Arts & Culture News

Remembering Matthew Tomlanovich

Actor. Teacher. Director. Voice Coach. Mentor. Poet. Matthew Tomlanovich wore many hats, but one that always seemed glued to his head, was friend. After battling a MRSA infection in his spinal cord for six months, Tomlanovich died Sunday.

I could give you his bio: "Over 30 years of experience working in the theatre as an actor, director, and vocal coach. He taught at several universities and conducted workshops in the United States and England. He held a BGS from Oakland University, an MFA in Acting from the California Institute of the Arts, and a Masters of Arts in Vocal Studies from the Central School of Speech and Drama in London. He taught at Southern Methodist University, Cal-Arts, The Actor Training Program at the University of Utah, University of North Texas, University of Texas at Dallas, London's East 15 Acting School and Central School of Speech and Drama, and was an Associate Teacher of Fitzmaurice Voicework. He spent many years acting on local stages, and performed with The Irondale Ensemble Project, at various Off-Broadway theaters, the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival, the St. Petersburg Salon (Russia), the Garden Grove Shakespeare, among others. He also had many film and television appearances under his belt. He was diagnosed with a MRSA infection in his spinal cord on April 3, 2014."

But this is not what makes a man. This is not how Matt would want to be remembered for. He would want to be remembered for his mentorship and his work for the community that he loved.

And his haikus. He would want you all to read those haikus.

These are just a few posted by his wife, Claudia Stephens, on the CaringBridge page dedicated to Matt:

Surrounded by fear, Cut off from the pack. Surprised You are not alone. (April 22, 2014)

Separated, prey. Heard from the herd, need. We are called upon to pray. (April 24, 2014)

Simple water moves into multi verses when mind fully engaged. (April 27, 2014)

He loved strange graphic novel images that illuminated the niceties of pop culture. He loved drinking coffee and talking about Butoh and experimental theatre. He loved blowing up large weather balloons with you and turning them into drums. He loved anything to do with hyenas. He loved coming to see your show, helping you out while you set up, and photographing it all. He loved making salsa. During the entire run of DGDG's Dirty Filthy Diamonds at the Margo Jones Theatre, he would bring the dancers salsa every night and feed them to their hearts' content. I can still taste the spice. He was a kind soul. More than that actually, because the word "kind"--generous, helpful, and caring about other people--doesn't do Matt justice. He was all those things; he was more than all those things.

There are few people as steadfastly dedicated to supporting the education of young artists. Matt wanted to help everyone. He was so dedicated to rebuilding and revitalizing the Dallas theatre scene that he was becoming the theatre himself. The Margo Jones was his home away from home, and he was set on making it the place to see emerging theatre. And it is (The Margo Jones was named Best Theatrical Comeback in our 2014 Best Of List). It inside those walls now that young actors and directors are starting to find their way, because he gave them so many opportunities to practice their craft, try new things, fall flat on their faces, and was there to pull them up, dust them off, and tell them, "this is nothing, just follow your passion."

I owe a lot to Matt, both professionally and personally. He took a chance on me numerous times: first, with my two-person show, with Justin Locklear, Pizzicato Porno, and then with DGDG's first full-length evening show, Dirty Filthy Diamonds. He was such a supporter of the work that we were creating, and he was always willing to help us out anyway he could. He would be at the theatre before we got there, cleaning up, dressing cables, laying the floor down; and he would be there after us, tinkering with this and that. He worked side-by-side with me to promote the shows, and was a shoulder for me when things got tough. I'll never forget when he sat me down, looked me in the eye, and said, "You are your toughest critic. You make beautiful things. Do what you love. Don't worry about anyone else. They aren't worrying about you. Make the strange things in your head real. Chill out. Also, let's talk about videos."

That's Matt. Always there to tell artists exactly what they needed to hear, and then, lighten the mood. He touched so many of our hearts and while we didn't have the chance to talk to everyone, we've included the voices of some of our community, of his friends. We will miss you Matt. Forever and always.

"Matt encouraged me to not be afraid and to get lost in my work. Once I learned that lesson, everything in life become easier...He had this saying: 'When you're lost, you've never been there before, but that's a good thing.' And he was interested in the weirdest things. If it was anyone else, you'd want to change the channel, but it was Matt, so you wanted to listen. He challenged me, and he would get mad at me if I wasn't enjoying myself...It will be hard to find another mentor. I don't know how to work now that he can't see it. I'm really pissed off at him because I wasn't done with him. None of us were. He brought worth to everything he touched, and he saw the good in everyone and everything. He was always hopeful." -Solo performance artist John Michael.

"The idea that was so important to Matt that was so liberating for me was about failure. He worked so hard to create a safe place for art to fail or, maybe, succeed. The experiment--the collaboration--was everything. Matt taught me that there's nothing to learn from the easy and the usual." - Ben Schroth, playwright, actor, and colleague.

