I am a big fan of the musical Nevermore and composer Matt Conner. Matt will be directing Nevermore at Creative Cauldron in ArtSphere Falls Church from October 7-30th. I asked Matt to take us on the journey of writing the show, having his first production at Signature Theatre and then at Kensington Arts Theatre, and other performances around the country.
How has the show changed? How will the new production at Creative Cauldron be different than Signature’s and Kensington Arts Theatre’s productions? And what’s next for the show?
Joel: What is Nevermore about?
Matt: Nevermore is about the acceptance of self in the face of death. The show opens as Edgar Allan Poe has ‘collapsed’ (as he did in Baltimore). We then take a ride along with him and five other women as his life flashes before his eyes.
Where did you and Grace Barnes meet and how did you come up with the idea of Nevermore?
Grace Barnes had been a produced writer at Signature with Zander’s Boat and she was actually recommended by the director Eric Schaeffer.
How long did it take you to write Nevermore?
It took me about 4 years to complete Nevermore from it’s very first thought until the actual production.
What kind of research did you do when you were writing it?
Actually, I read and watched everything I could. I visited the Poe House in Baltimore, which has recently lost it’s funding, which makes me very sad and I wish I could have this show run in Baltimore with some of the proceeds going to the Poe House. Hint! Hint!
Where did you workshop Nevermore and how long did you workshop it?
We workshopped the show at Signature Theatre. It actually was workshopped twice. Once with a reading “in the room” for just the writers and then a reading with a public invite.
Take us on the journey how Nevermore was produced at Signature Theatre.
Oh my goodness! I had purchased a book of Poe’s work at Borders for something around $5.00. Also being an actor, I wanted to find something in the book to possibly use at auditions that would be a little ‘off the beaten path’. I took the book home and sat it on my piano and night after night would toy around with some of the poems along with my roommate Ryan Dean Halbrook, and started setting the poems to melodies. Over a period of time I had about 10-12 songs set to music. A little while later, my home was damaged by a fire and we were forced to move. I moved into Eric Schaeffer’s home and he caught me playing the piano one night. We chatted about what I was doing and he was interested enough that he wanted me to share some more of my music and thoughts.
One evening I presented him with all the songs and ideas I had for the show and then received a call from Signature Theatre informing me that they were going to commission my show. Since I wasn’t a part of the composition world, I didn’t even know what that meant. I’ll never forget Eric saying to me, “Matt, when we called to tell you about the commission, you didn’t even sound excited.” And I replied, “I didn’t know what a commission meant!” We then had two workshops and the show was actually slotted to close the old space. Then with the new space not opening quite on time, it did not. We opened January 10, 2006, which by coincidence is my birthday.
What do you remember about that opening night at Signature?
I’m not sure I remember much, it was very overwhelming experience to see something that seemed so private become suddenly public. I do remember not being able to see the show from the audience, because it was completely sold out. I watched the show almost every night from the follow spot platform. I also remember closing night, climbing up to the platform and Eric was sitting there with 2 glasses and a bottle of champagne.
Now that you have had 5 years to reflect on the Signature production, what did you like best and least about it?
I loved the world that Eric Schaeffer placed the show in. It was gorgeous and haunting. I can’t think of one thing I would change in that production.
Kensington Arts Theatre produced the show a year later in a production that I adored and you did too. Tell us what was different than the Signature production, and why you liked it?
I liked the Kensington Arts production because it proved to me that the show was able to be produced without all the bells and whistles that we had at Signature.
Now you get a chance to direct the show at Creative Cauldron. Why did you want to direct the show?
Directing the show was not my initial intention. I was actually approached. I jumped at the opportunity not because of my wanting to put my personal stamp on it, but rather my love for the piece.
What have you learned from the other two local productions and other productions around the country that has influenced the way you are directing the show at Creative Cauldron?
What I am learning is that Nevermore is a show that can morph into any space, any budget and any style. It is timeless, it is big, it is small, it is whatever you may want it to be.
You and Stephen Gregory Smith have been involved with Creative Cauldron’s ArtSpace in Falls Church, since it opened its door in 2009. Tell us about your roles there.
We are both teaching artists there. We are involved in their Arts Adventure Summer Camps, we have performed there as actors, I actually teach piano there on Mondays and Tuesdays, and I can be seen hosting an “Open Mic” night almost monthly.
Stephen and I are currently writing a children’s show called Eddie Allan Poe which will open there on November 4th. Also, Creative Cauldron had commissioned my piece, Martin: The King of Pizza in 2009, with book by Ryan Dean Halbrook and A.K. Brink.
