Matt Hill

Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

In an effort to challenge the typical theater format, UT’s Uh Theatre Company is capitalizing on audience participation in a new-immersive experience. In their production of “For Sale by Owner,” audience members are guided through an estate in groups by the lead actress.

The play follows Charley, who inherits a house from her deceased father and is trying to sell the property to the audience. As she walks through each room, memories of the house resurface, and the audience watches as Charley’s attitude completely transforms. 

Uh Theatre Company was founded by a group of UT students last summer. Since then, they have produced five shows, including their latest piece, “For Sale by Owner.” During September, the company set up an Indiegogo fundraising account for the play and was able to raise over $1,000 within a month. Matt Hill, radio-television-film and theatre and dance senior, is currently the co-artistic director.

“It’s one thing to be able to write the piece, rehearse the piece and perform the piece,” Hill said. “All those elements truly make theater as lovable as it is, but, for this project in particular, unlike other projects we’ve done, it was crowd-sourced by members of the community and people we’ve encountered through our theatrical journeys.”

“For Sale by Owner” will be performed out of a house in the Brentwood area. Hill explained that the idea for this play was inspired by the memories made within the house, and that many of the cast members have lived or are currently living there. 

“Audiences are exposed to experience art in the very narrow mindset of, ‘I’m going to sit down and watch what’s in front of me and take it for what it is,’” Hill said. “But performance art can be creative and exhibited in any number of ways.”

Theatre and dance senior Kenny Chilton is the producer of the play and personally requested the play to be performed in the house. Chilton hopes to redeem any personal connections he may have missed within the house while he lived there. 

“We really love the house,” Chilton said. “I lived in this house for a year, and a lot of what the play has to do with is memories and how you deal with your past and the things you regret in your past.”

Theatre and dance senior Callie Hacker said that Uh Theatre Company relies on making progress with their productions by having a tight-knit cast. The “For Sale by Owner” cast is made up of about 10 people, most of whom have previously worked together. 

“This is definitely the group I have the most hope in for theater,” Hacker said. “The world of theater is changing, especially in Broadway. Corporations are trying to get their hands on theater, and it’s so nice knowing that there are some people out there that want to do theater because they’re artistic and creative.”

Hacker explained that the company attracts different kinds of interests, from engineers to radio-television-film students, but everyone is brought together by a passion for theater. Even the audiences are made up of
diverse backgrounds. 

“There are those who want to do theater as a hobby and those who have to do [theater] — it’s a part of them in one shape, way or form,” Hacker said. “This group has the best combination of the two.”

Dance sophomore Katie McCarn presents choreography to potential casts for the play “Thomas Was Alone” at Liberal Arts Building on Tuesday night, Originally adpated by local theater troop Uh Theatre Company from an indie puzzle platform game, “Thomas Was Alone” tells the story of an Articificial Intelligence named Thomas who becomes self-aware and seeks to escape

Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

While some students like to play video games, a group of students with the Uh Theatre Company are adapting a video game into a play.

Uh Theatre Company, a student theater troop created last May, held auditions Tuesday for their adaptation of the puzzle-platform game “Thomas Was Alone.” Developed by game designer Mike Bithell, the game is set in a computer mainframe within Artificial Life Solutions — a fictional company dedicated to developing artificial intelligence. Within the mainframe are a number of shapes, which develop personalities and abilities after a system glitch in the computer causes them to become self-aware. 

Matt Hill, co-founder of the Uh Theatre Company and a theatre and dance and radio-television-film senior, took a special interest in the game in August and thought there was potential to create an artistic adaptation. After Hill introduced “Thomas Was Alone” to Oscar Franco, a collaborator with the company and a theatre studies senior, they made plans to create a theatrical adaptation of the game.

“After playing the game, [Oscar] felt really attached to the characters and the narrative of the piece.” said Hill, who also serves as the company’s artistic director. “He talked to me, and we talked to a few other people, and we formed a collaboration team.” 

With the combined efforts of several company members, the team began pre-production.

“We thought, You know, we can get together some talent, a few actors, we can write a few scenes. We can basically rehearse and film a little mini project,’” Hill said. “Basically create a teaser of what a full-length production might be. After doing so, we sent such footage to [Bithell] and we asked for his permission,” Hill said. 

In January, the company received consent from Bithell to continue developing their adaptation of his game.

The play will be more of an adaptation than an exact rendition of the game. Kenny Chilton, theatre and dance junior and company collaborator, said this allows for more freedom when developing the plot and characters.

