Artists of the Year

Matt Sciple

Matt Sciple

By Leah Cooper

In the messy and maddening collaboration that is live theater, where ego is the raw material and audacity the most recognized credential, directors must play the auteur just to get any attention. So the theaters are filled with increasingly esoteric concepts smacked on top of perfectly good stories, as directors upstage and grandstand to be sure audiences, other artists, and critics know they did something. As a fan of text-based theater, driven by story and character, I want to applaud the under-recognized directors who just direct great shows.

As a playwright himself, Matt Sciple knows how to find a whole universe in the blueprint of a script. And as a damn fine actor himself, he directs great actors to inhabit that universe with living, breathing characters. He's been diligently bringing great stories to life on Twin Cities stages for over a decade now, and if you don't know his name it's because he's got his head buried too deep in good work to wave his arms around with quirky, flashy concepts.

The variety and quality of Sciple's work has always been admirable, but this last year the sheer quantity and back-to-back difficulty of the scripts he's tackled are staggering. He took on the controversial and gut-wrenching Pillowman at the Jon Hassler Theater, well ahead of the Guthrie's production. Then a barking-mad portrayal of Captain Ahab in Or the White Whale in Southern Theater's athletic adaptation of Moby Dick. Followed immediately by directing the most robust and moving version of King Lear I've ever seen, staged in a barebones theater with Starting Gate Productions' scrappy little budget.

Toss in a precise and compelling turn as a Jewish painter in Sight Unseen at the Sabes JCC, plus directing Born Yesterday at the Paul Bunyan Playhouse, You Can't Take It with You at Theatre L'Homme Dieu, Mercy of a Storm at the Jon Hassler Theater, and the musical 1940s Radio Hour at 8-Ball Theater, and that is a hell of a lot of great theater to come from a director just quietly directing.

Leah Cooper was executive director of the Minnesota Fringe Festival for five years. She is now a freelance director and nonprofit consultant, serving as interim producing director at Theatre de la Jeune Lune.

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