In Part 1 of a series of interviews with the cast of Nunsense at Wolf Pack Theatre Company, meet Joanna Matthews.
Joel: Please introduce yourself and tell us where local theatregoers may have seen you perform on the stage.
Joanna: My name is Joanna Matthews and most recently I played Aladdin in the British Player’s production of Aladdin: A Traditional British Pantomime. I am also currently working with Baltimore Actors’ Theatre in their production of The American Phantom of the Opera at the Oregon Ridge Dinner Theatre.
Have you ever thought about becoming a nun? Is there a Sister/nun who helped you in your lifetime who you admire?
No, I can honestly say I’ve never thought about becoming a nun. I was raised in a Lutheran church and was never around nuns.
Who do you play in Nunsense and what do you admire the most about your character? Are there any personality traits that you both share?
I play Sister Leo and at first I was a little discouraged to receive the part of Leo because typically she’s a bit underplayed and shy. But we have changed her character from being innocent and mild mannered to big and over-the-top which I have a lot of fun with. In real life I am a bit of a big, loud, in your face personality and I like to be able to show that in my Leo character when she does her solo dance. Leo really isn’t afraid to look crazy and push the normal boundaries that the world she lives in has set for her and that is really my personality shining through the character. I don’t like to do what everyone else is doing and I feel like, while she fallows some of the other Sisters’ examples, she still marches to the beat of her own drum.
This will be the first performance of Nunsense that I have seen being performed in a church. How do you feel about performing this show in a church? Is there anything in the script that you feel may be a little ‘unholy’ that a real Reverend Mother may want to hit you over the knuckles with a ruler for? What will performing Nunsense on a ‘holy’ stage add to the audience’s experience?
Yes, there are some places where I think we are stepping over a few ‘lines’ that true nuns would not appreciate. The stripper inspired moves of Leo’s ballet, for one example, is not really something that I felt should be in a church. At first I thought I was going to actually strip a little, but when I saw my crazy tutu I couldn’t help but laugh. And yes, while some of the language is not church appropriate, and some of the material matter in the script is ‘hit you on the knuckles’ worthy, it’s still not so crude that it dishonors the holy space of the church. My mother always asks the question, “Would you feel comfortable doing this if Jesus was right here with you?” And for this production, I say yes, I would not be ashamed of my actions or the actions of my fellow cast members if Jesus was sitting in the audience in the flesh.
Dan Goggin has written ‘solos’ for each of you. Tell us about your big number and what we learn about your character as you perform them. What is your favorite line or lyric in your big number?
My solo is “Morning at the Convent” and it’s basically Sister Leo’s only moment to herself in the spotlight (which is my favorite part because I get to have the spotlight all to myself!). I’m not a ballerina in any way, shape, or form so I love the idea of being a bad ballerina but thinking I’m good. In the number, there’s a dance break where typically Sister Leo is supposed to do really pretty ballet, but we have changed it to stripper-like dancing. I use to model and I am a belly dancer so I have a lot of fun using the isle as my cat walk and getting to shimmy.
My favorite part of the song is when I get to switch from singing in my little innocent voice about waking up early over to belting out the lyrics and getting soulful with it! I feel like Sutton Foster on the Broadway stage in Shrek when she switches from pretty prince to bold and fun ogre. My favorite line in the song is, ‘Thank God we can’t speak to each other, I’m not in the mood to be cheery…” because off the stage, I’m a baker and I have to wake up at the ungodly hour of 3:30 am to be at work and I feel like that all the time- thank God there’s no one up to talk to ‘cause I’m not in the mood to talk to anyone.
What song that your fellow castmates sing moves you the most and makes you laugh the most?
I love Sister Robert Anne’s number “I Just Wanna be a Star” because that’s how I honestly feel. I don’t need to be a household name like Angelina Jolie and see my face on billboards driving down the street. If I could get up every morning and perform on a stage and get paid for it, I’d be set for life.
While living here in Maryland, one of my goals is to work with The Annapolis Shakespeare Company because when it comes to theater, Shakespeare is my first love. Musicals are new to me and while being on Broadway is also a dream of mine, having no one know my name but still being a star on stage would be amazing. So the lyrics for that song just scream JOANNA to me.
What are some of the themes of Nunsense and lessons that Nunsense has to share with the audience?
I feel that the biggest theme of Nunsense is working as a team. There are only 6 characters (7 including our pianist) which means that each character has to bring their ‘A Game’ since there isn’t an ensemble to make you dazzle. To pull off this show, like in every performance, the cast a crew really have to have good team work to pull the show off. The same is true for the nuns in the show. They have to work together to raise enough money to ‘inter the 52’ poisoned nuns (mon dieu!). While they get into tiffs, they still work together to make it a very entertaining show, even if it is complete nunsense!
