This summer is the fourth VoxFest, a week of free presentations of new theatrical works written and/or directed by Dartmouth alumni, and heavily involving students in the Theater Department’s course “New Plays in Development.” In an office he’s using on Shakespeare Alley, we sat down with Matt Cohn ’08, who, with Kate Mulley ’05 and Thom Pasculli ’05, founded VoxFest. The New York City-based Cohn’s experience includes New York and regional theater, independent film and TV, voice-overs, commercials and industrial films. VoxFest presentations take place Thursday and Friday, July 7 & 8, in the Warner Bentley Theater.
How was VoxFest born?
I first met Thom and Kate my freshman winter. Thom was directing and starring in The Fantasticks and Kate was the assistant director, and I was also in the cast. After Dartmouth, Kate went off to graduate school in London and Thom went off to Double Edge [a Western Mass.-based theater company] and lived and worked with them for three years. After Kate came back to New York, we reconnected and become friends. We were at the Dartmouth holiday party in 2010, and the suggestion was made that we found a theater company because we have this wide network of Dartmouth friends who can put on theater—directors, writers, actors, designers. We have people with whom we share a certain vocabulary by virtue of the fact that we all went to the same school. It was silly that there wasn’t an alumni group. We held some play readings at Kate’s apartment. Then her parents moved up here because her parents took jobs with the college, and that gave us a place to stay near campus. We asked the Theater Department if we could use the Bentley theater to workshop a play for a week, and they said, ‘Sure!’ We asked Thom to direct the reading, and it was a massive success. We did this several more terms and then came up with the idea of bringing a number of projects together in a week-long festival, in the summer of 2012, Dartmouth’s Year of the Arts. Again, it was a huge success, and we’ve done it every summer since. We all started at the same spot and got this same basic education and then went out to learn these different things. We had this opportunity to bring everyone home and involve current undergraduates and develop relationships. This year we have VoxFest alumni participants who previously participated as undergraduates, so we’ve come full circle.
What’s your earliest theater memory?
This story has been told by my parents so many times that I’m not sure if it’s my memory or one my parents have developed for me. When I was somewhere between 4 and 6, I went to my first Broadway show, which was the revival of Guys and Dolls. Apparently, I’m sitting there with my parents, with no frame of reference for what was going on, and the show opens and Fugue for Tinhorns is about to start, and the curtains draw back and there’s this big bright set, and I lean forward and go, ‘WOW!’ That was my first reaction to seeing professional live theater.
When did you decide to pursue an acting career?
I went to summer camp and I acted in all the shows there, and acted in some shows in high school, and I was always drawn to it. At Dartmouth, I took Acting I my freshman fall, and kept doing theater. About my sophomore spring and junior fall, I was doing a show and was on stage and realized, ‘Oh my god, this is what I do.’ It was less of a conscious decision and more of a realization about myself. I realized I was an actor and doing theater was what I did.
What’s one of your best Dartmouth theater memories?
One of my fondest memories of performing at Dartmouth was of Hair in fall 2007, my senior year, directed by Carol Dunne, with whom I still have a very close relationship. At the very end, we were singing Let the Sun Shine In. I gave it everything I had because there weren’t that many performances, it was the fall of my senior year, I had worked very hard [including as a dramaturge, helping to research the 1960s and present this background to his fellow cast members]. I still remember clapping over my head and singing my heart out at the end of the show. It was a very emotionally powerful moment for me which is the definitive memory I have from that show.
What advice would you give people who find themselves in a bad project—play, movie, commercial—they can’t get out of.
Treat it as seriously as possible and work even harder. Sometimes you go down with the show and there’s nothing you can do. But I find that there’s never been a project I’ve done where I feel I didn’t get something out of it. Often times you have to search really hard to find what that thing is, but I think you can always. The more seriously you take a bad project, the better, because at least you’re not acting poorly. I think it’s always important to treat your art as seriously as possible, even the stupidest commercial. I did an industrial [film] where I was a hippie pretending to play the guitar in a park and then smell a fart, and it was an easy $400, but even with something as stupid as that you can at least practice miming or putting yourself in a situation like that. You can always practice your craft even in unbelievably crappy projects. You’re still doing your job. I try to never take a gig for granted. There are more bad shows out there than good ones.