Matt Downey, the director of the next play at the Little Theater of Virginia Beach, once thought he was done with theater.
He said he had decided to quit the scene several years ago after having a terrible experience with it in New York, where another actor had dug his nails into Downey’s arm to try to get him kicked out of the audition.
“That is New York,” Downey said. “It is cut-throat, it is competitive, and I’m not a competitive person.”
But after some time away from theater, a friend reeled him back in two years ago.
“A friend of mine more or less blackmailed me into auditioning for [Les Miserables] up in Newport News,” Downey said. “Literally we drove up, and I asked ‘Why are we outside this theater?’ I got sheet music shoved in my hand and he said, ‘I signed you up for an audition time. You’re on in 10. Go.’ ”
Downey has since rediscovered his passion for the stage, even if it means sacrificing sleep. He is a Starbucks supervisor by day and theater director by night. His latest production, “An Enemy of the People,” is his first play at the Little Theater of Virginia Beach. It opens Friday.
“Coming back to Hampton Roads, getting involved in community theater in the area, really reminded me why I fell in love with theater in the first place,” Downey said.
Downey has been involved with theater most of his life. His mother was a high school drama teacher and actress, and his father designed sets after serving as a Marine. Downey attended Liberty University and earned his masters of fine arts degree at Regent University.
“An Enemy of the People,” written by Henrik Ibsen in the 1800s, premiers at 8 p.m. Friday. It will run at the same time on subsequent Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays through Dec. 6. Tickets for adults are $17. There are discounts for active-military members, students and seniors. For information, visit ltvb.com.
Downey is trying to reach a younger audience with his version of the story of Dr. Thomas Stockman. He decided to make the play more modern, setting the background music to dubstep, a type of electronic dance music. On Nov. 15, there will be a special matinée performance where any student can purchase discounted tickets and then participate in a talk-back with the actors.
“My heart is to get students in here, get them excited about it, make them want to come back, make them want to audition,” Downey said.
The director said he also wants to get all audience members thinking about the play’s themes, including corruption of city officials, freedom of the press, the right to vote and how disagreements can bring out the worst in people.
“I realized this is not just a text that you read in an intro to modern drama class,” Downey said. “This is Baltimore, this is Ferguson, this is the women’s suffrage movement, civil rights. It’s humanity at its best and worst, showing that we are all guilty, but we can choose to be better.”
In one scene, main character, Dr. Thomas Stockman, played by Steve Wright, is pitted against his brother, the mayor, played by Chris Kypros.
“You intend to cripple this town!” Kypros’ character yelled during a dress rehearsal Wednesday.
Stockman told his brother, the mayor, he will fight to the death to prove he is right, even if that means sacrificing his own career and his family’s name.
“I want my sons to grow up and be able to look me in the eye,” he said.
Minutes later, the lights faded to black. Popular songs, such as “Team” by Lorde, filled the speakers during a scene change.
Downey praised his volunteer cast and crew for making his innovative vision possible. The group includes seasoned actors and high school students.
The Little Theater of Virginia Beach is run by a board of directors and receives funding from the city’s Arts and Humanities Commission and the Hampton Roads Community Foundation’s Carol Chittum Endowment for the Theatrical Performing Arts. The theater’s goal, according to its website, is to educate and provide the community with quality live theatrical experiences.