“We needed to make some leeway for ourselves,” Chilton said. “An adaptation isn’t meant to be an exact copy. An adaptation is something you can call your own.”

Set to premiere April 3, “Thomas Was Alone” will be the third production added to Uh Theatre Company’s repertoire. Olivia DeBeck, a company collaborator and radio-television-film senior, said the company prides itself on its creativity and originality. 

“We do more original things than are pre-existing,” DeBeck said.

Going forward, the company is working on a fight-choreography piece set to open this May called “Versus.” 

Theatre and dance and marketing senior Calli Conti plays Danica Rani, the incumbent chess president in “Agon,” a production by the Madrigal Theatre Committee. 

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

A post-apocalyptic United States is separated into squares, resembling a chessboard. Washington D.C., known as Square 48, is occupied by Agon High School, where students seek political change and compete for justice through the game of chess. At least this is the world in the Madrigal Theatre Committee’s show “Agon.”

This weekend, the Madrigal Theatre Committee will take the SAC Auditorium stage to showcase the new student-written musical “Agon.” The committee allows students who aren’t theatre and dance majors to participate in productions to showcase their talents. 

Rebecca Walach, a directing sophomore and co-director of “Agon,” commented on her appreciation for the committee. 

“We have this whole realm of people who aren’t theatre people, which is really cool,” Walach said. “It’s a really great thing to be with people who share the same passions.”

The playwright, Matt Hill, a theater and dance and radio-television-film junior, began conceptualizing the musical more than a year ago. He described the plot revolving around a disenfranchised student at Agon High School, who, with the help of his friends, challenges the status quo and runs for class president, resulting in a heated political campaign.  

Though some things have changed from conceptualization to opening night, Hill said his initial vision for “Agon” has remained the same, including the title.

“‘Agon’ is one of the Greek terms for ‘play,’” Hill said. “Specifically, agon means competition, rather, the type of game in which people in a contest can win. Something like a board game such as chess is agon. In the play, agon is the battle between two people both competing for class president.” 

Shannon Price, a journalism sophomore and music director for “Agon,” composed more than 20 pieces for the show. She said her original pieces alter everyday to meet the talents of the cast. 

“It’s a really collaborative piece,” Price said. “I tell the musicians my vision for the songs and they have the talent to come up with exactly what I want.” 

Calli Conti, a theatre and dance and marketing senior and actress in “Agon,” was impressed with the show from the very first table-read. 

“It’s a huge musical, not some little project. The directors have put their blood, sweat and tears into this show. I’m so excited to be a part of this,” Conti said.

The directors, cast and crew are ready to showcase their hard work and tell the story they’ve been rehearsing for months. 

“This is my life,” Hill said. “We all have high hopes for this show and want it to be the best. We hope to share this story with as many people as we can.”

Members of the Madrigal Theatre Committee, Logan Healey, Olivia Debeck, and Matt Hill prepare for the 32nd annual Madrigal Dinner in the Texas Union Ballroom.
Photo Credit: Emily Ng | Daily Texan Staff

While some students are passionate about sports or student government, Olivia Debeck, radio-television-film senior; Matt Hill, theatre and dance sophomore; and math senior Logan Healey share a passion for theater that led to their becoming instrumental in creating the Madrigal Theatre Committee’s 32nd annual Renaissance-style dinner and show.

Biology senior Thomas Kelleher wrote this year’s show, which Debeck, the show’s director, describes as having a darker tone than in past years while still remaining lighthearted and fun. The tale follows villains on a quest to release an evil curse upon the land. The entire story is told from the villain’s perspective.

“People who love theater regardless of what their actual major is can come here and find a place for themselves,” Healey, the stage manager and choreographer, said. “We pride ourselves on not only bringing in people of all different kinds of majors, but we also let people do everything.”

The theater experience that the “Madrigal Dinner” offers is like no other, Debeck said. The show integrates acting, singing, dancing, improvisation and dinner into one experience.

“It is such a dynamic show,” Healey said. “If you like theater, even if you don’t like theater, you’re more likely than not to have fun.”

Healey describes the committee as a family-like community because it brings together different people from all majors and interests. Healey has directed, acted and produced for “Madrigal Dinner” before, but tried something out of his comfort zone for this production.

“What I did this year that I hadn’t done before was that me and Shannon Price [the show’s choir director] choreographed the dance pieces, and I’m not a dancer so it was kind of awesome to even be involved,” Healey said.

This was Debeck’s first time directing “Madrigal Dinner.” She also directed the committee’s production “Werewolves” last spring. Debeck said “Madrigal Dinner” has pushed her to develop her directing skills.

