Upstate native Matt Giles returns to Greenville to direct SCCT’s ‘Madagascar: A Musical Adventure’

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Matt Giles, now the associate producing director at Seattle Repertory Theatre, worked at South Carolina Children's Theatre after graduation. // Photo by Will Crooks. Illustration by Bethany Williams.

The South Carolina Children’s Theatre will present “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” from June 16-24. The show, based on the Dreamworks film, will showcase the movie’s outrageous characters, including the beloved Alex the lion, Marty the zebra, Melman the giraffe, and Gloria the hippo.

But the credit for bringing the show to life belongs to Matt Giles, director of SCCT’s last show of the season.

Giles brings a unique perspective and twist to the film adaptation. He also made his way across the country to direct this show for SCCT.

Giles is originally from Spartanburg and grew up in the Upstate. He attended Wofford College and worked with SCCT for a time after graduating. “I was first cast in their [SCCT] production of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ as Lumiere,” Giles says, “but then Betsy [Bisson, artistic/education director at SCCT] got me on board to teach some classes and doing musical directing. I became more and more ingrained in the work that they do, right up until I moved across the country.”

Giles took a job in Washington at the Seattle Repertory Theatre, where he has worked for the past seven years. He is now the associate producing director. Through his time in Seattle, he has continued to be involved in youth theater, and often directs and is a teaching artist at Seattle Children’s Theatre.

“Almost all of my freelance work is spent working with young people or theaters that work with young people,” Giles says. Giles’ passion for working with children and encouraging them to embrace their interests in the arts was born out of his time at SCCT.

“I am very passionate about the mission of SCCT. I believe very strongly in their work and their leadership team and the difference they are trying to make in this community and the lives of young people in this community,” Giles says. “I am very passionate about theater for young audiences and working with young actors and adult actors performing for a young audience.”

Giles knows that not everyone is a natural actor, but he believes that everyone is inherently an artist, in some way or another. “I genuinely believe very passionately that everybody is an artist. It doesn’t mean that everyone will make their living doing art,” Giles explains. “It is places like SCCT that dedicate their entire existence to providing students with a space to experience art, to explore their creative imagination and creative impulses, and I love that. I am very passionate about that sort of work, and it’s the kind of work that I find most fulfilling.”

One of Giles’ favorite parts of working in theater is when he gets to see a child experience theater for the first time. “It’s about watching a child discover something about themselves that they haven’t experienced before,” Giles says. “I really enjoy working with young people to help them find their artistic voice, which I think we need a lot more of, not only in the Upstate but across the country.”

Giles and Bisson planned for some time for Giles to direct a show at SCCT, and with some scheduling work and plane tickets, he was able to make it a reality for “Madagascar.” “We knew we wanted a musical because that’s what I like best,” Giles says, and “Madagascar” worked for everyone.

Logistically, it has been challenging for Giles to direct a show from almost 3,000 miles away. Giles flew in to teach classes and encourage participation, for auditions, for the weeks leading up to the show, and of course for show week, but he admits he’s missed some of his favorite parts of directing.

“The hardest part was they started rehearsing immediately after we cast the show, so I wasn’t here for the beginning of the rehearsals process,” Giles says. Due to the nature of musicals, there are lots of songs to learn and choreography to master that don’t necessarily require the director’s presence.

Giles says that his biggest challenge was missing the initial weeks of collaboration. “That’s the part I geek out about the most,” he says. “Being in the room and watching it happen.”

“That was the most difficult part — not being here to help set the tone because those first few weeks are very formative for everyone in the cast,” he adds. “But I trust my creative team implicitly, but as director and sort of captain of the ship, you still want to be there to help set that tone for everybody, so that was difficult.”

Giles has overcome these challenges by working closely with everyone at SCCT, and he is thrilled to offer audiences of all ages a fun, exciting journey. “The audience can expect to see a great story of friendship and a story of the sacrifices that people are willing to make for their friends, which is always an uplifting message to learn and to hear,” Giles says. “The choreography is great and wacky and insane. The costumes are gorgeous representations of animals, and there is so much humor; the actors are doing a great job handling that material and knowing where the jokes land and how they fall. I think the audience can expect a riotous, hilarious romp through the jungle.”

Directing this show in his hometown has also presented another set of challenges. Greenville is different in many ways from Seattle, and Giles explains that he thinks the theater scene in Seattle is slightly more progressive. “There’s so much theater that happens in Greenville. To be the size that it is and where it is, there’s so much theater here. It’s so inspiring to see the work that happens here, but it’s just of a different taste,” Giles says.

And he speaks highly of Greenville and the local theater scene. “I think that having lived in Seattle and having worked at the Seattle Children’s Theatre, I come back and am still amazed at how fortunate Greenville and this region is to have a place like SCCT, which is doing work on par or of equal quality of work that is happening in a big city like Seattle,” Giles says.

Giles adds that SCCT was a great influence on him, and on the entire Upstate. He emphasizes how lucky he is to return to the area to direct this show, and that SCCT has been a part of his career in the arts. “The work that happens at SCCT is of the highest caliber, and the people who work there are artists of the highest caliber, and the students who cross through those doors really are receiving training and experiences that they would be fortunate to get at any city in the country,” he says.


“Madagascar: A Musical Adventure”
When: June 16-24, times vary
Where: Peace Center Gunter Theatre, 300 S. Main St.
Tickets: $18-27
Info: 864-467-3000, scchildrenstheatre.org

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