‘Shakespeare in love’

Mathew&Meghan Simpson getting ready to direct the playMatthew and Meaghan Simpson, Associate Artistic Directors of the Texas Shakespeare Festival at KC, directed this year’s performance of “The Mousetrap” by Agatha Christie.

Meaghan is from Lake Zurich, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, and Matthew is from St. Cloud, Minnesota. They met in graduate school at the University of Delaware’s Professional Theatre Training Program. They were both in relationships when they started, but “it’s a very intensive three years,” Matthew says, “and the program is notorious for breaking up couples, just because you go through a lot of changes and you learn a lot of things, and it’s very hard for one person in a partnership to be going through that kind of growth.” Both couples broke up in the first year, and Meaghan and Matthew started dating during their second year in the program.

The Simpsons have been in Kilgore since 2013, after auditioning for TSF founder and Artistic Director Raymond Caldwell many times and performing in the festival since 2009. They were hired as professional actors for TSF, and new positions were created for them. For the 28 years prior to this, the TSF staff had only been Caldwell and John Dodd. Meaghan and Matthew took on new, unprecedented roles for TSF. They help cast plays for the summer, manage public relations, do grant writing and fundraising work and manage the website, things for which there previously wasn’t enough time.

Throughout the fall, the Simpsons teach classes at KC, cast actors for the following summer’s festival, run educational programs, produce a Christmas show, promote the festival and raise money for it. Running TSF is a year-round duty, but they also do short-term productions, such as The Mousetrap, as well as work with Artsview Children’s Theatre in Longview, which is working on a production of “The Music Man”. Matthew is choreographing the production, and Meaghan is working on props.

“We love what we do, and if we wanted to do something else then we would, but there’s nothing we’d rather be doing,” Matthew says.

Directing plays together is normal for Matthew and Meaghan, but they take on different roles in that partnership. “Matthew has more of the vision,” Meaghan explains, “and I like to help him execute the vision, so it’s almost more like I’m his assistant director or his stage manager or a coach to the students.”

“We try and just delegate certain things. Meaghan has a much better fashion sense than I do.” Matthew continues, “we do take certain aspects of the play and just split them.”

On what they most admire about each other, Matthew says, “as her coworker, the thing that I enjoy the most and that’s so nice for somebody that you work with, when something needs to get done, she’s the best person to give the job to, because she will get it done without anything else getting in her way.” From the personal aspect of their relationship, he continues, “we want the same things out of life, and we find joy in the same things. We have the same goals, and if we just have an open day and we get to spend it however we want, we’ll choose to do the same things, independently. It’s wonderful to be able to share your life with somebody that loves the same things you love, and so you guys get to experience life together, and everything that you do is more enriched because you get to share it with somebody that loves it just as much as you love it.”

Meaghan says, “he is always trying to make himself better; he’s always doing something to make himself smarter, more interesting, more skilled; he’s trying to improve his handwriting right now; he’s trying to improve so many different aspects of himself.” But her favorite thing about him personally is that he wants to “go on this journey with me,” she explains, “I dragged him here to East Texas, and we were living in New York City, and not a lot of people would be up for that.”

“We’re so lucky that we get to be coworkers, to be husband and wife and be able to spend most of our day together; we don’t feel like we have to catch up at night over dinner; we’re together all day, every day,” Meaghan says.

Meaghan and Matthew are expecting a baby soon. “It would be great to continue to raise our family here, to continue to nurture the next generation here in East Texas,” Meaghan says.

“The ultimate goal with any arts organization is to improve the lives of the people in the community you serve,” Matthew says, “and we do that by giving them artistic experiences that they couldn’t get anywhere else in this region, and at a price that’s far more affordable than Dallas or Houston, and we do that by offering education to them that they couldn’t get anywhere else.”

Matthew explains that their hope for KC and TSF is “that each entity views each other as indispensable, that Kilgore College could not imagine Kilgore College without the Texas Shakespeare Festival, and the Texas Shakespeare Festival could not imagine being anywhere else than working with Kilgore College.”

“The Mousetrap” directed by Matthew and Meaghan Simpson plays through Sunday, Nov. 20 at the Van Cliburn Auditorium in the Anne Dean Turk Fine Arts Center. “The Music Man” also plays through Sunday, at Artsview Children’s Theatre.