There are those special people who just have a way with today’s youth – they can really connect with them, and even help to strongly influence them in a range of positive ways.
Matt Gould, 58, is one of those people. He’s been at the helm of the Red Deer-based Tree House Youth Theatre as artistic director for 10 years, and has decided that at the end of this spring’s production, it’s time to move on.
Tree House Youth Theatre was created in 1988. The aim of the program is to build theatrical interest and foster skills in the young people of Central Alberta.
“I understand that they have a great affection for me, and it’s reciprocal,” he explains of his band of actors and crew members. “I totally love the kids, and I know that I deal with them really well.” There’s no question of that – several return season after season to sign up. Much of that is no doubt due to Gould’s obvious ability to connect
Over the years, Tree House has produced many compelling shows, running the gamut from renditions of classics such as Sleeping Beauty, The Wind and the Willows and Fiddler on the Roof to others equally engaging that have been penned by Gould himself.
Whatever he has selected for a given performance, there is always much that is unique about it – Gould has a way of injecting a raw originality into pretty much anything he puts his hand to. “I get in there and do my work with my quirky sense, I carry whatever energy I can to the room – my expertise, my ignorance and my love for putting on shows and telling stories,” he adds with a smile.
Teresa Neuman first met Gould about 10 years ago when her daughter became involved with Tree House. She also served on the board for a time as well.
“What was really noticeable right from the beginning was that all of a sudden, there was a real elevation in the quality of the work that Tree House was doing,” she recalls of Gould’s arrival. “It has always been an excellent program, but the expectation that Matt brought for those kids to rise to was something I hadn’t seen in my time there up to that point.
“What was also special is that Matt has such a diverse set of skills – he’s a visual artist, he’s a designer, he knows about textiles and costuming, he’s an actor and he’s a musician. So he brought everything to the table in one package, which I think is going to be a challenge to even begin to replace in that kind of a mentor.”
Neuman said she also has noticed Gould’s approach to productions has been different in that it is often quite minimalistic in terms of costuming and set. “What had to come through in order to make the production work were the performances, and the allowance of the audiences to use their own imaginations to get there,” she said.
“I think that’s what we began to see – not only were the actors challenged to rise to the expectation, but the community was challenged to become more engaged in the productions because they had to bring their own imagination to it. I found that really exciting right from the beginning.”
Looking ahead, Gould’s last show will be a kind of retrospective – Let the Play Continue will be his last spring production with Tree House. “It’s a series of scenes and musical numbers from all the shows; there will be scenes from Last Known Position, Red Deer River Stories, Mulan, Fiddler on the Roof, Beauty and the Beast,” he said, acknowledging how the preparation has brought about many memories. “I think it’s really fun.”