Matt Schwader and Hillary Clemens talk life, love, baby, and the stage
(This is the complete version of this story. Due to space constraints, the one in NUVO had to be shortened.)
There’s an old adage about mixing your private life with work (don’t), but for those who see the theater as home, the lines are easy to blur. Matt Schwader’s and Hillary Clemens’s relationship has been inextricably woven into their on-stage careers since they first met in 2010 at a Shakespeare festival in Wisconsin. And now, they are coming full circle in their theatrical parenting foray. After discovering that they were pregnant the morning before the opening night of The Great Gatsby at the Indiana Repertory Theatre (he as Gatsby and she as Daisy) in 2015, the whole family is back at the IRT for its production of Boeing Boeing, opening March 7 (he as Bernard and she as Gloria).
Though branded by the dark circles under their eyes common to all new parents, the couple is upbeat and positive about their first foray into the regional-theater scene since their son was born eight months ago. “We were going to take a year or more off from the theater world, and we probably wouldn’t have taken this [show] if it weren’t for Hillary’s mom,” says Schwader with a smile. “And it’s hard to say no to Janet [Allen, IRT’s executive artistic director] and the Indiana Rep,” he adds, and he and his wife laugh good-naturedly.
Clemens elaborates, “Henry’s with my mother. She’s staying in the room across from ours in our housing, and my stepdad is here for a little bit too. He’ll probably come and go, but she’s here for the duration. Really, it was the only way we could do this. My mom just looked at me and said, ‘I’ll come with you.’ We knew that we would be at home here.”
“It’s just the best place,” Schwader says. “It’s a fun theater. When you come here, people are just so warm and creative and positive—good people.” And when he says it, you know he means it. His lively blue eyes look right at you, and his body language conveys confidence and energy.
Clemens, her husband’s physical opposite—petite, with enormous brown eyes that dominate her face—is just as enthusiastic if more physically calm. Content. “I’ve been spending all of my time with Henry up until this. This is the longest I’ve been away from him. Being home made a real difference for me. I’m lucky that I was able to do that. But it also feels really good to be back at work too.”
Schwader says, “I kind of went back to a day job just to support the family. And then doing things with the Bach Aria Soloists and the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival and a couple of other groups that do like a weekend thing. It’s great, but all I wanna do is be at home,” and they both laugh again.
Everyone knows babies are exhausting, but when your schedules aren’t the typical nine-to-five, it can be even more challenging. “In this career, most of our job starts around noon and then goes later, in general. And then once the show’s in performance, it’s nights and weekend,” Schwader says. “But with a baby, he has no interest in our schedule! So he gets me up every morning. Hillary’s still nursing, so he’ll wake up a couple times at night, expect a little bite to eat, so since she has to do that, as a fair trade off, I get up with him in the morning. Everything’s completely different. Normally in the past, I’d be pretty much memorized before rehearsal started, and it just wasn’t very possible with a baby.
“The thing that’s a big issue with being parents and being a team in a play is time. It’s one thing if you’re in two different shows, where one person has a rehearsal schedule and the other one can be at home with the kids or doing supportive kind of stuff like making lunches, that kind of thing. But when you are both on the same schedule, it’s exhausting. You just want to come home and relax, and there’s no one there who’s picking up the extra weight. And you look at each other like the other person should do it. [both laugh] And then you realize, no, we’re in the same boat. I think that’s the biggest ‘challenge.’ But that’s just life.
Juggling work and their relationship is something the couple already had experience with before baby. But that time apart never marred their bond. The two laugh often and complete each other’s sentences. They have found their balance and made it work.
“We met in 2010, and we reconnected a couple years later. You [Clemens] were in Florida, and I was in Chicago,” Schwader says. “We started out long distance. From e-mails, to Skype, to watching Netflix at the same time,” which make them both laugh again.
Clemens adds, “We spent a lot of our relationship working in different cities and different plays. Right after we got married, we had about two weeks together, and then I came here and did The Game’s Afoot [IRT 2014].”
“And I had been here before in 2006 doing A Christmas Carol. So we both worked here separately.”
“And then we had an amazing year where we worked together.”
“Back to back. We did Romeo and Juliet out at Lake Tahoe where she was Juliet and I was Romeo. And we came here and did The Great Gatsby.”
“And then we went to Seattle and did Christmas Carol together. Then we had the baby, took some time off, and now we’re here! And then this summer, we are going to do Hamlet in Kansas City at the Shakespeare Festival there.”
So what’s it like working with your partner? Schwader says, “Being theatrical and being on stage with a show, I want to say…I’d love to say it’s no different from doing it with anybody else, but there is an element of comfort”
“Especially if it’s something romantic. Physical.”
“Exactly. All of that. It’s very easy, and it’s different than working with someone you don’t have that with. But you know, if you’re going through a lovers’ spat in life but have to be happy on stage, we’re professionals. Once we’re in the play, we really are in the play.”