“I’m still working on my style,” Debeck said. “I am more hands-on, not standoffish. I like to be right there with my actors.”

Debeck added that it was most rewarding to see her vision come to life as dress rehearsals began and all the final details were perfected.

“It is nice to see it all coming together,” Debeck said.

Hill, this year’s producer, discovered a passion for production through his work with the Madrigal Theatre Committee. Hill said that the Madrigal Theatre Committee is constantly fostering new talent in all realms of theater. 

“We want as many people to know about us as possible because the things you can do here are endless,” Hill said.

Printed on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 as: 'Madrigal' ensures dark comedy

TULSA, Okla. — Every time the video montage is played prior to a Texas home game, someone will either glance over at assistant coach Kenton Paulino and smile or give him a little nudge.

One of the highlights that plays on the Frank Erwin Center screen is Paulino’s game winning buzzer-beater against West Virginia to send Texas to the Elite Eight in the 2006 NCAA Tournament.

“I can watch it over and over again,” Paulino said. “I don’t think it will ever get old.”

Junior Alexis Wangmene remembers that moment like it was yesterday.

“That was my favorite tournament memory,” Wangmene said.

Jai Lucas’ favorite tournament memory came in 2004 when his brother John Lucas III hit a 3-pointer in the Elite Eight with six seconds left to beat top-seeded St. Joseph’s in New Jersey.

“That’s a moment I will remember for the rest of my life,” Lucas said.

Every player on the team has his favorite memory from watching when they were younger. Cory Joseph and his entire family would gather around the TV every March and just watch basketball. Matt Hill would always try to find a TV in between classes in junior high and high school. Lucas remembers showing off his baby blue North Carolina t-shirt in the hallways of Bellaire High School after the Tar Heels won the National Championship.

Tristan Thompson’s favorite game was when Virginia Commonwealth upset Duke in the first round of the 2007 tournament because he would always love to see upsets.

“But now that I’m playing in the tournament I don’t want to see the underdog win,” Thompson said.

Staying out of the Pool

The Longhorns have no interest in taking part in a bracket pool. Lucas used to always pick the winner with his friends, but that tradition stopped when he got to college.

The team won’t even watch any of the analysis or predictions made.

“It’s just people’s opinions,” Hill said. “You never know what’s going to happen. Whatever everyone picks usually doesn’t happen anyways.”

Even Thompson, who said he never turns his TV off ESPN, can’t watch it. They do however watch as many of the actual games as they can.

Staying off the Beach

This is the Longhorns’ 13th consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. That also means 13 straight years without a spring break for Rick Barnes’ squads as the opening rounds of NCAA Tournament usually coincide with the week off a school that most students get.

Every year, Hill has to hear from his friends about their trip to Mexico. Sometimes he wishes he could join them, but he is always content with his trip.

“I think I get the better end of the deal,” Hill said.

Lucas noted that the team actually gets two spring breaks including the Big 12 Championship week which they miss most of school from. He’s not complaining.

“I think I’d rather experience this any day,” Lucas said.

Basketball players know what they are getting themselves into when they choose to play in college. Sometimes that means sacrificing a relaxing week at the beach for a chance at a NCAA title.

“This is our fun time,” Wangmene said. “I don’t have any problem with that.”

Ask any coach in the Big 12 about the challenges of playing on the road, and they will say without hesitation that it’s the toughest thing to do in college basketball today.

Ask them about the importance of protecting home court, and they will say it’s the No. 1 priority.

Doc Sadler’s Nebraska team is the perfect example.

The Cornhuskers are 15-1 at home but winless on the road. While the Husker’s record at the Bob Devaney Sports Center is the sign of a good team, the coach knows his squad will have to conquer their road demons if they want to take the next step.

“For us to be a team that people want to talk about, you have to be able to go on the road and win,” Sadler said.

But while Sadler can’t quite put his finger on why the Cornhuskers have played so well in Lincoln, he does have a few ideas.

“Our guys just feel more comfortable, I guess,” Sadler said. “But I couldn’t be any happier than with what the people are doing here, coming out and helping us, being that extra person.”

But Texas head coach Rick Barnes said the main ingredient to Nebraska’s home-court advantage is Sadler.

“There is no coach in the country that does a better job than Doc,” Barnes said. “It’s a tough, tough place to play.”

It’s true the players are playing better across the board at home, and the crowds at the Nebraska games this season have been raucous. Sadler knows how to prepare his players, but the biggest reason for their success has been their stifling defense.

