Matthew McCray is from a small conservative mountain town in Colorado but you would never-ever-ever guess that. He sports stylish Oliver Peoples glasses, drives a Hybrid and is the creative force which unearthed the Son of Semele Ensemble. “When we started SOSE in 2000 we weren’t aware of many companies in LA making an adventurous style of theatre, though I now know they were out there.” McCray says. “I enjoy pushing against the norm. The idea of doing a play that could be done by any theatre company in town feels completely threatening to me. I’d much rather be called nuts.”
But no one is calling McCray nuts. In the last year, he has been offered a number of directing gigs outside Son of Semele including “Wish I Had A Sylvia Plath?” at Rogue Machine, “Death of Salesgirl” at the Bootleg and his own sci-fi multi-media infused piece, “Eternal Thou”, which is being re-mounted at South Coast Repertory this coming June. “I have done a lot of work within Son of Semele but there are five directors in our company and I really want people to know that,” McCray says. “I have been lucky enough to be able to stretch my muscles both inside and outside our company and that has been really rewarding.”
McCray’s schedule has been packed for the last couple years honing his directing skills and refining his artistic sensibility. “When I was in college I saw Robert Lapage do his thing in London and that was a defining moment in my artistic career. Here I am having created theatre in LA for twelve years and I feel like I am coming into my own now, hungry to attack anything.”
McCray’s originality is refreshing to LA because he is seemingly fearless vacillating between his more abstract multi-media pieces which he is known for and SOSE’s recent production of “Our Class”, a three-hour transformational Polish play, which has extended into May over Atwater Village Theatre. “I like all kinds of theatre, sure, even very conventional work. But when given the chance I am trying to advance the conversation to the next thing in whatever small way I can. Part of that is looking outside conventional forms.” McCray says.
McCray has established himself as one Los Angeles’ most innovative directors and these unique conversations in which he continues to start are looking more and more like the roots of a much bigger tree. “We all have come a long way together artistically building SOSE but it’s hard to “grow up” as a company in our current LA theatre environment.” McCray says. “Our community is supported largely by friends and family, and while that is very warm and kind, it means that a dud gets largely the same support as a show that is superb. Stellar work cannot fully rise to the top in that environment. In order for the work and our community to go deeper we need to stop asking for comps and discounts, and we need to produce work that is worth paying for. It should be worth paying for, right?”
Son of Semele’s growth is very much a success story in Los Angeles but in order to keep artists like McCray creating work in LA our audiences have to get used to paying for theatre. We all know this and have heard it a million times: Artists deserve to be paid for their work! But that can only happen if we vote with our dollars. I second Matt’s plea. We need to support the best work out there on a consistent basis… and I’ll just bet you if we keep steadfast on that plan that new audiences (and Angel donors!) will discover LA theatre and hopefully one day the artist can fill their bank accounts as well as their hearts (and their audiences’!) with great work.