Matthew Blake Floyd’s professional journey has come full circle. After learning the ropes of musical theater as a student at Casa Mañana and eventually spending some time working in theater in New York City, he’s returned home to Fort Worth. Now, with the help of many of the folks he used to work for as a kid, he has created Prism Theatrics, a company that he believes will establish Fort Worth as a leading producer of musicals in Texas.
“A musical takes you away,” Floyd said. “It’s a refuge where you can forget all the day-to-day negative stuff and explore the lives of others.”
Prism’s first show, 2002’s Tony Award-winning Thoroughly Modern Millie, which ran July 3 through July 22 at the Will Rogers Auditorium, was both successful and disappointing. The staging and performances went well, Floyd said, but attendance was inconsistent –– Floyd believes putting on the show in the middle of the summer heat is mostly to blame. But Prism is already working on its sophomore effort, an adaptation of the movie Pure Country. As with Millie and all future productions, the 1992 George Strait vehicle will be staged at the Will Rogers Auditorium, the 68-year-old Cultural District landmark that, at 2,856 seats, is daunting to fill but that is, in Floyd’s words, a “beautiful space.”
The 24-year-old decided to start Prism after performance opportunities began to dry up for him. Two years ago, his father advised him to blend his performance background with his business-minded personality and start his own company. Eight months later, he had all the paperwork finished.
One of the first people Floyd contacted was musical director Eugene Gwozdz, who worked on Floyd’s first professional performing job, a 2007 Casa production of Godspell at Bass Performance Hall.
Gwozdz recalled being excited and a bit shocked to get Floyd’s call. “I still remembered him as a Casa kid,” Gwozdz said. “I asked how big our orchestra would be. [Floyd] said, ‘How big do you want it to be?’ ”
Gwozdz said he wasn’t into “cheap” and expected a full orchestra with union musicians. Floyd said no problem, having found backing from a rather unlikely source: a consortium of West Texas oilmen.
“They had never funded a musical before, but they already loved going to these shows with their wives,” he said, adding that the average cost to produce a musical locally is around $16,000.
Gwozdz, who works as a music director at the Duke Ellington Center for the Arts in New York City when he isn’t touring, was also happy with Floyd’s inaugural production.
“I knew the composer of Thoroughly Modern Millie and had ties to that production from way back,” Gwozdz said.
Floyd’s next step was to hire a choreographer. His first choice was Brandon Mason, who teaches dance in New York City and has directed numerous shows in Bass Hall.
“My initial thought was yes,” Mason said, “but with him being so young, I wasn’t quite sure if I was being asked a favor or being offered a job.”
Like Gwozdz, Mason also spent his formative years in Fort Worth, starting out with Casa productions at Bass Hall before moving on to The Big Apple. Many talented actors and musicians have made the transition from North Texas to New York, but Floyd wants to prove that there can be fruitful and rewarding big-production musical theater work right here in Fort Worth. Several North Texans, including Fort Worth’s Sheran Keyton and Arlington’s Keith Warren, had leading roles in Prism’s version of Millie, whose lead role went to Angelino Anneliese van der Pol, who played Chelsea Daniels in the Disney sitcom That’s So Raven and starred as Belle in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in New York City.
There’s no lack of progressive musical theater in town. Jubilee Theater, the oldest African-American company in the Southwest, is an institution, and Hip Pocket Theatre and Performing Arts Fort Worth are as strong now as they’ve ever been. But Prism, Floyd said, is where theatergoers can turn for a “full theater experience,” which to him means extravagant set pieces and costumes and live music by a full-blown orchestra.
“Live music [by an orchestra] brings you that much closer to the story,” he said. “When you see the music happening before you, it’s magical.”
Gwozdz said the time is right for Prism. He feels the company can fill a niche for extravaganzas and also bring some Big Apple flavor to Cowtown: “I love New York City, but there is nothing to say that Fort Worth can’t produce something just as good.”