Of the many misfortunes suffered by performing arts organizations during the pandemic, the cancellation of shows was one of the most devastating. I speak from personal experience. As managing director of Magic Thread Cabaret, my producing partner and artistic director, Dustin Klein, and I had to make the heartbreaking decision to cancel the remainder of our 2020 season. Following our highly successful, season-opening production of “Les Chanteuses” at Fonseca Theatre Company‘s Basile Building in February, one of the shows canceled was “Devan Mathias: Finding Joy,” which was to have been presented October 16-18 at The Cat in Carmel.
With an eye toward fulfilling our mission of diversity and showcasing local talent, while devising our MTC season we brainstormed performers who were not only exceptionally talented, but were also well known to Central Indiana audience. My role as a reviewer provides me with an advantage when it comes to awareness of the local talent pool. One performer who immediately came to mind in our considerations was Devan Mathias, whom I had seen in shows at Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre, Indiana Repertory Theatre, Phoenix Theatre and Summit Performance Indianapolis. Thoroughly impressing us when she performed in an MTC fundraiser in 2018, she moved to the top of our list. Following auditions that drew some of Central Indiana’s finest singers, we selected Mathias, who we were thrilled to present in her cabaret debut, along with her husband Ethan, who was to be her music director, pianist, and special guest performer.
Evidence that Mathias is highly visible on the local theatre scene is reflected in her impressive bio. She is a 2010 graduate of Ball State University’s Department of Theatre and Dance, where she majored in musical theatre. In addition to the previously mentioned theatres, she has also performed at Actors Theatre of Indiana, EclecticPond Theatre Company, and with Zach & Zack Productions. Mathias is also a company member with Indy Shakes, (Indianapolis Shakespeare Company). Her day job is serving as a director for Hamilton Southeastern High School’s drama program, and she has worked with students at ATI, IRT and Indy Shakes as well.
One of the most difficult things Klein and I had to do was contact Mathias with the news and offer our profound regrets that her show was canceled. At the same time, we were pleased to tell her we want to reschedule the show to a later date once we know it’s safe and logistically possible. Like everyone else struggling with the unknown, we hope to present shows sometime in 2021.
Regular readers of my blog are aware that I have been writing profiles on artists who are willing to be vulnerable and share their feelings and reflections on how they are coping with the pandemic and its fallout. As I thought about the costs exacted on MTC, it occurred to me that Mathias would be yet another prime example of how COVID-19 has impacted the lives of artists. Last week, in a Zoom meeting with Mathias from her home in Fishers, which she shares with her husband Ethan, we caught up. Below is an edited transcript of our conversation along with some email communication.
Tell me about your background.
I grew up in Whitehouse, Ohio. I have the most supportive parents on the planet, who were all in favor of my pursuing theatre as a career, which I know is not always the case. I attended Ball State University, where I majored in musical theatre and I also picked up a French minor that I absolutely should not have. Do not ask me to speak French; I can’t do it. I don’t think I had any idea what I was in for when I entered the world of collegiate theatre, which actually turned out to be for the best. I learned a lot about who I am from a few of my professors, who introduced me to the idea that theatre could be so much more than just Disney musicals (which I still think are great, for the record).
What brought you to the Indy area?
Is it sappy to say that love brought me here? It’s true, though. I met my husband at Ball State and he began teaching here in Fishers. I lived in Chicago for almost two years while we were engaged, but when we got married, I moved here because the idea of not being in the same time zone for the first part of our marriage felt insane to me. Once I got here, I was shocked at the volume and caliber of great work happening in Indy. We are so lucky to have such a thriving community of generous, intuitive actors in Indianapolis. I wouldn’t trade being part of this arts community for anything. I don’t think you’ll find the same tight-knit, supportive group of artists anywhere else.
What projects of yours were canceled as a result of the coronavirus?
I’ve had several projects canceled since the pandemic, but I just keep reminding myself how magical it will feel to step into a rehearsal room once it’s safe and start creating again. That mantra has really kept me going. Two shows were canceled at the high school where I direct—one of which was canceled on our students’ opening night, which was so heartbreaking to share with them. I was cast in “Sense & Sensibility” at IRT as Fanny Dashwood, Charlotte Palmer, and Sophia Grey, which was scheduled to open in April and was canceled pretty quickly, and of course, we’ve postponed the cabaret, “Finding Joy” until we can safely gather in a theatre.
How did you feel when I notified you about your MTC show cancellation?
We were heartbroken. I know it was the right choice. It was something I expected might come. While planning the show, we would talk through things and come up with ideas. We were really excited about some of the things we wanted to implement. I knew in my heart that it was the right thing and of course, I felt very sad that I would not be collaborating with Ethan and collaborating with you and Dustin on something I think would really be fulfilling to work on and share with people. I also know that asking people to come to something right now is a lot. More than anything, I would feel awful if someone were to come to our cabaret and they were exposed and didn’t have health insurance or if someone were to get sick and lose their life. We knew it was the right thing to do. We both were feeling a sense of deep sadness, but also relief that we were going to help keep people safe.
