March 12th 2020 marked the unofficial closing night for Mateus with the Broadway touring company of Fiddler on the Roof. The show was in the middle of its week-long run in Detroit when the company got notice that the tour was being suspended until further notice. “We thought maybe other states were going to keep their theaters open”, he reflects, “but within a few hours our company management already booked flights for the entire cast and crew, and everyone was being sent to their contractual points of origin”.
While most of the cast and crew headed back to their families, Mateus, who’s originally from Brazil, knew that reuniting with his family might put him in the risk of not being able to re-enter the U.S. as long as the Coronavirus travel ban isn’t lifted, and so he joined his boyfriend in New York City, where they’ve been quarantined together since.
Mateus currently holds an O1 Visa, which is given to individuals who demonstrate extraordinary ability in their field and enables employment strictly within the boundaries of it. While his employment options are limited, to begin with, Mateus has been working from home during quarantine, teaching master classes, and participating in innovative online performing initiatives. In fact his schedule has been so busy that it was difficult to get him on a Zoom call for this interview, through which I learned this is typical of Mateus, an industrious optimist whose determination cannot be held back or quarantined for that matter.
Mateus Barbosa Sobral Da-Silva was born and raised in Recife (pronounced: heh.see.fee), Brazil, where his parents settled down and started their careers in the healthcare industry. Growing up, Mateus was sent to an after-school program that offered a rigorous English speaking environment, introducing the language through many formats, one of which was the Drama Club – a theater group that practiced and rehearsed entirely in English, and put on a show at the end of each semester. It didn’t take much to make Mateus fall head over heels in love with theater; after seeing his first Drama Club show he started watching their rehearsals at the end of every school day while he waited to be picked up, and it wasn’t long before he asked to join the group and was accepted with open arms.
Mateus loved every minute at the Drama Club and soon it was time to audition for a part in his first show. He remembers the rush of excitement before his first audition as a motivating experience, “the competitive energy made me work hard and prepare to give it my all”, he says. Mateus booked leading roles in the Drama Club’s productions including “Oliver Twist” (Oliver) and “The Lion King” (Simba) and started developing a specific liking for Musicals. He started taking voice lessons for his role in High-School Musical (Troy), and Jazz dance classes for his role in “Peter Pan” (Peter), an experience he remembers as the beginning of his relationship with dance.
He earned his first professional credit by joining a production of an original Brazilian Musical called “Circo do Futuro” (Circus of the Future) and was scouted by an agent who helped him book commercials and voice over jobs, including a PSA in the state of Rio Grande do Norte that warned against the Dengue Virus (I encouraged him to submit materials to the CDC casting team for their Coronavirus announcements).
By senior year of high-school Mateus had his heart set on getting a BFA in Musical Theater, but the most his country had to offer was far from what he knew he wanted. He was getting ready to settle for a degree in design and pursue a low-key career in Musical Theater when his parents encouraged him to think big and go far to get the best for himself. He contacted a college placement agency which helped him apply for programs in the U.S., and having the Brazilian school year ended earlier than the American one, he had time to take the SAT and TOFEL exams, prepare video audition tapes and write application essays for eight different colleges, all of which ended up accepting him.
Mateus chose West Texas A&M University and started his BFA in Musical theater the following year, and changed his major to Dance after two years. Doors started opening for him and he started working for the Lonestar Ballet Company in Amarillo, Texas, during his junior year of college. By his graduation in 2017 he had already booked jobs as a Swing dancer for Norwegian Cruise Lines and in the Fireside Theater’s “Newsies” (Romeo). During these first contracts Mateus would use his days off to fly into New York and audition for future shows, an endeavor which resulted in a streak of bookings, including West Side Story (Guthrie Theater), La Cage Aux Faux (Short North Stage) and Mary Poppins (Virginia Musical Theater).
His first National tour experience was with “Spamalot”, a show he had auditioned for during its first round of casting but didn’t end up booking. “I remember feeling like I bombed the acting audition because of my questionable British accent”, he says. However, months after the tour had gone on the road, one of the dancers was leaving and required an immediate replacement. Mateus was contacted by Casting and before he knew it he was already doing put-in rehearsals with the touring company. Apparently that questionable British accent made some long-lasting impression after all.
In 2018 the acclaimed Broadway revival of Fiddler on the Roof started its first National Tour. A week before tech rehearsals started, one of the company dancers suddenly dropped out and an immediate replacement was needed. Familiar with such circumstances, Mateus showed up for the audition but didn’t book it. “I remember loving the choreography so much and feeling like I had to book this show”, he reflects. Though he didn’t book it the first time around, Mateus took heart and showed up for the “Fiddler on the Roof Masterclass” at the Broadway Dance Center later that year, and soon the auditions for the second year of the tour were coming around. ”It was an amazing audition experience”, he says, “I knew the choreography and the movement felt so natural in my body”. His feelings got affirmed this time around, and he got to join the Shtetel of “Anatefka” as a featured dancer and understudy for the role of the Fiddler, where he performed eight shows a week until the coronavirus pandemic brought the show to an abrupt stop. On May 17th 2020, which was supposed to be their official closing night, Mateus and his castmates got together over Zoom and held a Closing Night party in which they got to reminisce about their tour experiences and say an official goodbye to each other, knowing that by the time the show gets back on the road many of them won’t be returning.
Meanwhile in Brazil, Mateus’s parents, whose plans to see him in Fiddler were thwarted by the outbreak of Coronavirus, are now playing their roles of a lifetime on the pandemic frontline. Though he doesn’t have the privilege of leaving and entering the U.S. freely at this time, Mateus tells me he knows he will be seeing them soon enough and remains positive. After hearing the length of his story, this comes as no surprise to me.