Finding Faith & Power in Theater
Matthew Brumlow committed his life to theater the way that some people commit to a life in ministry.
For Brumlow the two passions share similar hearts.
“I consider theater to be the best kind of church,” said Brumlow, a Master of Fine Arts candidate studying in the Department of Theatre Arts in the University of Idaho’s College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences.
Brumlow grew up in Conyers, Georgia, spending Sundays at his uncle’s evangelical church, a diverse and charismatic Southern congregation. Weekly services were sometimes rowdy, Brumlow said, with live bands, loud music and no fear of being too expressive or emotional.
“They would just let it out,” he said. “For me, it was normal.”
While pursuing an undergraduate degree in English at Lee University in Cleveland, Tennessee, Brumlow had the opportunity to study abroad at Cambridge University in England. It was there, while watching a performance of “Macbeth” by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford, that Brumlow said he experienced an epiphany.
“It was like the best church service that I can remember as a kid, but turned up to an 11,” he said. “That entire experience impacted me. I was frightened, exhilarated, mesmerized, and alive in a way that I hadn’t been before.
“At that moment, the driven actor was born in me. I wanted to tell stories with that confidence, vulnerability, power and precision.”
Brumlow earned a Master of Arts in theater with an emphasis in acting from Northwestern University. He then joined Chicago’s American Blues Theater. He became an equity actor after a national tour of “A “Streetcar Named Desire,” in which he played Stanley. An award-winning actor, Brumlow has played lead roles on Chicago stages and at top regional theaters across the country.
Brumlow said the stage and worship services of his youth have much in common.
“Community, love, the power of a good story told well — they can both be pretty affirming and life changing,” he said. “And with theater, truly anyone can enter the space without judgement.”
After two decades acting in Chicago, Brumlow felt the call to teach the craft of acting and try his hand at directing, as well.
“Acting is such a mysterious thing,” Brumlow said. “How do you really teach it?”
Brumlow met Matt Foss, assistant professor of theatre arts at UI, through Montana Shakespeare in the Parks. Foss encouraged him to check out UI’s MFA in directing.
His experience in Moscow has been rich and inspirational, Brumlow said.
“We have a group of highly motivated, talented young men and women,” he said. “The work that happens here at UI is pretty astounding — the students are learning how to do several things well. It’s good to know your particular passion, but it’s also important to have a variety of skills.”
This February, Brumlow is directing the early Shakespeare revenge classic, “Titus Andronicus,” as his final project.
It’s a daunting task and Brumlow said the play is avoided by many directors who perceive it as too clunky or just too brutal. Brumlow sees it differently.
“I find it incredibly relevant right now,” he said, comparing the violence in the script to wartime atrocities in Syria. “Anyone who says this play is grotesque hasn’t been paying attention.”
And, Brumlow isn’t afraid of a challenge.
“Shakespeare is the biggest swing,” he said. “I love it when roles and plays scare me or put up a rather blunt mirror. That tells me it’s worth doing. It feels like skydiving. Anything can happen.”