Matt Shakman is not just your typical Yale graduate. A California native, Shakman began acting at the age of four, appearing in a number of television shows, including “The Facts of Life,” “Diff’rent Strokes,” “Growing Pains,” “Webster,” and “Highway to Heaven.”[i] He continued pursuing his acting career through theater training at Yale University and the New Jersey Shakespeare Festival. Today, Shakman is most noted for his directing role in hit television shows such as “Ugly Betty,” “House M.D.,” “Psych,” “Brothers & Sisters,” “Everybody Hates Chris,” “Everwood,” “Six Feet Under,” “Boston Legal,” “One Tree Hill,” “Summerland,” and many more.[ii] He has also worked as both a director and producer for FX’s “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
However, Shakman’s life isn’t all about the glamour of primetime television. Active in Yale’s theater program, Shakman college extracurriculars included directing the Yale Undergraduate Shakespeare Company’s (YUSC) production of “Macbeth” in the Winter of 1996[iii] and acting in the role of Ascanius, Aeneas’s young son, in a Yale English department staged reading of “Dido, Queen of Carthage” by Christopher Marlowe and Thomas Nashe.[iv]*
In 2001, a few years after graduating from Yale and spending time in both New York City and Los Angeles, Shakman founded the Black Dahlia Theatre, a non-for-profit organization aiming to develop and produce new plays by both well-known and up-and-coming writers.[v] The company has enjoyed successful premieres of an impressive list of eclectic productions, including Adam Rapp’s “Nocturne,” Charles Evered’s “The Shoreham,” and most recently, Stephen Belber’s “Finally.” The Black Dahlia Theatre has since generated vast critical acclaim, being honored as “Best Small Theater” in Los Angeles Magazine among many other accolades.[vi] Shakman currently serves its Artistic Director.
What is most remarkable about Shakman’s career is not simply his extraordinary resume of credits, but his ability to effortlessly balance his successful television projects with the responsibilities of maintaining a small theater company. After so many hurdles cleared in such a cutthroat industry, fielding a room of Duke students’ questions should be a piece of cake!
*Fun Fact: Along with Shakman and the faculty of the Yale English department, Richard Brodhead played the part of the winged god Hermes in a voice-over role. Brodhead currently serves as ninth president of Duke University.
[iv] “Faculty Foster Drama Outside Classroom with Production of ‘Dido’,” Yale Bulletin and Calendar News Stories, Volume 25, Number 9, Oct. 21-28, 1996, 22 Oct. 2008 <http://www.yale.edu/opa/arc-ybc/ybc/v25.n9.news.07.html>
[v] Les Spindle, “Matt of All Trades,” Backstage: The Actor’s Resource, 25 Mar. 2008, 22 Oct. 2008 <https://secure.vnuemedia.com/bso/news_reviews/la/review_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003728857&inp=true>
[vi] “Press & Awards,” The Black Dahlia, 2006, 22 Oct. 2008 <http://www.thedahlia.com/index.php?id=pressawards>