I haven’t been in a show for a long time. I haven’t even auditioned for anything in awhile. Most of the reason is because my life circumstances have made being in a show challenging. Another reason is that I don’t see myself as an actor anymore. My actor identity has gone away.
Now why would this be? Part of the reason is that I do much more behind the theatre scenes than on stage, which gives me a different kind of theatre identity. At the same time, my actor identity has diminished because I just don’t see myself playing a lot of the roles that are available.
I would encourage people to audition for everything, even things they don’t feel perfectly matched for. You never know—you may be exactly what the director was always looking for and didn’t even know it.
At the same time, I think the theatre scene has a representation problem. I am talking People of Color, various body sizes, people who identify as trans, and people with disabilities. I am a big guy. I don’t see a lot of men who look like me on stage. I’m dying to see an Audrey in Little Shop played by a plus-size Woman of Color—for some reason, we have pigeon-holed that role into a certain size and certain look. The fact that this keeps happening makes it challenging for people outside of those parameters to see themselves in available roles across Salt Lake.
I am thrilled, then, to be offering a piece during the Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival, produced by the WTC Black Box at the Gateway. The show, called MATCHSTICK THEORY, is a one-woman piece starring my high school friend Psarah Johnson. Psarah has been an educator and an activist for years, and I am so proud of her. Most importantly, she has an authentic voice that needs to be heard—and heard more often—in the theatre world.
You see, Psarah has lived all of her life with a disability. She lives with chronic pain and wants people to know what she lives with day in and day out. It’s what drives her passion for ensuring that she and other people with disabilities have access.
It is my hope that Psarah’s performance starts a trend—not only at the WTC Black Box but in all theaters throughout Utah. We need better representation. We need greater diversity not because it is the politically-correct thing to do but because our ranks are richer when these diverse voices share their perspectives, their experiences, their struggles, and their triumphs. I am looking forward to spending 30+ minutes with Psarah as she takes me on her journey.
Our schools are struggling to teach empathy. And empathy is exactly what’s needed right now. I have always heralded theatre as a space for building empathy. It’s s safe space where we can take time to see the world through another’s eyes. I hope that MATCHSTICK THEORY pushes everyone to live in the shoes of Psarah and people like Psarah. I hope it is one step of many where we are pushed beyond our limits of acceptability and comfort by seeing people that we wouldn’t necessarily expect to see on stage.
Tickets for MATCHSTICK THEORY, written by and starring Psarah Johnson, runs August 3-11 at the WTC Black Box.