When did you start acting?
I started acting in 2001, with my very first opening night just two days after the attacks on September 11. I was 13 years old, performing in the chorus of a community theatre production of “Peter Pan.”
Who are your greatest influences?
This is a challenging question! I think one of the things I am continuing to learn is that it’s way more fulfilling—artistically and personally—to listen to what your own heart is telling you. However, I will tell you I was influenced pretty strongly by a handful of powerhouse women during my time at Ball State. A few professors who taught me that it’s way more interesting to be myself than to try and be someone else’s idea of me, or to try to be like someone else. I think I’m still metabolizing and internalizing that message to this day. Jennifer Blacker, Karen Kessler, Jodi Cotton, and Fia Skye deserve all the medals, accolades, and honors for the way they lift up young women and instill in them the value of strength.
Who are your favorite actors?
Oh, gosh. I could go on forever listing some of my favorite local actors. I love everything Lauren Briggeman does whenever she’s on stage, and the same goes for Nathan Robbins. Working on stage with Tim Hunt is a dream. Tiffany Gilliam is grace personified. Carrie Schlatter is so present. Watching Ryan Artzberger work in a rehearsal room is a master class. Adam Tran is the most generous scene partner. Kelsey Miller is somehow able to expose her whole heart and be the most genuine, present human. And I want to be as brave, committed, hysterical, and heartfelt as John Vessels.
What were some of your favorite shows as a performer?
“Silent Sky,” Summit Performance’s first show, has to be toward the top of the list. Just a beautiful script, unbelievable cast, and fantastic director, and it was so easy to get swept away playing Carrie Schlatter’s sister. “J. Eyre,” written and directed by Paige Scott. The music in this show crawled into my heart and stayed there. The whole team was incredibly lovely, and from day one, we were all on the same page. I miss that show, and those characters, and playing Jane in the same way I miss real people.
How have you spent your time during the pandemic?
Ethan and I are staying home a lot. I would say that’s mostly what we do. I am actually grateful we have been able to spend so much time together. We have had such busy schedules. This goes for everybody. We got caught up. Part of coping up with the pandemic is us getting time to spend together. We go for a walk together every day for a couple of miles. I think that’s the time we really use to process what is going on. We talk through what has been going on with the pandemic and what we are feeling. We also talk about what has been going on with this big shift with the Black Lives Matter movement and how we can incorporate that in working with our students and how we can make school and the drama club we work with a more inclusive place for everybody. I would say a big thing has been spending time together and going for walks and processing things is a luxury.
I love cooking, but in normal life I don’t have as much time to do that. I have also returned to another love of mine, which is painting. I have been doing a little bit of that. It kind of started out of necessity. We were approaching Mother’s Day and for various reasons, we were really kind of locked down here. We are trying to stay as quarantined as possible. I didn’t want to go to a card shop. It was one of the last places I wanted to be, where people are picking up and touching cards. So, for both of our moms, I created watercolor cards and then again for Father’s Day. A dear friend of mine moved away and she loved her house here, so I painted her house for her. That has been the resurgence of something I love and really feeds me and it’s one way I am getting my artistic outlet.
Have you found a silver lining to the pandemic?
Oh gosh, for a lot of us, this is the most immediate sense of life or death we have felt in a long time. I have a dear friend, who lives in New York and is an actor and bartender there, who has lost six or seven friends who worked in the bar sector. So, a lot of us are not taking things for granted. For me, personally, I feel more comfortable advocating for what I need in this moment and what make me feel the safest. I think we have been able to pay attention, as a nation, to things we would have previously given a passing glance. I think about the momentum the Black Lives Matter movement has gained and the way it has affected my heart. In the past, I let something affect me and then I moved on with my busy life. The fact that we are home has given me the opportunity to be a lot more conscious about how I live my life and how I want to welcome everyone I encounter and what emotional energy I want to let into my personal space. I actually think this has made me more assertive before in a very healthy way.
What do you hope the new normal will be once the pandemic has passed?
I hope our new normal keeps some of the compassion and empathy we are discovering in these strange times. I hope hugging comes back. I hope the arts are a more inclusive place for people of all genders and races. I also hope we never lose the joy we will feel when we finally return to theatres, restaurants, wine nights with friends, and collective gatherings. I know I will never again take them for granted.
What is your message to your theatre colleagues?
Theatre has been around for nearly 3,000 years. We will be back! In the meantime, be gentle with one another. We are all making hard choices and balancing so much right now. Also, hire more women, queer people, and people of color to write, direct, produce, design, stage manage, and act in your plays. It’s time.
What is your message to my readers?
Please support theatres if you can. Please come back to the theatre when it is safe. Please ask to see more shows about women, queer people, and people of color. And please, please vote.
For information about Magic Thread Cabaret go to magicthreadcabaret.com.