Interview: Phil Matthews – Stepping through the Fourth Wall.

There is a rousing buzz in the Fourthwall Magazine offices. The final touches to the spring issue are being implemented and even from the waiting area the pressure is palpable. Through the hustle and bustle, there’s talk of slotting in the remaining advert as Creative Director Phil Matthews asks for “final checks, please”. Within minutes he emerges and greets me with a smile, followed by a theatrical sigh. “Right, we’re done,” he grins. “We have a happy Editor, a happy Commercial Director – Job’s a good ‘un. Shall we chat?”

We find ourselves at a local coffee house and as we order we get the ball rolling about the future of Fourthwall and other publications and websites in the company’s portfolio. “It’s all very exciting,” says Matthews. “Things are starting to really move forward.”

Fourthwall was recently acquired by 3Fold Media, a diverse entertainment media company set up to promote theatre on many levels. Its online platforms and publications aim to encourage involvement in the performing arts from the basic level of consumer interest through to career participation. “I genuinely believe we’re on to something special here.”

As well as his work on Fourthwall Matthews spends his working week writing, editing, producing video promos and photography. He has also been an actor since his teens, a professional career that kicked off in the popular BBC children’s drama Byker Grove working with Oscar-winning director Tom Hooper. “Yes, what an audition that was,” he smiles, quickly erupting into a knowing giggle.

“It was one of Hoopers first directing gigs after graduating from Oxford and I remember he was extremely serious about the work. I mean, Byker wasn’t exactly high art, but even then you got a sense that Tom was a true perfectionist – everything had to be just so. And rightly so.” Hooper went on to win the Academy Award for Best Director for The King’s Speech. His film production of Les Miserables has been nothing less than a sensation pulling in awards left, right and centre. “Tom was such a stickler for perfection. He was really irritated with the Second Unit Director’s work one time and insisted on filming several of the day’s scenes again himself,” recalls Matthews. “A bold move considering the Second Unit Director was also the Executive Producer employing him. I knew then he’d do well for himself.”

Director Tom Hooper

I push Matthews on his marked reaction when recounting his first meeting with Hooper. “Ah, you don’t want to hear about that,” he retorts. I raise an eyebrow, smile, and tilt my head and that’s enough for the 32-year-old to launch into the anecdote. “Of course you do,” he smiles. “Okay, so I turned up to the meeting, aged 15 or 16, already knowing the casting director who had cast me in a small part in Byker a few years before. I had probably ten minutes to get to grips with the three pages of script. This was a regular role in a top prime-time series so it’s safe to say I was more than a bit nervous.

“I meet Tom, warm exchanges, the lot. We chat about the character and he seems impressed with my take on the role. So far, so good. He suggests we go straight on camera and half way down the first page as I deliver my character’s line ‘okay, donkey’ as the script stated, I suddenly feel a shift in the feeling of the room. Tom stops me and asks me to start again. Sure enough, following the line ‘okay, donkey’ a disgruntled Tom halts the audition once more, looking at me curiously. ‘Erm Philip,’ he says. ‘Have you ever heard of the term ‘okey dokey?’ ‘ I was stunned, not able to find the words that I was perhaps slightly word blind! Surprisingly, I got the job.”

Playing Percy Shelley in Blood & Ice, Royal Lyceum Edinburgh

Further roles in television shows followed, as well as lots of theatre and three intensive years training at The Central School of Speech and Drama where Matthews graduated with Distinction. In between acting jobs, he turned his hand to writing and was soon working for publications on a regular basis. A stint as an Associate Editor with a lifestyle magazine quickly taught him new skills and in 2008 Matthews decided to launch the first ever printed magazine for drama students, taking the helm as Publishing Editor. The aim was to give a voice to those seriously pursuing a career in the industry through training, dispel the countless myths and convey the very best advice and guidance. The Drama Student Magazine quickly became a key resource. The editorial policy was clear: ‘To be entertaining, informative, motivating and to report on the training and the industry positively, but honestly’. It turned out to be an inspired mix.

The publication evolved into Fourthwall Magazine incorporating The Drama Student a few years later: a move to include actors, creatives and backstage crew. “The change enabled us to serve our entire readership of emerging artists seriously looking to establish and sustain their careers,” says Matthews. “Fourthwall covers the whole journey, from applying for training, right through to graduation and beyond. Editor Josh Boyd-Rochford and I firmly believe that to succeed in this industry, it is important that we constantly challenge ourselves and often that means the training never leaves us. Fourthwall is at the forefront of that passion – a magazine that is informative, amusing, intelligent, thought-provoking, accessible and challenging. Above all, we’re a publication that is serious about careers in the performing arts. It really is a must read.”

New Boy (Trafalgar Studios) cast - With Ciara Janson, Mel Giedroyc, Nicholas Hoult & Gregg Lowe.

Following a brief period as an online publication only, the purchase of Fourthwall by 3Fold Media has meant the magazine is back in print. The company also acquired Amateur Stage Magazine and will launch later this summer. Matthews’ new role as Creative Director means that he will be overseeing the comprehensive development of all three platforms. “We have a first rate team working across our publications and websites, with a shared passion for theatre and the arts,” he explains. “As a group, we’ll be serving all areas of the performing arts, whether you’re an amateur, professional, or consumer.”

Matthews believes that the British theatre industry is arguably the best in the world and to stay ahead in these austerity times of severe cuts, we have to work harder than ever before to ensure we stay there. “Live performance has never been so vibrant in the UK,” he says. “Not only have we some of the most talented theatre creators in the world, we have venues across the country that offer state-of-the-art facilities, as well as smaller fringe venues that perhaps lack plush surroundings but certainly make up in their passion for their art.

Filming on location

“Look at London’s theatres. They enjoyed their best year yet, despite fears that the Olympics would have a detrimental impact on ticket sales. It didn’t. Theatre is thriving.”

It is at this stage Matthews stops himself and there’s a moment of reflection. “But,” he warns, “theatre will not carry on thriving if we don’t continue to invest in it. I don’t just mean funding and finance, or philanthropy – the arts sector has been fighting for all that since day dot. No, I mean investing in our future talent. Training actors and creatives so that they meet the demanding requirements when they graduate into the industry. We have the best training in the world here and we need to look at all ways to encourage theatre schools and education. 3Fold Media is all about championing the arts and those that share a love for it on whatever level.”

Fourthwall Magazine is positioning itself as a key resource for those in training and working in the performing arts. Matthews and the team at 3Fold are currently devising ways to support actors, drama students and creatives by distributing complementary copies to over 500 theatrical and drama training establishments, but also with bursary schemes to help talented artists succeed. “In addition to that, we’ll be launching something really exciting later in the year, that emerging artists will love. But I can’t say any more than that, as much as I would love to.”

So does all this work mean Matthews is moving away from acting. “No,” he smiles. “That’s a love like no other. I plan to write and direct a couple of short films by the end of the year too. As long as everything I do is creative, that’s all good.”

As we draw to the end of the interview, Matthews explains how the Fourthwall team wants readers to be involved with the publication. “We want to champion emerging artists everywhere and it’s their input that makes this magazine so special,” he says. I hold the door open for Matthews and usher him through. With a swift wink, he quips: “Okey, dokey. There you go, Tom Hooper would be proud.”

Fourthwall Magazine is available to view online FREE only to our Facebook fans. Go to Facebook/fourthwallmag and LIKE the group. You can then follow the instructions to view the publication or SUBSCRIBE to receive printed copies in the post.

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