As news is breaking that Ben Affleck has been cast in the much-talked-about role of Batman in director Zack Snyder's upcoming 'Man of Steel' sequel, Nashville theatre goers will get a chance to check out a hilariously fictionalized version of Affleck and his lifelong friend, Matt Damon this weekend as Red Quill Productions presents a limited run of the recent off-Broadway play, 'Matt & Ben', a play written by Mindy Kaling ('The Office' and 'The Mindy Project') and her college pal, Brenda Withers. Stepping into the roles originated by Kaling and Withers, current Belmont students, Jenna Pryor and Lauren Knoop star in Belmont Little Theatre's mounting of 'Matt & Ben' with Friday and Saturday, August 23 & 24 performance at 7:30 p.m. and a final Sunday matinee on August 25 at 2 p.m. Under their joint venture, Red Quill Productions, the leading ladies not only take on the challenge of playing two of Hollywood's biggest players in their formative years, but Pryor and Knoop also act as producers of the play that takes place in the mid-90s humble abode of then-future Oscar-winners and longtime besties, Affleck and Damon.
In the hours before Pryor and Knoop bringing Kaling and Withers' blissfully sardonic take on 'Matt & Ben' to Belmont Little Theatre this weekend, I had an opportunity to chat with Nashville's own up-and-coming acting/producing dynamic duo for an abbreviated version of my recurring RAPID FIRE Q&A feature. Much like Kaling and Withers, you'll notice that Pryor seems a bit more vocal while Knoop contributes to the Q&A only when absolutely moved to do so. Don't be fooled though. Both Knoop and Pryor fully share their duties as producers and their closeness as friends will surely ignite the stage during their portrayal of 'Matt & Ben' respectively.
JONATHAN PINKERTON: How did you first hear about the show?
JENNA PRYOR: I had first heard about the show a few years back from a director in my hometown of Mission Viejo, CA who was interested in doing it. I had never read the play, but looked into it via youtube and google. More recently, it was brought back to our attention by Belmont professor Brent Maddox. After the team read it, we knew it was the perfect choice for the artists we had.
JP: What made you choose to do this piece?
JENNA PRYOR: The show had absolutely everything we were looking for. A small cast, a unique fresh storyline, and an attention grabbing hook with the Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Mindy Kaling name.
JP: You had mentioned to me that you'd reached out to Mindy when you decided to do this play. Did you ever get a response?
JENNA PRYOR: No. Unfortunately she is probably too busy being famous, funny, and fabulous!
JP: From what I understand, you funded the show via a Kickstarter campaign. Was that the biggest challenge in mounting the show?
JENNA PRYOR: Kickstarter came a lot easier than we had expected. The most challenging part was figuring out everything we needed and organizing all the different aspects that go into a production. Luckily, we have a team of some of the best young theatrical artists in town who made the process productive and rewarding.
JP: Will your Nashville audience get all the trendy, mid-90s Boston references?
JENNA PRYOR: We really hope so! We are also adding in tons of allusions, props, and music from Matt and Ben's films. I'm hoping audiences can catch everything!
JP: So, who would you date....Ben or Matt? (as they are portrayed in the play)...and why?
JENNA PRYOR: This is a difficult question... Personally, I think I would date Ben. I'm a real girly girl so I need a guy's guy to balance me out. Matt is a sweetheart in the play, but I am a hot mess of emotions on my own without my boyfriend being right there with me. Ben is a more to the point "dude".
LAUREN KNOOP: I'm gonna go ahead and chime in here and say that I would probably date Matt, not because I am playing him, but because Matt has this certain dedication and passion that is hard to find and he is a bit of a softy, but I quite like that. All that being said, Matt is more than man enough for me.
JP: When Mindy & Brenda first presented this play, it met with a few less-than favorable reviews. Do you think New York theatre critics were just afraid to laugh at the two Hollywood big wigs it satirizes, or maybe Mindy's droll sarcasm just wasn't appreciated in 2003 like it is now?
JENNA PRYOR: I think it could be a combination of all that you mentioned. The show is a satire and has supernatural elements paired with realism. The audience just needs to come in ready to have a good time and go on a unique ride. The play is in a class of its own, which is why it may be out of the ordinary and different than some expectations. Yet, for us, those qualities are what drew us to it.
JP: During the play, our fictionalized Matt & Ben fantasize about a couple of famous visitors. If you could have anyone drop in on you and your co-star, Lauren Knoop, who would you choose?
JENNA PRYOR: We would definitely want Christian Bale or Justin Timberlake. I wouldn't complain about both and I know Lauren wouldn't either. Can we make this happen?
LAUREN KNOOP: Just chiming in again, yep, I definitely wouldn't be mad about Christian Bale making an appearance.
JP: So there's only three chances to see the show, Friday and Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. and a 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinee. Any chance for a return engagement?
JENNA PRYOR: If the demand is there, that is definitely a conversation we could all have.
JP: As I mention in my introduction to this conversation, you and Lauren not only star in this production of 'Matt & Ben', but you also formed the production company presenting it, Red Quill Productions. What's next for Red Quills?
JENNA PRYOR: Red Quill is ready to go guns blazing into our next project. We are hoping to do a certain Sam Shepherd show around winter time.
'Matt & Ben', starring Knoop and Pryor, as directed by Casey Flyth, will be presented one weekend only, Friday August 23-Sunday August 25. Belmont Little Theatre is located on the campus of Belmont University in the space beneath Hail Hall. Tickets are $5, cash only, and can be purchase at the theatre just prior to each of the three performances. To keep up with Jenna and Lauren and for details on upcoming Red Quill Productions, follow them on Facebook.
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