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From Dancing with the Rockettes to Winning Film Awards

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Matt Toronto

Matt Toronto came to Penn State from New York City, where he was nurturing a successful career performing in regional theatre, Off-Broadway, and in national tours—including five seasons dancing alongside the Radio City Rockettes. While in New York he began writing and, most importantly, directing between acting gigs. That “between-gig” directing experience made him realize he was meant to play a different role in the world of theatre.

Matt applied and was accepted to Penn State’s unique M.F.A. program in Directing for the Musical Theatre Stage. In graduate school he helmed several successful productions, including Cabaret, Much Ado About Nothing, and the musical Parade. As graduation neared, he began applying for teaching jobs at other universities. He was on the verge of accepting another position when an unexpected offer came from Penn State. He joined the faculty in 2007, teaching acting, directing, and musical theatre performance. Thrilled at the opportunity, he welcomed the stability for his growing family. “I had never had a yearly salary before. The longest gig I had up until this point was five months long. That was playing a Jet in the national tour of West Side Story.”

As Matt honed his teaching skills, his directing career took off. He began freelancing with professional theatres and universities all over the country, including the Fulton Theatre, York Theatre, Theatre at Monmouth, University of Utah, University of Michigan, Bucknell University, and of course, Penn State Centre Stage. At Centre Stage he directed the world premiere of the musical Ordinary Days.

While at Penn State, Matt began exploring other media, including film. He wrote, produced, and directed a feature film called The Pact, which went on to win awards at the Wet Your Pants Comedy Film Festival, South Dakota Film Festival, Best Actors in a Film Festival, Mexico International Film Festival, American International Film Festival, and New York Independent Film Festival. It was an official selection at more than a dozen other festivals. The film has since been released on DVD to critical acclaim.  

Matt continues to teach and direct for Penn State. Notable productions include an outdoor Romeo and Juliet and Leonard Bernstein’s MASS, which was a part of the College of Arts and Architecture’s 50th anniversary celebration. Currently he is creating a sitcom pilot with his wife, Jordan, and he has completed two new screenplays. He hopes to begin production for those projects in 2014.

Matt is grateful to Penn State “not only for the skills and education but for the unflinching support of my creative efforts. It is a true blessing to have an artistic home among students and colleagues of such high caliber.”