“Nebraska is one of the better defensive teams in the country,” said Oklahoma head coach Jeff Capel. “They are just really, really hard to score against.”

The Cornhuskers allow 58.9 points per game on average, the best mark in the Big 12. Nebraska is also second in the conference in field-goal percentage defense behind Texas.

But even his team’s stellar defense in 2011 can’t stop Sadler from worrying about playing Texas at home Saturday.

“Not that I’m looking forward to it, but after our game Wednesday [against Oklahoma] we’ll try to do the best we can to get ready for them,” Sadler said.

Sadler knows the challenge that awaits his team and swears that the No. 2 Longhorns are “playing as well as anyone in the country.”

It will be the Cornhuskers’ last chance to beat the Longhorns as a member of the Big 12 — Nebraska will play in the Big Ten next season. The game will also be the final homecoming for Texas senior forward Matt Hill, a Lincoln native.

Hill was the Gatorade Nebraska Player of the Year his senior season at Lincoln Southeast High School and was selected to captain the Super-State team before leaving the state and heading south to Austin.

The redshirt senior arrived on campus in 2006, the same year Sadler took the job at Nebraska. Although Sadler didn’t get the opportunity to recruit Hill to the hometown school, the coach knows he missed the boat on a homegrown talent. Sadler said he did get a chance to see Hill play in Lincoln during the summers and came away with a lasting impression of the big man.

“The thing I remember most about Matt Hill was his athleticism and his hair,” Sadler said. “But I thought he was a very
good player.”

And just as Hill’s afro came and went, so too will the Cornhuskers’ final crack at the Longhorns in the Big 12.

Lucky for Nebraska, they won’t have to face Texas on the road.

COLLEGE STATION — As the few Longhorn fans at Reed Arena snuck down to seats directly behind the Texas bench, senior Gary Johnson turned around with a huge smile and responded to the “Texas Fight” cheers that echoed throughout the arena.

The joy of Johnson and other seniors Dogus Balbay and Matt Hill resonated throughout the bench as the No. 3 Longhorns (19-3, 7-0) finally got over the hump and beat No. 16 Texas A&M (17-4, 4-3) on the road for the first time since 2004.

The Longhorns did not trail throughout the entire game as they managed to outplay the Aggies in every facet en route to a 69-49 win.

“I’ve been doing this 24 years, and I haven’t seen as many teams as good as Texas,” said Texas A&M head coach Mark Turgeon. “I thought they were fantastic.”

Texas’ effort once again was led on the defensive side of the ball where the Longhorns held the Aggies to 30 percent shooting from field. In doing so, they did not allow A&M’s leading scorer Khris Middleton to score.

“One thing we tried to do is take away the opposing team’s leading scorer,” said Texas head coach Rick Barnes. “When you do that, you are going to have to have a team effort.”

The Aggies were unable to rally at any point. The few times that they did score a field goal, the Longhorns would immediately go down court and score.

Jordan Hamilton, who was also Texas’ leading scorer with 20 points, was responsible for guarding Middleton the majority of the game.

“I said to myself, ‘I’m just going to come out here and try to guard him the hardest I ever guarded someone before,’” Hamilton said. “And I did that tonight.”

In addition, the Longhorns had strong defensive production from Hill, Hamilton, Balbay and Alexis Wangmene, who helped Texas’ leading blocker Tristan Thompson combine for all nine of Texas’ blocked shots.

“Everyone’s following,” Thompson said. “Now when the scouting report comes in, it doesn’t just say, ‘Tristan Thompson blocks shots.’ You got to worry about all the big guys. That gets the offensive players scared that they might get their shots blocked.”

Though only a freshman, Thompson calls himself the “captain” of blocking shots.

“Someone has to lead the block party,” Thompson said.

Despite the Longhorns success in limiting Big 12 opponents to new lows, there is an agreement amongst the team that there is room for improvement.

“We got a long way to go,” Thompson said. “Even though we won this game by a large margin, we still got improvements to make and areas to get better at.”

The Longhorns have become accustomed to winning by large margins. Texas has won its first seven conference games by an average of 18 points.

“I told Rick [Barnes], if they keep working hard and getting better that they can win a national championship,” Turgeon said. “And I don’t say that very much.”

The Longhorns have now defeated four ranked teams in its last five games. After a stretch of two games in three days, Texas finally has some time off before they face Texas Tech on Saturday.

“I need to get some extra sleep and be a student for a little bit,” Thompson said.

