ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
After the final curtain, the director announced that the playwright of the evening’s melodrama was sitting in the audience for the play’s premier.
The sizeable crowd in the Marion High School auditorium last month gasped in unison.
As they looked around with wonder and curiosity to figure out who it was, they were told the author was none other than hometown boy Matt Schuler-standing on stage as assistant director.
Applause erupted from the stunned crowd.
“I think he’s going to put Marion on the map some day,” said Janet Killough, MHS director, Schuler’s mentor and friend.
“I think we’re going to be able to say, ‘We knew him when,’ especially for me as a teacher-that he was once one of my students. I just see him as so successful in whatever he chooses, because he’s so creative and vibrant and energetic and enthusiastic.”
Scheduled as a dinner theater March 19 and regular performance March 20, “It’s Greek to Me” was a dramatic success.
“For a melodrama, it was the biggest crowd we’ve ever had,” Killough said. “Usually, Saturday night is very slim. But many people said they heard by word of mouth that it was so wonderful not to miss it. That’s the kind of feedback I like.”
A typical melodrama is written with broad theatricality.
The predominant emphasis of the script is usually on the plot and physical action rather than characterization. Watching the hero, heroine and the villain involved in dastardly plots, twists and turns, the audience is encouraged to participate with boos and applause throughout the performance.
On the MHS playbill, the author was listed as Schuler’s pseudonym, Jeffrey Peterson.
Up until the end of the first performance, the only people who knew Schuler wrote the play were Killough, MHS principal Ken Arnhold, a close friend and Schuler’s family.
It was Schuler’s wish to keep it a secret.
“Matt was so afraid if people knew he was the one who wrote it, they wouldn’t take it seriously,” Killough said.
His roots are deep in the Marion community, where he grew up and attended school.
Dad Gary works for Natural Resources Conservation Service as a soil conservationist. Mom Mary is a free-lance landscape designer. Younger brother Tim is a senior at MHS and plans to join his brother at Kansas State University in the fall.
Schuler studied under Killough at MHS and after graduating in 2001, he entered K-State where he is now a junior majoring in speech and drama education.
As part of his studies, he took a play-writing class and wrote one-act plays at K-State.
“I’ve always been interested in writing,” Schuler said. “I was in creative writing in high school, and I did write a few scenes then.”
After completing the first semester of his junior year, his school plans are on hold as he and childhood friend Mark Hanson honor commitments with their co-owned Manhattan business.
Two years ago, the two turned the purchase of two digital video cameras into a company called Roshambo Productions. In Japanese, Roshambo refers to the game of rock-scissors-paper.
“We film high school plays and most especially weddings,” Schuler said. “We started getting a lot of calls for that, and we’re booked all the way through September.”
To pay the rent, his day job is with Staples in Manhattan. Profits from Roshanbao Productions are filtered back into buying more equipment and growing the video business.
During Schuler’s senior year at MHS, Killough was having trouble finding a good melodrama for a school production. It was then that she first suggested Schuler write one for her some day.
“Last year, they didn’t do a melodrama because they could not find one,” Schuler said.
“So she asked me at that time if I would like to seriously write a melodrama for next year. At first, I didn’t say, ‘Yes,’ because I was unsure. But then, I decided I would do it.”
He began developing ideas for the script in July 2003.
“I really wanted it to be different,” Schuler said.
“I wanted it to be fairly intellectual and multi-layered. So you watch it the first night and then when you watch it the second night, you get more out of it. Today’s melodramas are pretty predictable. I wanted mine to be very different but still keep the basic melodrama fundamentals in place.”
Ruling out the typical Westerns and even considering a pirate script, Schuler instead chose ancient Greece for his forum. In addition to studying Homer’s Odyssey in college, Schuler drew from information on the Internet and the library.
“I thought it would be really cool to start with the ending scene first,” Schuler said. “So the first thing you see in the play is the end, and the hero dies. You go through the whole play from that point on and get to the ending scene again at the end of the play. You’re wondering if it’s going to turn out right this time. And then, the hero wins at the end.”
Working on the plot and details of the characters, Schuler began writing the actual script in October. He turned to brother Tim to get feedback.
“This kind of seemed like the last chance to write a play so my brother could be in it,” Schuler said. “And he helped me come up with some ideas.”
The first act was fleshed out by December. Schuler, his brother and Killough worked through it.
“It was a team effort after that,” Schuler said.
With a performance deadline looming, he wrote Act 2 in about two weeks. “The script wasn’t finished when we started rehearsals,” he said.
“In fact, the script really wasn’t finished until performance night. That’s just the way Janet works, and I knew that. I added a lot of ad lib and really vague stage directions, because I knew Janet would take it where it needed to go.”
Rehearsals began in February. As assistant director, Schuler would travel home to help Killough during rehearsals held Thursdays through Saturdays.
In addition to being concerned about preconceived notions from the community, Schuler said he decided to remain anonymous because he didn’t want to stifle production creativity.
“For everyone, I wanted it to be an experience that was just the same as all the other experiences have been,” Schuler said. “I didn’t want any kind of added tension. And I thought it worked well that way.”
In It’s Greek to Me, the characters were given justification for their actions. The hero and the villain were slave and master respectively, but they were also friends in the beginning.
“And then, you see the hero’s journey,” Schuler said.
“The villain does something bad, and the hero decides he’s not going to take it. He’s not the hero in the beginning, but you see him become the hero-which has never been done before in a melodrama.”
The first night of the performance, Schuler was in the audience with his video camera in tow.
“I’m watching it, filming and I’m also watching the audience to see what their reactions were,” Schuler said.
“After the first scene went so well, I was really at ease, because they did laugh a lot, and they responded. The audience response was amazing through the whole thing. The actors just brought it off the page. It’s all fine and good when you read it and it’s funny. But when you actually see it and it’s funny, that’s a big tribute to the actors and to Janet’s directing as well.”
Perhaps it is no surprise to many that the play was a success or that the author of a multi-layered melodrama is a multi-talented young man.
As a writer, musician and actor, Schuler has many avenues he could choose as a future career.
“I would love to write a novel. I would love to write a widely-produced play,” Schuler said.
“I would love to make an award-winning album, write a screenplay and work on a movie. There’s a lot of things I would just love to do. I constantly keep busy and never sleep because there’s so much to do.”
This summer, Schuler, Killough and friends will work on the copywrited script of It’s Greek to Me to see if they can eventually get it published.
“Probably, the next play I’ll write will be different,” Schuler said. “It won’t be a melodrama. This was fun, but it’s really hard to write comedy.”
Proud of her student and his future, Killough said she appreciated the fact that he was willing to come back after being out of school for three years.
“It was really rewarding that he still felt enough bond that he was willing to share this project with the kids, me and the community,” Killough said. “They are very lucky they were able to see this.”
And maybe some day, they can all say, “We knew him when.”