Matthew Tweardy first found his love for the spotlight in the fourth grade. The daunting prospect of constant rehearsal and the uncertainty of constant work didn't keep this thespian from going for the goal.
He won and accepted a scholarship to study acting at the University of Michigan, but during the first year of study, he dwelled on missed opportunities at the school of his dreams. As a result, he transferred to the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music (CCM), where the conservatory acting training introduced him to a world of tough love and criticism.
"I chose UofM because of scholarship, but I really had always wanted go to CCM. After a year at my second choice, I kept torturing myself about what CCM would have been like. So I decided to transfer, and was so happy I had. CCM was absolutely the right school for me," he says.
Thriving in the competitive environment, Mr. Tweardy graduated from the CCM, which provided him with the networking needed to work in theater. With a "name school," and the contacts and agent it provides, Mr. Tweardy fulfilled his dream and has many professional credits to his name. He originated the role of Robert Sherwood in the Off-Broadway production, "The Talk of the Town"; he also has performed in regional theater as Pilate ("Jesus Christ Superstar"), Jefferson ("1776") and in the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera production of "A Musical Christmas Carol."
What were some factors that made you want to act?
I had a grade school teacher who noticed something in me and encouraged me to start acting and competing in forensics. That was the fourth grade. I didn't know it at the time, but I needed that creative outlet. And before too long, I really fell in love with it.
How did you get started in theater?
After four years of junior high doing forensics and school plays, I went off to high school and auditioned for my first musical. It was "SMILE," a little-known Marvin Hamlisch show. I got a lead in the show and realized I'd just found what I wanted to do with my life.
What do you enjoy most about your career?
The flexibility, the traveling, always feeling creative and the constant change of pace and changing demands … it keeps me on my toes and "on top" of my game.
What are the biggest challenges?
The challenges are the rigors of auditioning, the overwhelming rejection, the lack of stability and the bitter sweetness of finally getting a great job, but knowing that when it ends, you're back to looking for the next gig.
What are some of your personal and/or professional goals for the future?
Originate a role on Broadway, get to the point in my career where I can really choose the work I do, get enough name recognition so that offers come in more frequently than I have to audition and, ultimately, to make a living that will provide with the lifestyle I want for myself and family (property ownership, children, etc.).
Tell us about your education in theater.
I started at the University of Michigan and then transferred to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, from where I graduated from three years later. In the city, I continue to study voice and acting as often as I can afford to.
How did you decide which school to attend?
I chose UofM because of scholarship, but I really had always wanted go to CCM. After a year at my second choice, I kept torturing myself about what CCM would have been like. So I decided to transfer, and was so happy I had. CCM was absolutely the right school for me.
What did you like and dislike about your education?
At UofM, I disliked that it wasn't conservatory training. I got that at CCM and loved it. CCM is a very competitive environment with a lot of harsh criticism from professors, but I really loved every minute of it. I thrived in that environment.
What are the best ways to land a job in theater?
Know the right people. The first opportunity to do this is with school. Only a "name" school will provide the contacts you need. Then an agent, which a good school will also enable. And then just hit the pavement and audition. But without contacts or some connection, it's incredibly difficult to find a good job.
How is the job market now? How do you think it will emerge over the next five years?
Right now it is struggling with the growing threat of nonunion productions. And it is also changing to keep up with the times and attract tomorrow's theater-goer. Musicals opening today are almost exclusively pop music and many are based on established pop singers (Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, etc). That also forces actors to try to keep up and be able to sing those styles of music.
What challenges will be addressed by the acting industry in the next five years?
Health insurance is really a nightmare right now, in every industry. But as actors, it's becoming harder and harder to secure coverage. Hopefully it'll get easier in the next five years. Also, nonunion work continues to threaten Equity actors and the jobs available. Producers save incredible amount of money by hiring nonunion, and with fewer productions and tours using Equity actors, that only intensifies the health insurance issue.
How can the reality of being an actor differ from typical expectations?
The reality often involves spending much more of your time working other professions — outside of acting — to pay your bills and make a living than you probably imagined.
Describe your ideal job and your nightmare job.
Ideal job is to create a role in a new work and be given the liberties to help shape the character, to work with a director who allows you to experiment and who listens to your ideas. A nightmare job would to be cast a replacement in a role and be forced to duplicate the work of the previous actor, to be given no flexibility or freedom to make it new or different (which happens more often than the "ideal" job).
What career advice can you give to future stage professionals?
If you can do anything else and be happy, do it.