What is the performing space like and what have been some of the challenges you have been facing while rehearsing in the space? How have you resolved these challenges?
The space is very “magical”. There’s something so honest and truthful about it. The challenges in putting up this show have not been anything out of the norm of putting up any other production.
Tell us about the musicians who will be in the production. Who is the Musical Director?
I don’t know many of the musicians, but am honored that a past Shenandoah University Alumni and friend will be our violinist. His name is Jason Mickee Labrador. Our music director is Amy Martin Massey and she is a past collaborator of mine who actually worked with me on Martin: The King of Pizza, which was produced there at Creative Cauldron in 2009.
Introduce us to your cast and the roles they play. Have you worked with them before and what skills do they bring with them that make them so perfect to play these roles?
Sean Thompson is Edgar Allan Poe.
He and I met in Signature’s production of Sunset Blvd. Sean is a fantastic Edgar because he is charismatic and also has a sensual magnetism about him that matches Poe’s words and life.
Priscilla Cuellar is Mother.
Priscilla and I met during a production of Assassins at Signature Theatre directed by Joe Calarco. We became instant friends and have worked on many projects together and have a wonderful connection in both being capricorns. Priscilla is a wonderful Mother because Priscilla has a wonderful heart, can give a friend some really tough love and is a Diva! Priscilla IS Mother. P.S. Poe’s Mother, in history, died at an early age which is why I wanted to go the younger route.
Katie Culligan is Virginia.
Katie and I have met on many “open mic” nights there at the Cauldron and she has also been seen on the Cauldron’s stage before. Katie embodies Virginia in a way that gives Virginia the innocence of her youth, yet also the “knowing” quality of a young girl on the verge of womanhood
Karissa Lynn Swanigan-Upchurch is Elmira.
Karissa and I met during a production of High Fidelity that Stephen was part of here in Washington. She also played Elmira in the Kensington Arts Production, and was “Barbra” in a reading of Night of the Living Dead, a piece that I wrote with Stephen Gregory Smith. Elmira has the longest journey from Edgar’s youth to the latter years of his life and Karissa has the uncanny ability to portray both polar opposite ends of the spectrum.
Mary Payne Omohundro is Muddy.
I first met Mary at the West End Dinner Theatre where she was playing the lead in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. I remember her standout performance as well as the guy playing Frankincense. She recently moved back to the area from Florida and I called her in for Muddy. Mary is brilliant in the role of Muddy because she is a mother and she is down to earth, she has an incredible voice as well as incredible wisdom that I needed to be brought to life in this role.
Dani Danger Stoller is The Whore.
Dani and I met several years ago when she was still a student at Ithaca. I love what Dani brings to this role because this role has to embrace so much: Poe’s love, his conscious, his friend, his enemy. Dani is fearless at jumping off of theatrical cliffs.
What changes have you made in this production?
For this production I have put back a song that was cut in previews at Signature. That song is called “The Bells”.
Nevermore is becoming a popular show to produce. Why do you think so?
I believe because of it’s literary and historical appeal. It is also a small cast and orchestra which makes it a little more affordable than bigger shows. I think that there is also a timelessness to the show that will never go out of style or feel outdated.
Outside of the DC area, where has the show played, and which production have you enjoyed the most, and why? What production has surprised you and why?
The only other productions I have seen other than Signature was at Kensington Arts Center. The show has played West Virginia (Poe was long time DC favorite Michael Sharp), two productions in Michigan (one where Poe was reprised by Mr. Dan Cooney, who was the original), Massachusetts, Victoria in Canada, and Pennsylvania. The one production that surprised me a little was a production that was staged in the round. I would have liked to have seen that.
Where does the show open this year?
Besides the Creative Cauldron production, the show will be in the United Kingdom this October, British Columbia, Canada and Zanesville, Ohio this Novermber, and then in St. Louis, MO next March.
What do you want audiences to take with them when they leave Nevermore at Creative Cauldron?
I would like audiences to take home with them maybe a conversation about the poet, or a conversation about passion, perhaps a question about life or maybe even a reflection on their own “poems” that they themselves are leaving behind, much like Poe.
Nevermore plays from October 7th to 30th, at Creative Cauldron ArtSpace falls Church – 410 S. Maple Avenue, in Falls Church, VA. For tickets, buy them online.Tickets for Nevermore can be reserved online at or by calling 571-239-5288.
Listen to some music from Nevermore.