By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“I am not from here originally,” confessed theatrical director Mathew Wright. “I’m not sure how long it takes to officially be considered a Seattlelite, but I certainly feel like one. I moved here in July 2011, so it’s been almost eight years.”
Wright is the director for the new musical “The Last World Octopus Wrestling Champion,” premiering at West Seattle’s ArtsWest Theatre.
He grew up in New Jersey. He cycled as a child through painting, drawing, writing, and playing music, before finally settling on theater for a vocation, at age 10.
“I auditioned for ‘Hello, Dolly!’ at my middle school, and realized I had found my people,” he recalled. “I haven’t looked back since.”
He got an undergrad degree from Rutgers, followed with a graduate school degree from Temple University in Philadelphia, studying theoretical, practical, and emotional approaches to the stage. After a stint at Seattle’s 5th Avenue Theatre, he took over the Artistic Director post at ArtsWest in 2014.
For ArtsWest, he’s directed such disparate projects as “Ghosts,” “Death of a Salesman,” and “Frozen,” and recently “Office Hour,” a harrowing piece based on the 2007 killings at Virginia Tech. “Last Octopus World Wrestling Champion,” though, gave him a chance to work with someone he’s admired for as long as he’s been in town: Local playwright (and occasional actor) Justin Huertas, a graduate of ArtsWest’s Education Program.
“Justin and I are very good friends and staunch admirers of each other’s work,” said Wright. “[ArtsWest] commissioned the piece, which began as an untitled idea articulated in one paragraph, and has since grown into a beautiful and extraordinary piece of theater.”
“Last World Octopus Wrestling Champion” takes place in a Filipino community. It’s a coming of age story about an 18-year-old girl and her mother.
The mom has secrets from her past that she’s long kept hidden in order to protect her child. But in the course of the play, those secrets begin to assert themselves in her daughter’s life, resulting in extraordinary transformation and, ultimately, the past must be reckoned with.
“It sounds serious, which it is,” Wright stressed. “But it’s also beautiful, universal, poetic, and because it’s written by Justin Huertas, full of sophisticated (and unsophisticated) humor and irony.”
The cast consists of local actors Corinna Lapid Munter, Rachel Guyer-Mafune, Christian Quinto, Tyler Rogers, and Porscha Shaw. Each actor, according to Wright, steps into a role custom-created by Huertas, who admires each one of them and came up with the idea to bring them together.
Wright has directed musicals before, but this, he says, marks the first world premiere musical in ArtsWest’s history.
“A musical has a lot of moving pieces with wildly different demands that all have to be coordinated and conspire to tell one single streamlined story,” he said of the production. “It takes a lot of humans and extremely open communication and collaboration.”
Asked about future projects for ArtsWest, Wright mentioned the theatre’s still putting together its 2019/2020 season, but he’s not yet at liberty to reveal the specifics.
“We are blessed in this town with myriad incredible theater artists who identify culturally as Asian or derivations thereof, many of whom have found a home at ArtsWest,” he summed up. “We try to provide folks of all backgrounds the opportunity to make art that matters to them on specific, personal, and universal levels.”
“The Last World Octopus Wrestling Champion” plays June 19–July 28 at ArtsWest in West Seattle. For prices, showtimes, and other information, visit artswest.org.
Andrew can be reached at email@example.com.