Matt Kraft once dreamed of being a screenwriter, but when he caught the acting bug, there was no turning back. He’ll get his next opportunity to practice his craft when he appears in Catalyst Repertory‘s “Bat in the Wind,” a play by Casey Ross, in the IndyFringe Theatre Festival later this month. A two hander, Kraft’s co-star is well known character actor Dave Pelsue.
I first met Kraft when we rehearsed and appeared together in the critically acclaimed “A Streetcar Named Desire,” a co-production of Catalyst Repertory Theatre and Magic Thread Cabaret, held at the IndyFringe Basile Theatre in March. Kraft played Steve Hubbell, and I was Pablo Gonzales, card playing cronies of Stanley Kowalski’s. Consequently, he and I came to know each other well during the drama’s poker game scenes every night and backstage throughout the show’s successful three-weekend run. “Streetcar” was directed by the previously mentioned Ross, who is also artistic director and co-founder of Catalyst Repertory.
Based in Indianapolis, Kraft has also appeared in a variety of productions in the area including “Pride and Prejudice” (Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre), “A Few Good Men” (Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre) “The 39 Steps” (Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre), and “The Christmas Spirit” (Mud Creek Players). Kraft is a 2009 graduate of Carmel High School and was in the 2013 class of Purdue University.
Recently, I reached out to Kraft via a Zoom call to discuss his background and his upcoming stint in “Bat in the Wind.” Careful not to provide any spoilers, Kraft wouldn’t even explain the show’s curious title. “The play is about a struggling playwright, Taylor, whose power goes out, and he’s forced to go to the other side of his duplex and ask for help from his crazy neighbor, Randy. Drama ensues from there. Talking to Randy is not something my character wants to do,” said Kraft.
When asked about Ross’s work as a playwright Kraft stated, “I love Casey and like her writing because she has a voice that is unique to her. I can hear her sense of humor in the characters. Her wit is sharp. It’s not like she is writing about herself, but she’s taking little pieces of her own experience, things that she loves or things that are painful, and spinning them into this mix of characters and ideas that come alive in the play. She has written characters that have given Dave and me complicated and fun hoops to drop through.”
And what is it like working with Pelsue? “I think Dave is the kind of guy that just likes to jump in, which is fun. He is good at improvising and changing things on the fly, switch blocking and just rolling with whatever feels right. He’s a fun person to do scenes with. I have never worked with him before. I only knew of him because of his work with Casey but never got a chance to work with him until now,” stated Kraft.
As far as the show’s director and a regular collaborator of Ross’s, Zach Stonerock, Kraft said, “Working with Zach is great because he’s such a great actor himself. Having him as a director is awesome because he knows what it’s like to think of a scene from an acting perspective. He is really focused on getting the details. For example, in a rehearsal we had last week, in the stage directions my character walks over and takes a drink. Zach is not someone who is going to skip over that and say, ‘Sure, whatever, just go take a drink.’ He wants you to understand what your motivation is to take that drink. It is fun for me to have somebody who is in tune with the acting details of each moment during a scene.”
To hear his perspective regarding working with Kraft, I reached out to Stonerock. I asked him for his assessment of Kraft as an actor to which he replied, “Matt is such an intelligent actor who brings a lot of creativity and humor to the roles he plays. He’s so easy to work with because he comes prepared and puts in a lot of hard work. He brings fresh ideas and listens to the ideas of his collaborators. He’s bringing a lot of himself to the role he’s playing in ‘Bat in the Wind,’ which means that his character is full and alive and funny and relatable.”
Kraft’s passion for acting resulted from his previously mentioned interest in movies when he studied at Purdue University as a film major in a program that included theatre courses. Between his sophomore and junior years, he landed an internship in LA at the production offices of shows such as CBS’s “CSI New York” and “CSI LA.” Later he moved to LA, where he studied acting at a school called The Acting Corps, a two-year program where he received training in Meisner and Stanislavski techniques and theory. He also took a few courses at the Groundlings Theater and did improv comedy classes and training, which he found helpful as well.
“Do I want to stay in LA forever, or do I want to be closer to family?” Kraft asked himself prior to returning to Indy where he said there were more opportunities to do theatre and use the acting skills he had learned. “Opportunities here have been awesome, and the Indy theatre community is filled with so many great people. I am happy now and seeing where it goes,” he proclaimed.
And what are his thoughts about the mindset that the only good work is being done in larger markets? “That just doesn’t make any sense if you think about it. There is good theatre in New York and bad theatre in New York. Conversely, there is good and bad in the Midwest. There are talented people everywhere. If I were in one of those big cities, I might just be sitting in my apartment not working and feeling like time is passing by, and I am not being creative. Here, there is less competition and more opportunities,” he said, adding, “What really matters? Do I want fame or to do the work? I just love the work and the people who love it as much as I do. I am happy being in the local Indy scene, working with people who are friends, and not trying to get famous off it. And doing it for the love of it, which I think is something more than worthwhile.”
Concluding my conversation with Kraft, I asked him to impart a message regarding what audiences can expect upon seeing “Bat in the Wind.” “You will not leave disappointed. It’s basically two people in a room, like two animals in a cage together, and they can’t stay in there for long. Somebody is going to have to do something to get out or do whatever needs to be done to survive,” he said.
“Bat in the Wind,” by Casey Ross, plays at IndyFringe Basile Theatre, Venue 1 on Thursday, 8/17 at 9 p.m., Saturday, 8/19 at 5:15 p.m., Friday, 8/26 at 9 p.m., Sunday, 8/27 at 7 p.m., Saturday, 9/2 at 8:45 p.m., and Sunday, 9/3 at 3 p.m. For tickets visit indyfringe.org.