Matt Schuurman

Matt Schuurman has been a dedicated fan of Edmonton’s improv scene since the late 90s, and began performing in 2001 as a high school competitor at Nosebowl (the precursor to the Wildfire Festival).

Since becoming a player in the RFT ensemble in 2007, he’s taken on an increasingly active role with RFT, serving on the board of directors from 2009-2015, teaching improv classes, and supplying hours (and hours) of his time as the company’s go-to guy for graphic design. Since 2009, Matt has trained 100s of young improvisers as the primary improv instructor for the teen improv classes at the Foote Theatre School at the Citadel Theatre. In September 2015 Matt became the current Artistic Director of Rapid Fire Theatre.

Matt also works as an animator, specializing in video design for live theatre. He has designed video for over 50 live theatre productions across Canada and received multiple award nominations for his work.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE:

Website: instructables.com. As a new homeowner, it’s great because there’s lot of do-it-yourself stuff. It’s mostly Ikea hacks, like take this Ikea coffee table, and turn it into a slightly different coffee table.
Restaurant: My own kitchen; I like to think that I’m a good cook, but my wife Megan’s cooking skills put mine to shame.
Favourite dish that Megan makes: Pork tenderloin
TV show: Anything I can binge-watch on Netflix.
Book: The Animator’s Survival Kit, by Richard Williams. Smokey, by Bill Peet.
Superhero: Lego Batman. Plain Batman is great, Lego is great, so therefore Lego Batman is great great. It’s simple math.
Music:Jack White, Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, Tom Waits, July Talk.

WHAT ARE YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES AS OUR NEW AD?

The short answer is: I herd the lolcats! The long answer is, the AD is responsible for the artistic resources of the company including:

  • education and artistic development of our performing ensemble and workshop participants
  • maintaining the artistic integrity, scheduling and programming of all of our productions including our weekly and monthly programming (Theatresports, Chimprov and Maestro), all four festivals (Prairie Bowl, Wildfire, Bonfire and Improvaganza), our event entertainment company and any special productions
  • a ton of admin stuff, which generally includes emailing people while sitting in my underwear at home

CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH THE TRANSITION PROCESS OF STEPPING INTO YOUR NEW ROLE AT RFT?

It’s been a smooth dream. Former AD Amy Shostak, General Manager Karen Brown-Fournell and our board of directors had the foresight to plan for a gradual transition period. In the spring, I started as the incoming AD and slowly started to take on more responsibilities within the company. It started with running our weekly programming, helping Amy with Improvaganza, and gradually taking on more and more of the admin side of things.

What has surprised you most about your new position?

Perhaps the biggest surprise has been the outpouring of support from people all around the world. RFT holds a special place in the hearts of so many, and so many people want to see it continue to thrive.

CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND AND WHAT YOU’RE BRINGING TO THE TABLE AS OUR NEW AD?

I’ve worn a lot of different hats in recent years. I’ve been an advertising executive for a firm that specializes in real estate. I’ve been an independent designer, working with most theatre companies in Edmonton. I’ve been an improv instructor with both Rapid Fire Theatre and the Foote Theatre School. I’ve been a senior performer in the RFT ensemble. I sat on the board of directors of RFT for the maximum allowable term of 6 consecutive years. I worked as a curator for Nextfest. I worked for the Arts Touring Alliance of Alberta as one of two full time staff coordinating Alberta’s largest performing arts networking event: Alberta Showcase.

To be honest, being the AD of RFT was something I had fantasized about, but never seriously considered. When Amy announced her resignation, I took a look at RFT: a cardinal component of Edmonton’s theatre industry, a company experiencing incredible growth in both audience and performers, a company in the process of building their own theatre, a company responsible for developing the finest improvisors, and I realized that the last 10 years of various jobs had all culminated into a skill set that would make me a strong caretaker for the next era in RFT’s life.

 

HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH RFT?

The same way as the vast majority of performers currently in the RFT ensemble: through the Nosebowl (or Wildfire Festival) as a high school student. Amy Shostak and I were on a team representing Eastglen High School. I was also a die-hard fan for years, I went to every single show of the season as a teen.

HOW HAVE YOU SEEN IT GROW SINCE YOU BEGAN?

Perhaps a good simile is that RFT is like comic books. Back in the day we played to a small niche of hard-core fans. We were performing four Theatresports shows per month, three Chimprov shows per month, always at 11 pm in the cozy, beloved, dilapidated Varscona Theatre. Our workshops took place in a dank weird office next to a fitness studio. Nowadays, we have a much broader audience – everybody knows who Ant-man is. We now have over 200 performances a year at the Citadel and we continue to grow.

CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT SOME OF THE MAJOR PROJECTS YOU’LL BE OVERSEEING DURING YOUR TENURE?

I’m excited to foster and help realize so many of the great ideas coming from within our company. Ben Gorodetsky has introduced a new Physical Improvisation class (a co-production with Mile Zero Dance) that we are launching this fall, and Joleen Ballendine and I are currently working on expanding our hit fringe show The Kidprovisors into a regularly occuring show for families (more on this soon).

Without a doubt, the most major of projects that I am working towards is the construction of our very own theatre. A venue of our own has been a goal of RFT for 15 years, and something I worked on a lot as a board member for RFT. We are so very close to making this a reality; RFT has partnered with Arts Habitat Edmonton, The Alberta Craft Council and Mile Zero Dance in an incredible project called the Artist Quarters, just a couple blocks east of where we are now. The Artist Quarters will be host to many different arts facilities complete with a residential tower for professional artists on top. A large part of this project will be a 250-seat improv theatre, complete with classrooms, offices and more that will all be owned and operated by Rapid Fire Theatre. You’ll be hearing much more about this in the coming years.

You also teach improv at the Foote Theatre School. How do you think your students might describe you?

“Dis is weally, really funny” – that’s a direct quote from one of my youngest students. I have just as much fun as they do. Improv is all about discovery, and kids live in a constant state of discovery. They make great improvisers, because they haven’t put up those walls we build as adults.

What is key to a good improv scene?

Hands down, having fun. Absolutely. If it’s not fun for us on stage, it’s probably not fun for the audience.