Mason Reeves
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Q: How did you begin training in the performing arts?

When I was in 3rd grade, my mom took over a local community theater that was about to go under. She got a degree in Performing Arts Management from Oberlin. She forced me to do Gypsy, and I didn’t want to do it, but she made me and I had a great time. My mom kept needing boys, so I would be in her shows and in shows all over Arizona, and started realizing I loved it. I gave up sports my junior year of high school, and auditioned and got into University of Michigan for musical theatre.

Q: What has the performing arts taught you that you have applied to your everyday life and how you engage in the world?

What I love the most, and what got me into theater, is how much it encourages you to think about the emotions that others feel. In doing so, you are forced to focus on your own emotions. I loved that I had to become sympathetic toward everyone in my life, and it encouraged me to understand myself better and understand how I engage with people. I used these tools to look at my life and to become a better performer and artist. I really love that theater forces you to have a critical eye on things. You want to create stories that resonate and are important and make people think about their lives, and think about things like: how did our interactions fail, and what can I learn from this? That is what I love the most—how aware [theater] has made me. It has taught me to always try to be aware, and try not to cause harm by simply not being present with ourselves. Theater started me down that path, and I continued down that path for my own well-being. And now, they are mutually beneficial in my life.

Q: Has the performing arts helped you overcome any hardships in your life?

Oh yeah! In middle school I was bullied a lot. I am from a not diverse area in Arizona. I was one of two or three black kids in my school. The white kids started seeing basketball players and rappers and “gangs” as the ones they thought black people had to be. They decided I had to fit into that box, and if I didn’t, they called me an oreo. I just wanted to be able to exist as myself. Unfortunately for me, I put on a facade and made black jokes and pretended that I liked rap music and basketball, but that was truthfully not me. But the theater was a place where they accepted all identities, especially identities that were looked down on in other realms of my life, like homosexual or genderfluid identities. Suddenly, I was in a community where people were different and proud to be who they were, and it gave me the courage to be who I wanted to be and not second guess all of my actions. Theater helped me from going down a dark path of trying to be someone I wasn't. It gave me something to work hard in—to become the best that I could be.

Q: What other interests and passions do you have outside or inside of the performing arts that influence and inspire your artistry?

Inside of the performing arts, I’ve recently realized that I love teaching acting. I love acting technique and watching people grow. I’m really enjoying that. That is something that totally informs my artistry, because if I teach someone something and they don’t get it, I have to find a new approach to get the same outcome. For me, if I come across a scene where my usual technique doesn’t work, now I have another technique in my back pocket that I found with a student that works really well. Another passion of mine that I’m finding is philosophy. Recently I’ve been reading a lot about Buddhism, and I just enrolled in some online classes on modern philosophy. Those classes absolutely give back to my artistry because they are all clues to understanding human emotions and interactions, awareness, peace of mind, generosity, focus. Buddhism especially encourages me to look at characters more truthfully, and to be able to recreate them and understand their motivations so I can understand each character better. That’s what drama is: it’s all about characters going through different traumas. It’s effective for me to understand more about the human psyche. I also love anime and manga, it’s just exciting and brings me joy. I think it’s such a different art form from what we see in America. I try to translate that to what I do on a day to day.

Q: What have been some challenges in your pre professional and professional career?

Before ‘Frozen’, I was in ‘Footloose’ last summer at the Muny. It was a wonderful experience directed by Christian Borle. I played Ren who is the main protagonist of the show. That was all insane. The Muny is outside, so we were rehearsing in 95-100 degree weather. By the time the show started, it was like 95 degrees, and Ren barely leaves the stage for two and a half hours and is dancing and singing and doing all kinds of crazy stuff. That was physically challenging. The Muny also rehearses for eleven days and then does the show for seven days—there are no days off for eighteen days. I lost eight pounds and couldn’t talk once the show started to rest my voice. It was also my first huge professional role at such a large scale. It was kind of intimidating, and it was mentally challenging too. I’m 21/22 and here I am playing a principal in Frozen with these huge Broadway names that have been working at this professional level for ten years longer than I have, sometimes more. I’m working with these amazing established directors and musical directors and here I am, just a 22 year-old kid. It was very difficult for me to feel like I deserved to be there and feel like I was worthy of being there. I finally had to say to myself, I deserve to be here because they cast me. I will show up everyday and work my hardest, and no one was treating me any differently. Those have sort of been my biggest professional issues so far.

Q: How can theatre be a platform for social justice issues?

Personally, I think the most effective pieces of theater that I’ve been in are pieces that have framed discussions around the show in the scope of social justice issues. Talkbacks afterwards and a clear director's note can be so big. I think you have to reach out and meet people where they are. If you can frame something theatrically with an experience before, and have a place for the audience to reflect afterward, whether that be with the cast or a moderator, I think that is a great way to encourage social change; just getting the conversation started, as opposed to just dropping art and having people shut down without, warning them about themes that may challenge their world view.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a performing artist?