What are some of the ‘Do’s and Dont’s’ that Director William Leary has told all of you and what are some of the best suggestions and directions that he has given you that has made your performance better?
The biggest direction we have been given is, “DO NOT HOLD BACK and GO OVERBOARD WITH IT!” Bill is really helping me to come out of my comfort zone when it comes to singing. While being overdramatic and load and crazy in my actions is something that I’m extremely comfortable with, singing on the other hand is somewhat of an insecurity for me. I never feel comfortable hitting the high notes, I feel like they don’t sound pretty when they come out of my mouth. But Bill is pushing me and helping me to find my confidence in my singing and encourages me to just go for it.
Why do you think Nunsense is still so popular after all these years?
Nunsense is still so popular because it’s just all-around fun. The actors have fun performing the show just as much fun as the audience has watching the performance. While tragedies such as The Phantom of the Opera are still very popular, no one can deny that there’s nothing better than just having a good laugh and that’s what Nunsense gives you-a good laugh. No matter what mood you’re in, when you watch Reverend Mother get high, you can’t help but laugh.
Another unique quality about the show is that it needs the audience to participate in order for the show to be a success. Most productions do not break that mysterious fourth wall of talking to the audience but if we didn’t, the show wouldn’t work. This makes it extra special for the audience because they get to feel like they’re acting right along with us (without the hard task of memorizing all the lines!).
Have you ever appeared in another performance of Nunsense?
No! Just like my character Sister Leo, ‘as a novice I’m brand new!’. But I’m having so much fun in this ‘habit-forming’ musical.
When was the first time you saw Nunsense performed? And if you did, which Sister was your favorite then?
I haven’t seen Nunsense performed, just a few clips on YouTube, but I love the character of Sister Robert Anne for her star-like personality. All she wants is a spotlight which is just like me. Originally I auditioned for the part of Robert Anne and even though I did not get cast for that part, I am bringing the spotlight loving diva into the role of Sister Leo which I think works for me just as well.
Which Sister in Nunsense is most like you and why?
As previously stated, Robert Anne is the character I’m most like. She’s funny and likes to have all eyes on her. That’s just how I am.
What new ‘habits’ as an actress have you developed while rehearsing and being part of this divine experience?
Other than the actual habit that I picked up to wear… I’d have to say I’ve gotten into a habit of standing like a ballerina. Even though in the show Leo is a bad ballerina, she still thinks she’s awesome at ballet. So when I am on stage, I stand like I’m a ballerina and I find myself doing that stance more often. Also I’m getting in the habit of singing higher then I’m used to. That habit will hopefully help me ‘advance in my career.’
What do you want audiences to take with them after seeing you singing and dancing and having a great time performing in Nunsense?
I really want the audience to take with them great memories of the show. When they see something that reminds them of the show I want them to say “Remember when we saw Nunsense and…” Another thing I want them to remember is that while we are having so much fun with this show, it is a production that benefits Breast Cancer awareness. Wolf Pack Theatre Company is more than just a community theater. They do great work with giving back to the community by putting on shows to raise money for different charities. This was the number one reason that I wanted to perform with this company in the first place. Bill really has a heart and dedication for the company and the good that the shows give back to the community and it really is contagious. I hope that everyone who comes out to see Nunsense enjoys themselves and leaves knowing that their money didn’t just go to putting on a performance but went to something that will actually help someone else out.
Nunsense opens April 10, 2015 and plays through April 19, 2015 at St. John Lutheran Church – 5820 Riverdale Road, in Riverdale, MD. For tickets, call (240) 271-5471, or purchase them online, or at the door.
Meet the Cast of ‘Nunsense’ at Wolf Pack Theatre Company: Part 1: Joanna Matthews.
Meet the Cast of ‘Nunsense’ at Wolf Pack Theatre Company: Part 2: Melanie Pino-Elliott.
Meet the Cast of ‘Nunsense’ at Wolf Pack Theatre Company: Part 3: Linda Whiting.
Meet the Cast of ‘Nunsense’ at Wolf Pack Theatre Company: Part 4: Brigid K. Lally.
Meet the Cast of ‘Nunsense’ at Wolf Pack Theatre Company: Part 5: Jamie Crowne.
Meet the Cast of ‘Nunsense’ at Wolf Pack Theatre Company: Part 6: Francine Kent.