We had the good fortune of connecting with Matthew Scott and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Matthew, what role has risk played in your life or career?
As a puppeteer, taking physical risks is practically part of the job description. Most people never regard the strain that is put on ones body when holding a puppet overhead, or the exertion on ones back when performing marionettes over a bridge. Sometimes we have to hold our bodies in awkward positions, in dangerous situations, on rickety structures, for extended periods of time! But what really comes to mind when asked about risks, is social media, and how we can be regarded erroneously. Puppets are built as performers and are meant to be as actors. However, due to the environment, technologically and politically speaking, art is constantly being put under a microscope. As an example, 4 years ago I went on tour with a burlesque female POC performer and activist. After a month on the road, and enamoured with her stage presence, I asked if I might build a puppet that embodies the same exuberance and confidence. When I built the puppet, a heavy-set black woman, I posted her still un-costumed image on social media (captioned as such to say I was beginning costuming). Within hours, I was in tears as attacks came rolling in. I received thousands of comments and messages, including death threats and boycotts, because I as a white man, had created a black puppet to tell stories that weren’t mine to tell. Some of these claims were absolutely ludicrous, some were incredibly valid. However, no chance for me to speak for my own art was ever allowed. It took me a year to recuperate and return to my art and this puppet, after a lot of self reflection, and interaction with people who I felt this character spoke on behalf. I eventually put her into rotation with my cast, because in my own opinion, representation matters. Taking risks, for me, includes telling stories and showcasing characters that can spread cultural appreciation, as long as it is something that I believe in and can produce with respect and admiration for my sources.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I was so fortunate to have apprenticed under local puppeteer legend, Bob Baker for almost 20 years before his passing. Among my long term peers in puppetry, I joke that my biggest advantage was getting to unlearn all that training. Over 15 years I’ve traveled across the country, and through Europe, meeting other Puppeteers and sharing our techniques and materials. There is no wrong way to execute what we do, but there are more traditional, tried and true methods, cheaper, lighter, and less toxic materials available these days, and a hundred ways to pull off a trick puppet, all depending on the artist. The more I’ve immersed myself in our puppet world, the more expansive it becomes. Puppeteers and their disciplines can range from marionettes, to hand and rod, shadow, toy theater, stop motion, body puppets, and so, so much more! It’s been exciting to meet so many people, and our common goal is always the same, to animate the inanimate, to give soul to object, and to ignite the imagination of our audience. It’s a thrilling and inspiring thing to sit among a group of creative people, and share our experiences and methods. Now that we all find ourselves facing a shutdown of our industry due to limited gatherings, it’s been challenging and equally exciting to see how everyone has adapted. From live online shows, to stage-to-film adaptations, the world of puppetry has become much more accessible to anyone who is interested.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
Let’s pretend there isn’t a pandemic, and hopefully these spots will still be around in a post pandemic world, but here goes: 9 years ago I moved out of the LA/Echo Park/Silverlake area after 22 years, and down to Long Beach. If I had known how fabulous it was here, I’d have done it sooner! Some of my favorite activities include kayaking through the Naples canals, and around the marina, where you can actually see hundreds of Moon Jellyfish in the summer, hiking through the El Dorado Nature preserve, running my dog along the surf at Rosie’s Dog Beach, and biking along the river, beach, and wetlands. The downtown area is home to several galleries, including my favorite Dark Arts Emporium featuring local artists specializing in macabre, subversive, and twisted themes in multimedia disciplines, from hand drawn artwork to sculpture and taxidermy. Shoreline Village is a fun place to stroll, ride a vintage carousel, day drink, and enjoy hand churned ice cream, best in a sandwich with house made varieties of cookies, baked all day! Long Beach is home to the largest Cambodian community in California, so the abundance of incredible Thai and Vietnamese food is one of my favorite assets. Plus I love to peruse the Asian produce markets and discover exotic fruits and endless jars of crispy, spicy, chunky, funky chili condiments! And no trip to Long Beach would be complete without exploring the world famous, and totally haunted, Queen Mary!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I want to shout a huge thank you to: Keith Shubert and Pandora Gastelum, fellow puppeteers and producers who have taken chances to put me on their stages, and to encourage me to proceed when I lack motivation. Burdetta Jackson, actor, activist, and artist for her sheer grit, confidence, and unwavering determination to charge head first into life’s challenges, Chad Whiting, my partner and husband, who never questions my vision, but only asks how to help make it come to light, and of course… Mom