I’ve been off since March 11th. I was traveling and doing eight shows a week and I went straight to doing no shows a week and living at home. It has forced me to become more flexible. Like I said, I’ve been teaching acting technique to keep my own technique up and to keep my critical eye sharp. It’s forced me to practice in my bedroom. I’ve been spending lots of time with my guitar. It’s also given me time to reflect. With theatre, when you’re doing eight shows a week, and for me, being shot into adulthood, there isn’t, and hasn’t been, much time to reflect. I can really look at where I want to take my career and what interests me, so I’ve been laying that groundwork with my agent. Do I want LA or New York? Do I want to do more film work or stage work? At home, I’ve been able to film self-tapes for stuff, so I’ve been able to keep my hands in both realms. It’s a career choice, but it’s also a life and happiness choice.

Q: What were your initial reactions and emotions to the shutdown?

The show had been open since November with the official opening in December in LA. We had been doing the show for about four months but had been working on it for about six. We were in Portland, which was our fourth tour city. A day in the life looked like: waking up, working out, therapy, enjoying whatever city we were in, reading, staying on top of my craft, and then doing the show every night. We had literally just finished a show when the governor of Oregon said there would be no more gatherings of over 250 people. We had literally just done that. Our company management was amazing, and told us all to meet at the theater the next day at noon. We all went to the theater and they told us to be all packed up by 4pm, trunks included, because the crew had to take them before they could go home. So we had four hours to pack up all our stuff, which was freaky. Some people literally flew home that day. I stayed behind in Portland for a few days before deciding it was better to go home. Emotionally, it was heartbreaking. The cast was starting to get really close and connect. It’s hard to lose everyone. We thought it would only be a month or two, but it looks like it’s going to last much longer. We’re trying to stay in touch with cast Zooms and stuff, but it’s really strange. I’ve always wanted to define myself as a person outside of my artistry, so that when I find myself not working, I still remember who I am. It’s easy to get lost as an actor, doing shows all the time. This has been a nice way to put that mental practice into effect now, and practice my artistry outside of that single show I was doing.

Q: What does a daily routine look like for you? What have you been working on during this time?

Daily routine: I wake up, meditate in the morning, work out (I’ve gotten back into running), my philosophy and Buddhism courses, working on French and Japanese. I always want to accomplish something in a day. I have a big heavy costume for Frozen, so I have to keep in shape for when I go back, and I love using my time to take a more scholarly look at my interests. It helps that they are things I really love, and have nothing to do with me as an artist. It’s going to be really important for me to integrate these things into my life even when I am doing a show. Granted I'll have less time, but it’s important to me to continue to separate myself as an artist from whatever I’m currently doing. I can always be growing, even though I will do the same musical eight days a week. I take walks with my mom and Facetime friends, and I’ve been doing lots of hikes and videogames, too. A little bit of leisure and growing and learning and working out. I took a break for about two weeks before getting back to work and motivating myself to do things.

Q: What social changes and responsibilities have you seen the performing arts community make during the pandemic?

I don’t go on social media very often, I like to stay away from it. There are lots of workout challenges going around, and friends have been doing lots of livestreamed showcases and fundraisers. People tune in and donate $5 to support artists that are out of work right now. People are posting their art which has been great. I love to see that. Artists, and everybody, are needing people during this time. Our cast does Zoom meetings once a week. We used to do drinks after shows on Sunday nights, so now we Zoom on Sundays to check in and see everyone. We’re all trying to do what we can. Arizona did a ‘Giving Day’, and everyone donated to their local community theater to make sure they’re alright.

Q: Using the idea of “worldmaking” how do you imagine the performing arts world after the pandemic? (Worldmaking: How you can re-imagine the world in your own terms, the way you want it to be. Using this tool one can construct new worlds and write themselves into narratives that have excluded them and systems that have disabled them.)

I think I’ve noticed in the musical theater department [at University of Michigan] that the professors have all had to adapt to Zoom and Facetime and training that way. Even myself, I was reluctant to teach that way, because I didn’t think I’d be able to see everything and whatnot. But really, that was an unnecessary fear that I had. It’s still effective to engage with people and talk about technique. Everyone has something to give if they want to give. More accessibility to training is definitely something I’d like to see. When I look at my peers in Arizona, there are a couple of us doing stuff in New York or touring, but the access to training here is just so lacking. There are a few voice teachers and acting teachers and local theaters, but we got most of our training just from doing a bunch of shows. The more access to training at the caliber I was receiving at Michigan would be life changing. People would be able to be exposed to way more opportunities from that. Even if they don’t pursue theater professionally, theater is so valuable because it makes you have empathy and be a better human. I hope that this time has encouraged people to write new stuff, and I’d love to see that sort of creativity pour into Broadway. Of course, Broadway is very expensive, but we’ve seen a trend of movie musicals recently which are less original. I’d love to see more original shows, especially by people of color telling their stories. Stories about them just being people, not necessarily being about salvery or oppression. Intersectional stories about different identities people have, and how to share with the world these complex stories written and told by people of color. Especially musical theatre. So little of it exists for people of color and their stories that may have less to do with their race. Of course, regional theatres have been struggling, and I definitely want that to be less of an issue. Even throughout my entire life, I've seen community theatres struggling. I want people to realize how important theater is to communities, especially for kids. If it's from the federal government or from the community, it would be great for each theater to have an endowment to support their own work without having to pinch pennies and be able to focus on their real purpose, which is to educate the community. I’d love for theaters to be able to have that.

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