn't be a lot of difference in the final package. "Community Theatre Players is all run by volunteers, so if you schedule a rehearsal and someone has to work, that takes precedent. Pendragon Theatre has a core group of people that work together throughout the year, so there is continuity. People know when they see a Pendragon production that every detail has been thought out for over a year, planned and run through because it is their job. "Community shows are individual events. It is hard to make that distinction in a small town when there is some overlap of the players."
He speaks from experience when he says that if you want to be in theatre, you just have to do it. Theatre is a hands-on experience.
"I love that doing theatre is always different," he said. "The audience plays a big part in the interaction. If you don't have an audience, you don't have a show. You don't have to always physically interact, it matters that they are listening. I love the instant gratification or when someone reacts while I'm doing a bit and it works. We've made a connection. It's electrifying. I am physically addicted to performing."
Most recently, he was the stage manager for "The Smell of the Kill" at LPCA, and will be flexing his acting chops in "The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)," opening Feb. 13 at LPCA. Matt describes the "Complete Works" as a humorous romp into the works of The Bard.
There will be no rest for Matt. He is already plugging his next directorial effort as he takes on Community Theatre Player's spring musical, "The Sound of Music" in May.