Theatre may be dark, but we are turning the spotlight on! NLT wants to celebrate theatre creators and change makers that we admire, that inspire us, and that we think are acting as a light in their community. Join us each month as we uplift the voices that are working to positively impact our industry and our fellow humans.
Matt Lacas is a producer, director and theatre artist based in Canada. While he's not local to our community, Matt is the co-founder and artistic director of We Are Here Productions, which was born around the same time as NLT with a very similar mission: We Are Here Productions turns art into tangible aid for those in need worldwide, and have used past productions to raise support for Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, for clean water and mental health initiatives, and for the Canadian Women's Foundation. We Are Here does tremendous work to raise awareness and support for charitable causes, and we are thrilled to spotlight and celebrate Matt's contributions to building better communities. In addition, Matt and his partner Rosie founded Isolation Cocktails, and Matt will be our master mixologist in next month's New Light Spirit Night fundraiser event!
NLT: When did you first get involved with theatre, and when did you know it was going to be something you devote your life to?
ML: I first got involved with theatre in elementary school, doing the school play. What strikes me is how intense the audition process was for those school shows! Did a 9 year old really have to prepare a contrasting monologue & song to get a part in Pocahontas? It was after that first theatre experience that I fell in love with all aspects of theatre and knew that I'd be doing it for the rest of my life.
NLT: You became a producer almost overnight when you launched We Are Here Productions. What have you learned about yourself since stepping into that role?
ML: Becoming a producer and creating work for myself, my peers and being able to support different charitable causes is definitely one of my proudest accomplishments to date. I’ve learnt that I often take on too much responsibility and have a hard time delegating. As an actor, you’re told that YOU are the instrument. YOU are the best thing that you can bring to the table. It’s caused me to want to accomplish everything on my own and as we know, theatre is a medium that NEEDS cooperation and teamwork. I’m still learning to let go of the reigns and allow people to help me when I need it.
NLT: You started Isolation Cocktails with your partner at the start of the Covid-19 lockdown. What do hosting a cocktail class and performing onstage have in common, and what do you bring of yourself to each occasion?
ML: When the Covid-19 pandemic hit Canada, it hit our service and entertainment industries first (and some would say the hardest). It left a gaping hole in my partner, Rosie Callaghan, and I’s life. Isolation Cocktails has allowed us, in a way, of filling that hole while we wait for our industries to pick back up. Isolation Cocktails has always been about getting people together for a drink and a story. Don’t know about you, but that sounds like going to the theatre to me! Rosie and I treat our cocktail classes like a show. We use our skills as actors/producers to raise the bar of our Zoom class to create something unique and different. I think our success can be credited to us bringing that performer enthusiasm and producer knowledge to the table. It also helps that we have a passion for telling stories and with cocktails having hundreds of interesting origins, that passion shines right through people’s monitors!
NLT: Is there a moment in your career you're particularly proud of?
ML: Starting We Are Here Productions will always be a highlight of my career, let alone my life. It’s allowed me to work with so many amazing performers that I’ve admired as well as allowed me to discover the joy of using my abilities in a philanthropic way.
NLT: The conversation about the theatre industry has changed radically over the course of the last year. What does it mean to you to be a theatre professional in 2021, given everything that’s been unearthed and discussed in the past year?
ML: Theatre has always been a mirror that reflects society and I think right now we need theatre to return in a big way. To be an artist of any discipline in 2021 is scary, exciting, nerve wracking and awe inspiring. I think that as we start getting audiences in seats again we’ll start to see the many varied conversations that society has been having over the past few years portrayed on our stages. Lots of these conversations are hard to have and make people extremely uncomfortable. That’s exactly why I believe theatre will be one of the best mediums to attack these conversations in a new and intriguing way. Opening up conversations is one of my favorite products of theatre.
NLT: What is your “dream project?”
ML: My dream project has always been “In The Heights”. Full Stop. Having produced it as our inaugural show for We Are Here Productions was a step in fulfilling that dream, but I’m chomping at the bit to get my hands on the project again. Who knows, maybe this time I’ll even be on stage for it!
NLT: We Are Here’s mission is “turning art into tangible aid for those in need worldwide.” Why did you choose that as your mission?
ML: In 2017, it seemed like there was a new catastrophe happening every week (that part hasn’t changed much) and I felt absolutely powerless. I thought that all I had to offer was my art. What good would that do for someone who didn’t have clean drinking water? Or had their home devastated by a hurricane? I realized that if I could convince people to come together under one flag and use our tools as artists to help those who truly needed it, we could do some pretty remarkable things.
NLT: Was there a moment or event that inspired the formation of We Are Here, and what causes are you looking forward to addressing in the future?
ML: A few things led to the creation of We Are Here. Of course there was that sense of powerlessness I was feeling at the time, but the moment of deciding to create the actual company and move forward with it happened at the closing party of what became our inaugural show; In The Heights. In The Heights to benefit Puerto Rico and those devastated by Hurricane Maria was supposed to be a one off. A way of helping out those who needed the help and a way to put up my favorite show. At the closing party, I was so happy with how everything had gone down and was thoroughly enjoying my night when a cast member came up to me and asked “So, what’s next?”. That’s when it clicked. We Are Here could continue to help those in need. As for other charitable causes we are hoping to benefit, there are so many to choose from. One charity we are looking forward to partnering with in the future would be the Kids Help Phone.
NLT: Is there a person, cause, or event in your life that you return to when you are in need for motivation to keep doing your work?
ML: I wouldn’t say there’s a single moment, but more of a collection of moments. Any time I need motivation to continue doing anything I’m working on, I try to remember a time when I was feeling lowest during a past project. I try and remember how it felt to work through that and come out successful on the other side. Creating something, anything isn’t easy. Knowing that I can struggle and still come out on the other side with something I’m proud of gives me that little extra push to keep going.
NLT: What is the last piece of writing you read that you had to share with a friend?
ML: I’ve been trying to read more and more Canadian works throughout the pandemic. I recently just finished Armstron’s War by Colleen Murphy and would highly recommend her works to anyone!
NLT: What was the last song or album you listened to that you had on repeat?
ML: AHAHA! I have TERRIBLE taste in music! Trust me, it’s better we skip this question.
NLT: What’s the last television show, movie, or recorded theatre piece you watched that deeply moved you?
ML: The last piece of theatre I got to see LIVE was the “Hamilton” tour that was here in Toronto in March 2020... My partner had the brilliant idea of switching our ticket from June to March when the rumour of a tour cancellation/shutdown was coming due to the growing pandemic. Everytime I think back to sitting in that theatre and watching that show makes me get all emotional. Knowing that I won’t have a true theatre experience like that again really affects me. I also watch some pretty trashy television! The stupidity of the contestants in the Circle moves me to scream often. Does that count?