"Matt was a constant explorer--of creativity, of friendship, and of his community. He was a humble teacher, a dedicated mentor to those who pursued him, and as many will know, a passionate and talented cook. He was, to the best of my knowledge, the sort of person who would direct any praise he received to the hard work of those around him, and who would give unrelenting defense and support to the young artist. He set a standard for the hard work it takes to create joy. He will be missed thoroughly by all, and for some, he will remain a constant companion." - Justin Locklear, actor.

"Matt was so much more than a professor. He taught us lessons in human kindness and compassion. He would bring emotions out of a performer that no one else could, to make a scene or moment unimaginably beautiful. He could look into any person and find the good. Matt would coax a little more out of his actors every time a scene was run. When I saw that famous Matt half-smile or heard his soft laughter, I knew I had earned it. He could also do an amazing accurate didgeridoo impersonation that could break any awkward silence! He was a joy and an inspiration to be around, and always made his students want to be the best they could possibly be. He will be missed immensely." - Kelsey Kruse, actress, singer, make-up artist, and a past student of Matt's.\

"I met Matt when he came on board with Nouveau 47. Our paths had never crossed prior. As small as this community can seem sometimes, it happens. He wore his passion right out there on his sleeve. He never seemed to lose steam, even when you could tell he was tired. I found him engaging and challenging. So much so, I could barely talk to him at first. I'd stumble over my words, and he'd put them together how I'd meant them. He was whip-smart. But I didn't know what kind of man he was until Jim (Kuenzer, her husband) and I got married. Our wedding was at the Magnolia Lounge/Margo Jones Theatre, and about three weeks out, it looked like we were going to have to find a new place. Matt was the guy who stepped in and not only made sure we would still be able to use the space, he made certain it was ready and that everything was just right. He really went above and beyond. He didn't have to, he just did. Because he cared. Because he wanted it to be perfect. Because he liked seeing people happy. Because he seized every opportunity to create and make joy happen. He was a friend, but really, he'd do it for anyone. That was the kind of man he was. - Jennifer Kuenzer, actress and colleague

"I keep thinking things Matt was incapable of. For example, he was incapable of condescension. And the word, 'can't,' was not in his vocabulary." - Jim Kuenzer, playwright and colleague.

"My mother has always reminded me of time. 'A time for everything and everyone, everything and everyone in time.' Ten years ago I met a boisterous funny man who let me be in show. I was deathly afraid of Shakespeare, I was unsure of my talent yet sure that there could be something there, and hungry for a chance all at once. Matt not only me cast in Romeo and Juliet, but he taught me. He was patient and silly. He was thoughtful and positive. He made theatre fun again. He let me sing, he gave me an opportunity to choreograph (which I desperately needed) but he knocked the fear of language and the insecurity of 'am I good enough' right out of me. It wasn't through pep talks or anything of the sort. He just quietly let me discover. He did that thing that amazing teachers do. He established an environment for me to breakthrough. He gave me time...He was one of those people that was happy to invest time, happy to allow time, and always was there for a good and crazy time. For my life, the time that I've known him is too short. I selfishly wish for more time to see what amazing art he would create, more time to make a dirty joke with him, more time to look at weird cigarette commercials, more time to learn, more time to explain certain slang so that he could give me a nod and then share a story about his sons, more time, more time, more time...A time for everyone and everything. Everyone and everything in time. I will miss him terribly." - Becki McDonald, actress, choreographer, and past student of Matt's.

We lost a great man--a wonderful man who believed wholeheartedly in people and their greatness. He was a friend and a mentor to me. I got to know Matt through The Margo Jones when I hosted a stage reading there. He told me how he wanted to revitalized the theater again and that he wanted my help to let the world know about how wonderful it was. I believed this and him. His love for theater and the magic of it was inevitable...Matt worked so hard to make the Margo Jones shine again, and the only credit that he gave himself was that he was "dishwasher & janitor." He didn't care about credit and those things, he cared about what mattered most and the big picture...I find comfort knowing that he's walking in his speedy manner again with a cigarette in one hand, coaching the angels on their voice pitches, drinking his coffee while directing his plays. Matt was an incredible man, and I'm a better person because of him and for that, I'm thankful." - Teresa Nguyen, colleague and fellow janitor (a little joke for those who have ever worked at the Margo Jones).

"I owe so much to Matt...he not only made our first two professional productions possible (with Prism Co.), but he gave us the confidence to follow our crazy dreams. There is literally no other person in the world I know that would sit down to teach a bunch of recent grads how to steal electricity from a lamp post...What a freaking awesome dude." -Jeffrey Colangelo, playwright, director, and physical theatre practitioner.

Memorial Services for Matthew Tomlanovich will be held at 4:30 p.m. November 22, 2014 at St. James Episcopal Church, 9845 McCree Blvd, Dallas.

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Danielle Georgiou