Clemens adds, “We keep joking too that the last time we were here, it was Gatsby, so your [Schwader’s] character was obsessed with mine, and now we’re back and I’m one of three. I get to watch you make out with two other ladies. But I know you’re coming home with me at night. You betta.” [more laughter]
Schwader continues, “I think it [the challenge] is time. I’m up with him [Henry] at 4:30, 5 o’clock in the morning. It’s kind of great because we get a little Henry and Pop time.” So, can you take a nap? “I’ve got to memorize lines and go to the gym, get the house cleaned up, pack our lunches…I’ll be interested to see what happens during the show. I don’t know that we’ll make it back before he goes to bed, and I’ll miss that time.”
Clemens adds, “We also moved to a new place right before we left.” This made their time even more precious.
Schwader says, “In a rehearsal process, normally the time that you’re off rehearsal, you have a lot of homework. Not just memorizing lines, but you’re working on your own.”
“And with a show like this [Boeing Boeing], that’s so physical, gym time isn’t just a luxury. You really have to do it.”
Schwader says, “You have to stay healthy, stay flexible. So trying to find time to do all those things and also not miss out on time with him [Henry], that’s the challenge.”
“And just figuring out how the schedule works. This is our first show back as parents, and just figuring out the timing of everything. I mean, we’re up at 5 a.m.”
And that brings the story back to their baby.
Schwader beings, “We were planning on having the baby. But the story is, actors get things for each other as little opening-night gifts, and we had been sort of lax on that. And in the morning, on the opening night of our show, Hillary comes to me and she’s like, ‘Let’s give each other our gifts now!’ and I was like, “No, we don’t do that!”
Clemens explains, “We still had about four hours of rehearsal to do—”
“Yeah, you do it at the show. But she said, ‘No, we have to do it now.’ Well, I was curmudgeonly about it—”
“He was grouchy, trying to make breakfast—”
“And she said, ‘You go first.’ So I was like, I didn’t want to do it at all, and now you’re making me go first.” This gets another laugh out of Clemens. “So I gave her her gifts, which were some things related to the show, like a daisy necklace, and things like that because she was playing Daisy. And then she gave me my gift, and it’s a little thing that is wrapped up. I open it up, and I pull it out, and it’s a onesie. And we just burst into tears. It was awesome.”
Seriously, how adorable is that!
Clemens picks up the story. “We had to go to rehearsal and couldn’t tell anybody. We’d be on stage, to reposition a moment or fix the blocking, and I’d look at Matt and he’d look at me. And his eyes would just fill with tears. And I was like [whispering through gritted teeth], ‘Get it together! They’re going to think something’s wrong!’ We told Nathan [Garrison], the stage manager, pretty much right away because it’s a medical issue. You want to make sure somebody in charge knows what’s going on.”
“And she of course did get horrible morning sickness that whole first trimester. And we were on a rake, which is a triangular stage, and she’s in high heels doing the Charleston.”
Clemens says, “I had a few ‘come off stage, throw up, come back on stage’ moments. And just the level of fatigue early on was really rough early on. And we did end up telling the cast because it hit me so hard that we thought they either are going to think I’m dying or they’re going to be afraid I’m contagious. And also it was good for them to know just in case—”
“Somebody could grab you—”
“If I look like I’m about to keel over, everyone knows to grab me. But it was really kind of wonderful to have this thing that was really special with the cast and crew.”
“And we get to bring him here now, and he can see where he began!” Schwader adds.
Clemens says, “It’s fun when we look at our production photos because they took all the photos, or at least half, during previews, so I was pregnant but didn’t know yet. So I look at all those pictures, and I’m like [in a singsong voice], ‘You’re preg-nant!’ We call them Henry’s first production photos. And there’s a moment in the play too where Gatsby is whispering to Daisy on stage—”
“But the audience doesn’t hear what I’m saying—”
“And there were a couple of nights where he would lean in and just go [whispering], ‘You’re preg-nant!’”
This elicits yet another bout of joy-filled laughter.
Clemens says, “It’s wonderful to come back with something that is so wonderfully silly. And we know when we come home at the end of the night we’re going to be in a great mood, as opposed to like a Shakespearean tragedy. You can’t always leave all of it; it comes with you, it lives in you a little bit. So it’s nice to know that there really isn’t a way to be in a bad mood at the end of this play.”
Schwader agrees. “Especially with this cast and this company. It’s sort of funny because the play’s about these people who sort of live an international lifestyle, and a play like this for anybody is sort of a vacation. You get to forget about anything that’s happening in politics, the world, or whatever else may be troubling you in life, and you can go laugh for a couple hours.”
It’s the 1960s, and swinging bachelor Bernard couldn’t be happier: a flat in Paris and three gorgeous stewardesses all engaged to him without knowing about each other. But Bernard’s perfect life gets bumpy when his friend Robert comes to stay and a new and speedier Boeing jet throws off all of his careful planning. Soon all three stewardesses are in town simultaneously, timid Robert is forgetting which lies to tell to whom, and catastrophe looms.
Boeing Boeing runs at the Indiana Repertory Theatre March 7-April 2.
Tickets are $25-$75.
Recommended for ages 14 and over.
Save $5 on the first two weeks of the show when you book using the promo code JETSETTERS5.