(photo by Jim Barcus)
Lauded as a seasoned Shakespearean, the Kansas City actor and educator boasts a long resume of other roles and theater commitments
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players . . . And one man in his time plays many parts” goes the famous line from Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”
Enter Matt Schwader. If anyone can illuminate Shakespeare’s world, he can.
One would be hard-pressed to find a more seasoned Shakespearean than Schwader. The Kansas City actor and director has played internationally with the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and with Shakespeare Link Canada. In the U.S. he’s performed with The Chicago, Utah and Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festivals. Locally we’ve seen him at the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival. He’s been in several Shakespeare productions with American Players Theatre.
“One of my favorite things about doing Shakespeare is that even though it’s been around for over 400 years, it’s still new to somebody,” Schwader told KCUR’s Morning Edition in advance of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival’s 2019 production of “Shakespeare in Love.” “And every time I work on a Shakespeare play, I get that thrill, realizing somebody is seeing it or hearing it for the first time.
Schwader, who earned his MFA from the Professional Theatre Training Program at the University of Delaware, has been a professional actor since 1998. His resume is diverse and extensive, including tragedies and comedies, period pieces and contemporary works. He’s had roles in plays by Oscar Wilde and Charles Dickens, Tom Stoppard and David Mamet, and played Rodion Raskolnikov in “Crime and Punishment.” He worked with Second City in Chicago, acted in television and commercials, created a steampunk “Midsummer Night’s Dream” and was Romeo in a roaring ’20s version. He’s even played Will himself.
At one point Schwader found himself in Mozambique in a grass skirt amidst flickering lights in a multilingual production of “A Winter’s Tale,” a collaboration between Shakespeare Link Canada and the local Montes Namuli Dance Company. For that cultural exchange, the North Americans shared their expertise on Shakespeare, while the dance company taught them traditional African songs and dances. The result was a vibrant reimagining of Shakespeare’s play, tailored to focus on pressing local issues like HIV and gender equality. It was presented free to the community. “The whole experience was epic,” Schwader said. “It revealed universal themes and human experiences shared across different cultures, proving the playwright’s timelessness and relatability.”
Schwader moved to Kansas City in January of 2016 after nearly 20 years of acting in the Chicago area and numerous tours beyond.
He didn’t move alone. Romeo has his Juliet; Schwader has his Hillary. Hillary Clemens and he married in 2014 after many collaborations and pairings on stage and off. Indeed, they have taken on the very roles of Romeo and Juliet, along with those of Rosalind and Orlando in “As You Like It” as well as Gatsby and Daisy. Now, in addition to their acting projects, Schwader and Clemens are raising two small children.
Since moving here, the two have played prominent roles with Kansas City Actors Theatre (including their radio series during the pandemic and board duties for the company), the New Theatre, the Molière Festival and the Shakespeare Festival. Schwader also serves as director of performance studies at Avila University.
“I get to witness a new wave of young artists entering the scene, bringing fresh perspectives, ideas, and collaborations that promise a bright future for the industry. A thriving theatre scene really brings people together and adds so much to a city. It’s not just about entertainment — theatre inspires, educates, promotes empathy, etc. Plus, it’s simply good for the local economy. Theatre attracts visitors, commerce, and job opportunities. We need it, and Kansas City is ripe for a Renaissance!”
Among his many commitments, Schwader offers a Bard Core Shakespeare Workshop for actors of all levels, a program he conceived in Chicago in 2006; it is also the central component of his Shakespeare in Performance class at Avila. What students take from the course “is the most important and most difficult to practice element in acting: listening,” he says. “I’m very passionate about this process and am continually surprised by the results.”
This past fall, Schwader directed Noel Coward’s “Hay Fever” at Avila and narrated KC Chorale’s “A Christmas Carol.” He taught a class on body language/non-verbal communication at the Transition Center of Kansas City (TCKC), part of the Restorative Reentry Community (RRC) project.
Capping it all off, he’s joined the board of The Theatre Community Fund of Kansas City (TCFKC), which supports theatre artists, technicians and staff during lean times.
He expects to start working with Heart of America Shakespeare Festival soon and has already been cast as Father Flynn in “Doubt” for KC Actors in February/March of 2025.
“I bear a charmed life,” said Macbeth. Schwader feels the same.
“I’m an actor, director, teacher, friend, acquaintance, son, grandson, brother, uncle, husband, and father,” he says. “I’m lucky to be so many people all in one.”