Actor, director, and teaching artist Matt Daniels is a California native who has made his home living, working, and performing in Milwaukee. We asked him a few questions about Milwaukee's theater scene, the arts, and his favorite spots in town!
Why have you chosen to live & create in Milwaukee?
Milwaukee is a great city! I’m able to support myself as a theater artist here, and the cost of living allows for my wife and I to own a house in a great neighborhood (Bay View, by the way) with great bars, restaurants, and shops. Even though we’re a mid-sized city, there is a surprisingly robust arts scene here; friends and family from much larger cities are consistently awed by the breadth and quality of the theater here. Also, our audiences have a real connection to the work here, which allows us to take some risks as artists, which is essential to to the act of creation.
What’s your favorite thing about Milwaukee’s theater scene?
I love the collective commitment to nurturing the next generation of artists, whether it is through the Theater Academy at First Stage (one of the nation’s largest programs of this type), or the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra, or the various collaborations with local universities undertaken by In Tandem Theatre or Milwaukee Chamber Theater, or the Emerging Professional Residency at Milwaukee Repertory Theater. These programs allow for young artists to grow in a safe environment and start to put down roots right here in Milwaukee. I am the director of First Stage’s Young Company, a pre-professional training program for high school actors, and while it is wonderful to see our alums working around the country, but also living and working right here.
What’s something that surprised you about Milwaukee?
As I mentioned above, the breadth of the theater scene was certainly a surprise when I got here. But I’ve also really fallen in love with the handcrafted, authentic nature of the city. There are still lots of independent business owners, restaurateurs, and shop owners here; some family businesses span generations! The old-world architecture really contributes to a sense of shared history and community. At the same time, some of those restaurants are world class with James Beard Award winning chefs, there are new, internationally-renowned buildings like the Calatrava-designed Art Museum, and a forward outlook on our future with the establishment of water sciences. It is one of the biggest small cities you will ever visit.
What’s one thing that everyone who visits Milwaukee should see or do?
Tough question! One thing? I love the river boat tours that start downtown and take you out into the harbor of Lake Michigan. You get a great look at the city from an often unexplored vantage point. If you can’t get on a boat, a walk along the riverfront downtown is almost as good. But there’s so much more. Check out the restaurant scene in Walker’s Point and Bay View, the many many performing arts offerings downtown, or the Historic Third Ward, where there’s also a ton of great shopping. The tavern scene in Riverwest is great, or a tour of one of the breweries. Or in nice weather, enjoy time in one of the beer gardens in our beautiful parks.