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Volume 26, Number 4 — April 2019

Youth Spotlight: Matthew Torbett

"Acting is a great way to express yourself"


Matthew Torbett, 11, is the son of Mark and Kim Torbett in Piney Flats, Tenn., and a seventh-grader at Mary Hughes School. He stays busy making films, singing in area choirs, appearing in print and television advertising, and performing on stage at Barter Theatre.

Film: Matthew is in two independent films that are expected to be released next year after showings at short film festivals. In The Machine, Matthew plays the part of a young boy apprenticed to a man who keeps the world running smoothly with a machine he operates below the earth's surface. The second film, The Unforgiving Minute, follows the life of a young boy who fights back against bullies, and later in life achieves greatness. Matthew portrays a classmate who is beaten by the bullies.

Music: When he's not acting or posing in front of a camera, Matthew sings in the East Tennessee Children's Choir and the Da Capo choir. He attends two rehearsals every Monday (one for each choral group) and has performed at Bristol's Rhythm & Roots Reunion and at Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.

Advertising: You may have seen Matthew's smiling face (and red hair) in local print ads and television commercials for Food City, Terry's Potato Chips, and Mayfield Ice Cream, or in tourism brochures and national TV commercials for Dollywood.

Theatre: Matthew is completing his third season with Barter Theatre, the State Theatre of Virginia. His first role was Chip in Beauty and The Beast, followed by his portrayal of Thomas Mara, Jr. in Miracle on 34th Street; a member of the Children's Choir for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat; a Munchkin in Wizard of Oz; Young Henry in Frankenstein; and most recently, Nathan Lukowski in The Full Monty and Stephen Toomey in Where Trouble Sleeps.

After being in print and television ads, Matthew saw an audition call for Beauty and the Beast and decided to pursue acting. He says, "When it was my turn to audition I was so nervous I was shaking, but I did get the part."

Matthew "absolutely loves" the Barter experience, especially working with actors who have come from all over the country, who are willing to share their time and talents with young actors and teach them their craft. "It's amazing to watch him grow as an actor and gain more knowledge," Kim says.

He also loves the technical aspect of theatre — "what it takes behind the scenes, small models that eventually bring a set to life, designing the actual set, the props and production people, the lighting and music, everything that comes together to produce the end result."

Casting Calls

Matthew's career began at age 4 with a local talent casting call. Kim recalls, "My sister-in-law wanted Matthew to go to one of these, but I thought it was a hoax where parents end up buying pictures and paying for acting classes and nothing ever comes of it. So I told her it was a waste of time. She said 'this one's different' and took Matthew anyway. Then she called me and said 'they won't talk to Matthew without a parent, so I joined her and about
1,000 other people packed in the lobby of the Holiday Inn in Johnson City. At other casting calls, they took everyone who came through the door. At this one, they were turning people away right and left, so I thought 'maybe this one's a little pickier' so let's see how far this goes."

When there were only 100 prospects left in the room, talent representatives began talking to them and cut that number in half. The last 50 were invited to spend a weekend in Memphis to meet talent agents and attend informational meetings about the modeling and acting industry. "They were really focused on finding talent, so we paid for our own transportation and Matthew landed an agent," says Kim. "We talked to people from Los Angeles and New York, but we decided to start with an agent in Atlanta, because it's closer to home." Once he had an agent, Matthew got several "callbacks" and started building his resume. He currently has an agent based in Knoxville.

Dedication & Sacrifices

Matthew is a good student, academically, but with all his extracurricular activities, it can be hectic for his parents to take him to acting classes, rehearsals and performances, as well as make sure he does his schoolwork. Kim says, "The school system works very well with us to allow Matthew to get his school work early. We get advance notice of Barter's schedule, so that helps, especially when he was in as many as five performances per week in November."

Last summer Matthew went to Emory & Henry College for a week-long acting camp for youth. In addition to the talent teaching the workshops, Matthew enjoyed staying overnight in a dorm. He called it his "college experience," to which his mother quickly added "with a lot of supervision."

Matthew works hard at his art, but so do his parents. His father Mark is a paramedic who takes Matthew to and from activities on weekdays, while Kim, who works in human resources, takes Matthew on nights and weekends. His grandparents help out, too. "It's a good thing he's an only child," Kim notes, "because I don't know how we'd handle more activities for more kids."

What do parents do while their child is working or rehearsing 10-hour days at Barter? Because she lives an hour away, Kim says, just in case they cut practice short, she needs to be nearby, so she spends a lot of time in the Abingdon area: relaxing in the Barter Cafe, reading A! Magazine, shopping downtown, watching a movie at the Cinemall, walking the Virginia Creeper Trail, exercising at the Coomes Recreation Center, even riding her motorcycle.

Hopes & Dreams

Kim attributes Matthew's success to his "outgoing personality — he never met a stranger. And he loves to learn and share knowledge. Any conversation we have, Matthew always has something to add and he actually knows something about the subject. Right now he's obsessed reading about and researching theatre. Fellow actors at Barter have told him he might end up being some type of theatrical or arts-based historian."

When Matthew grows up, he wants to go to college and get a degree in science or math and possibly be a scientist, but "maybe not a doctor." He loves blood and gore in the theatre, but not in real life.

For now, Matthew thinks that "acting is a great way to express yourself" and looks forward to new experiences every day. His advice to others: "If you have a dream, don't be afraid to go after it."

Matthew Torbett's most recent appearance at Barter Theatre was in Where Trouble Sleeps. In this scene he shares the stage with Nathan Wittmer and Evelyn Baron.

Matthew played Chip in Barter's Beauty and the Beast.

In Frankenstein, Matthew was young Henry.

Barter audiences watched as Matthew played the role of Thomas Mara Jr. in Miracle on 34th Street.

In the Wizard of Oz Matthew was cast as a Munchkin (shown dancing in an orange wig and striped socks).