I'm not sure when I may have first met Matt, but I got to know him when he directed me in David Stevens' The Sum of Us at NDSU in the early 90s... later to be adapted to a film starring Matt's favorite singer (not!), Russell Crowe. I believe that he was to have been graded on the production. It's been too many years now, I don't remember those details. Matt was just a few months younger than I. We were both 21 or 22 years old... I know this for sure because we were legal to hit the bars afterwards! If memory serves, the powers that be did not appreciate his production. I don't know if it was the subject matter (a young gay man's relationship with his father), because it was a very well-done production. I had done theatre in high school, and I later did community theatre into my 30's (I think my last show was Jesus Christ Superstar, Matt's first upon moving to Boston). In that time I worked with some good directors, but Matt was by far the best. I think I had some natural talent as an actor. Growing up, when watching movies and TV, I thought about how I might have delivered a line or played a scene better than the actor onscreen. I pretended I was acting; I pretended I was pretending to be someone else! But in the plays I had done in high school, I never had a director really sit down and talk about the character I was playing. Matt was the first director I had to do that, and we did it throughout the rehearsal schedule. The notes he would give after rehearsal were the most insightful, constructive of any director I've worked with. I could really see the show come together over the course of rehearsals. It never really plateaued, every rehearsal was a leap forward. I've never done theatre professionally, but Matt's production of The Sum of Us was the only professional-quality show I've been a part of.
I am missing Matt quite a lot lately so I thought I would write down some random memories of him. I wish these memories where more complete:
I remember singing a duet with him at NDSU. "You're Nothing Without Me" from City of Angels. He sang the writer's part in the song. I don't remember who played the piano for us. [sorry :( ] And I don't remember what the class was. *shrug* I do know it was fun singing it with him. I remember that. It was a blast.
I remember when I went to visit him in New York for a month. I slept on his futon. He got me a part in a play he was doing at the time.
[He always seemed to be doing that. He must have put me into 4 or 5 shows that I never even auditioned for. Someone always got sick or quit and Matt would say "Hey, Aaron would be perfect for this!" And I would always say yes because it meant I would get to spend time with Matt.]
Anyway, the part in the play in New York was essentially a non-speaking part where I stood around on stage a lot as a mortician looking somber. But I got to watch Matt in a fairly big role on stage and that was really fun to do. I always liked watching him act. So the review came out for the play and the reviewer had mostly negative things to say, as New York reviewers do, but he mentioned my performance and said that I had done everything a funeral director could do. I remember thinking it was sarcastic (based on the rest of the review) but Matt said that I had just received a positive review in New York in under a month and that could be turned into actors gold. The rest of the cast was actually kinda jealous about it. But Matt was as usual really positive and great about it.
I remember another time Matt got me a part in a show he was doing. This time in Fargo. “The Winters Tale” directed by Dr. Lifton and performed at the Plains Art Museum downtown. This part had two lines, I think, but once again I got to see Matt perform and spend time with him. What I remember about this show was how hard a time he had memorizing his lines. In fact, later in one of the last times I met with him I asked him why he stopped acting when he was so good at it and he said it was because he struggled so much with the memorization. It made sense I guess, but when he got the lines down, he sure was a great actor.
I guess thats all for now. I wish I could remember more details.
A long time ago, Matthew Burkholder was driving to dress rehearsal for a show that was supposed to open in a few days. He was pulled over by a cop, and after a lengthy, farcical game of where's your license and registration, Matthew was put in a holding cell, presumably until someone figured out he was missing and bailed him out.
While sitting in a holding cell, awaiting processing, Matt discovered that the acoustics in the room were good enough to buoy a Rodgers and Hammerstein repertoire, for what one would hope would've been a few hours. As apocryphal as some of the details may be, I still believe that the guards were happy Matthew was allowed to return home. As we all wish he could do now.
On Christmas Eve, I was sitting in Matt's hospital room with JJ Gordon, listening to the cast recording of the new Les Miserables film. "Stars", the first solo piece sung by Javert, began playing. Matthew, not one to allow such opaque audible tripe as the sound of Russel Crowe singing continue to climb the staircase, began singing OVER the Australian vomit. Seated. Strapped to a gurney. Disease constricting his genes. Immediately, I pictured a caged baby Matthew, sitting at the Cass County Courthouse or wherever the hell he was, demonstrating that it's not me who is locked up with you, but it is YOU who is locked up with me. And in the fashion of an actor trained in comedic timing, Matthew stopped on the perfect note and stated, "I have cancer, and I sing this part better than Russel Crowe."
If there was anything Matthew was acutely aware of, it was timing. His death, following a long and valiant struggle with the worst diseases known to man, still comes to me as an ugly shock. I've cried and yet I haven't. I've mourned… and yet I haven't. Matt knew those emotions would be a weight carried by those he loved most, and so he did the best thing he could do. He was Matt. He sat in a hospital bed with cancer and talked about the things he would do for the next few years, while most of us haven't planned past the upcoming weekend. He would look at you… and smile. He would drink you in like a first time alcoholic. He would welcome you, and feast to you, and have a story to tell about you before he even knew you.
I won't know what I really need to say about my friend until months after he is gone. It's not quite reality for me that all who have known him, from Fargo to Boston to New York to Alabama, are now living in a world where he no longer exists. Matt was caged inside his body ravaged by disease, but like a canary unaware of it's copper cage, he continued to sing.
He was a friend of mine. I loved him dearly. If you knew him, you loved him too. If you didn't know him… then you don't understand that you actually did.
I first met Matthew Burkholder my Junior or Senior year in High School when I attended a play that my cousin Toby was in. I don't recall if it was "Ten Little Indians" or "Confetti!", but I am sure it was both. I loved both shows. I loved theatre, and seeing theatre of that quality performed by high school kids (Gwen should be commended for the quality of her program). I was totally taken aback by Confetti. And by the improv, especially Aaron and Matthew. They were so good together. I was able to fall in with them, and then met them again when we were cast in "The House of Blue Leaves".
1991 was a glorious summer.