Q&A: Winning finds acting holds greater appeal than the law

Matthew Winning always thought he would spend his professional career getting up and talking in fron
Matthew Winning, playing Riff, listens to instructions during a rehearsal of "West Side Story" on Monday evening at the Park Playhouse in Albany’s Washington Park.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Matthew Winning, playing Riff, listens to instructions during a rehearsal of "West Side Story" on Monday evening at the Park Playhouse in Albany’s Washington Park.

Matthew Winning always thought he would spend his professional career getting up and talking in front of an audience, but he figured he’d be doing it as a lawyer, not an actor.

The theater, however, seems to have won out over the legal profession, and Winning, a Cobleskill native who is currently pursuing a master of fine arts degree in acting at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va., will be spending his summer at Albany’s Washington Park, playing Riff in the Park Playhouse production of “West Side Story.”

Winning, 24, graduated from Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, N.C., with a degree in theater and political science, and was preparing for law school when he realized the theater bug he was fighting was going to win the battle.

He was home schooled much of the time growing up. His parents were both artistic, his father spending some time playing bass in a band while his mother was a singer. He has two younger brothers who don’t seem to have been bitten by the theater bug, at least not yet, and a big fan in his grandmother, Eleanor Norton, whom he is spending a lot of time with this summer.

When he’s not taking classes or performing, Winning is often out running. He ran his second marathon earlier this year in Ottawa, and is preparing for the SunTrust Richmond Marathon in November, in which he hopes to break the three-hour mark. His previous best time is 3:02:25.

Q: How did you get into acting?

A: I did go to elementary school in the fifth grade and I remember enjoying being involved in a play there. Then my parents mentioned that SUNY-Cobleskill was looking for kids for one of their productions and that was a great experience. But I didn’t really have any intentions of pursuing acting as a career until I was in college. I got a work-study job in theater, and they kind of suckered me into auditioning.

Q: Why did you forsake the law for acting?

A: After I declared theater as my major, I still was on a path to law school and I had already taken my LSATs and done pretty well. I knew that going to law school was more practical than pursuing an acting career, but after I graduated from Gardner-Webb and before I would start law school, all these acting doors kept on opening up for me. So I decided the law wasn’t for me, and it was the right decision.

I get a lot out of acting and the whole theater experience in general, and I also really enjoyed working with young kids and talking to them about their dreams of performing.

Q: How did you land the job as Riff in the Park Playhouse production of “West Side Story.”

A: I was finishing up my first year of grad school and during a week off I drove up here in March for the local auditions. I consider myself an actor who can kind of sing and dance, too. I have no formal training in song and dance, but I have a pretty good voice and I can pick things up.

It was a bit scary to walk into the auditioning and dance two or three times, and after I got the part as Riff it was a little intimidating. I knew I had this great part and it would be quite a challenge. But I had a couple of months to get ready for it, so mostly it’s been very exciting. Learning all the dances has been great fun.

Q: What do you like about “West Side Story.”

A: It’s one of my favorite musicals, and Riff is a great part. Most actors have some role that they really cherish more than others, and that’s how I feel about Riff. I’ve really wanted to do this role, and the musical itself really has a message. It’s entertaining, and at the same time it has something to say. That’s a big reason I love the theater so much. Sometimes, there can be an important message behind the performance that can really teach you something.

Q: Do you see yourself directing eventually, or maybe doing some television and movie work?

A: I haven’t really directed anything on a large scale, but I think I would enjoy it and I do see myself doing it some day. I took a stage combat class at school and I thought that was a lot of fun. So I can also see myself doing stage combat and choreography.

I have done some student film work, and while I would take any kind of work that I can get, I see myself leaning toward the theater right now. It’s live, and you get the challenge of making it right every night. I love the art of being on stage, and ultimately I think I’d like to teach it. I feel as an artist who’s been given something of a gift, you have to pass it on to others.

Categories: Life and Arts

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