Studio Visit appears in Sunday editions of The News-Gazette. Here, a visit with Mikel Matthews Jr., an actor, director, stand-up comedian and teacher.
Q: I'm fascinated by your show tattoos. How many do you have?
A: I have four tattoos, but only two are specific for shows. One that's kind of for a show is really in commemoration of my first year as a teacher at Waukegan High School.
Q: Which show did you memorialize?
A: "Rent." (Matthews directed the rock musical this past summer at the Station Theatre in Urbana.)
Q: You teach drama now at Rantoul Township High School, right?
A: Yes, English and drama. This is my seventh or eighth year.
Q: When and how did you first get into theater?
A: I had a girlfriend who got me involved in theater when I was 15, at Mahomet-Seymour High School. From that point, I kind of remained in it, even though we broke up. Suddenly, it's me, five guys and 30 of the hottest girls in school.
Q: What do you enjoy most about theater?
A: At first, I really enjoyed the social aspects of theater and the performances. It wasn't until a couple of years later that the creative aspect came on full tilt for me. I learned how to create a role. When we did "Dracula" at Parkland College, that was when I realized how creating a role and a show together with others could be kind of amazing.
Q: Did you attend Parkland?
A: I did a basic theater major at Parkland. Then at Illinois State University, I did an English major, which was a little more salable as far as jobs, and a theater minor.
Q: Has most of your theater work been here at the Station?
A: Yes. I did "The Producers" at the Champaign Urbana Theatre Company, but most of the acting and directing I've done has been at the Station.
Q: Are you the go-to guy for rock musicals?
A: As far as directing, I've become the musicals person. I enjoy them, but I've done plays, too. I enjoy a little darkness in the theater I do.
Q: How's "Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson" (emo rock musical that Matthews directed at the Station; its run ended Saturday) going?
A: Good. We had to put it together in an absurdly short amount of time. We got really gifted with the actors. The evolution of it has been really fun to watch.
Q: What will you do next?
A: Possibly a film from a script that I wrote and a Zach Braff play that I really want to do this summer.
Q: What is your screenplay about?
A: It's about the advent of the age of reason. All of the celestial beings have come to Earth. An angel is sent to live with Coyote, the trickster totem, which leads to the angel's decision to fall from grace. But it's much funnier than that makes it sound.
Q: Have you ever made movies before?
A: I put together a film a few years ago that I wrote. The end result was not that fantastic, as far as the script and what I knew about filmmaking. And I helped with some stuff that Carnivale Debauche (a C-U burlesque and vaudeville troupe) put together.
Q: Don't you do improv and stand-up comedy, too?
A: Yes, both. I was part of the PIGs (Parkland Improv Group). When I went to ISU, I actually founded the Improv Mafia, which is still going. They won a national award a couple of years ago.
Q: Where do you do stand-up?
A: Memphis on Main as well as the Clark Bar, and some other places, when my theater schedule allows. I tend toward longer-form stories. The first time I did a six-minute story for standup, I was terrified. Rich Castle (improv artist in Bloomington-Normal) told me, "You have to do the one routine that scares you," and I was terrified, and I had never been terrified of performing before.
Q: How did it go over?
A: Really well. Actually, it was one of the best responses I've got as a stand-up.