All the usual stars showed up for Texas on Monday night — Jordan Hamilton scored a game-high 20 points, Tristan Thompson added 10 points and five boards and Cory Joseph scored 11 — but for the Longhorns to win by 20, it took some atypical contributions from the team’s role players.

Matt Hill, Jai Lucas, J’Covan Brown and Alexis Wangmene all logged significant minutes as other players sat with foul trouble.

“We always trust our bench,” said starting guard Dogus Balbay. “Tonight was one of those nights, you know, they came in and changed the game.”

Hill was first off the bench in both halves. His first touch of the ball was a putback minutes into the game that he immediately followed up with a defensive rebound on the other end.

“What Matt Hill does doesn’t really show up on the stat sheet,” Hamilton said. “He’s a great defender, and he’s a force inside.”

Hill and fellow reserve forward Wangmene helped defend A&M’s David Loubeau, Ray Turner and Keith Davis inside after starters Thompson and Gary Johnson were pulled for accumulating early fouls.

“Matt Hill came in and rebounded his tail off,” Thompson said. “He was really impressive inside and gave their big men a tough time.”

Hill also converted two field goals, including a mid-range jumper, an unusual shot for the 6-foot-10 post player.

“When he hit the little jump shot in the lane,” said A&M head coach Mark Turgeon. “It was kind of their night.”

The senior hadn’t played much in recent games — just 11 minutes against Missouri on Saturday and three versus Oklahoma State on Jan. 26. But head coach Rick Barnes turned to him for relief and leadership on Monday and the senior responded with a season-high eight rebounds.

“He’s one of those guys on the offensive end that just keeps things gong,” Barnes said about Hill. “But he came up with some big rebounds on the defensive end.”

Lucas and Brown effectively ran the point when Balbay was out. Brown played 24 minutes, the most he’s played since a Jan. 22 win at Kansas, and scored eight points.

Overall, the Texas reserves outscored their Aggie counterparts 19-10.

“There wasn’t any drop off tonight,” Turgeon said. “I thought Wangmene played well and [Matt] Hill really played well.”

Brown, Lucas and Wangmene all scored during a crucial 14-0 run by Texas halfway through the first period while three starters sat with foul trouble.

The scoring streak helped Texas build a 25-point halftime lead, its largest of the season.

What a difference a year makes. At this point in 2009, Texas was No. 3 in the nation thanks to the returning talent of two All-Big 12 performers and the addition of one of the highest-rated recruiting classes in the country.

Fast-forward 12 months. For the first time in a decade, Texas is unranked in The Associated Press preseason poll and a relatively small freshman class adds to the team’s young roster.

Of course, the 2009-10 Longhorns, after rising to the top of the rankings, stumbled to a 24-10 record and first-round NCAA tournament exit. It happened for a number of reasons, including a lack of leadership.

“Guys didn’t hold each other accountable as a team,” said senior forward Gary Johnson. “Ultimately it affected us in a terrible way. I think all of us have learned from that and we don’t want that to happen again.”

This season’s team hopes to fare better, especially without the weight of great expectations on their shoulders.

“We love it now, we have everything to work for,” Johnson said. “Nothing was given to us. It just makes us more hungry.”

That begins with head coach Rick Barnes, who faces the difficult task of replacing Damion James, the Big 12’s career leader in double-doubles.

Fifth-year senior Matt Hill will play a larger role after struggling with injuries for most of his career, including a foot injury that robbed him of most of the 2006-07 season.

“From the end of last season, the spring, the summer, up to this point, guys have worked really hard. They’ve done what we’ve asked them to do,” Barnes said. “I think you have to re-evaluate every year. I don’t think you can ever just think that you’re there and that you’ve got it figured out.”

To cope with losing James, Dexter Pittman and Avery Bradley to the pros, some Texas players improved their conditioning in the offseason to prepare for increased minutes. Johnson, a 6-foot-6-inch power forward who was mostly a role player last year, was one of them.

Johnson finished with the third-most minutes on the team despite only four starts in 2009-10. The senior became a scoring threat as he improved his low-post game and recorded a career-best 25 points in March versus Baylor.

Without James or Pittman, Johnson will often be the Longhorns’ go-to man in the paint. He’s still listed at 238 pounds but looked noticeably slimmer in the team’s new burnt orange Nike uniforms.

“I’ve been eating better,” Johnson said. “Better eating habits. Lost a little weight. Jump higher,
move faster.”

Johnson is the team’s top returning rebounder but is also the forward with the most offensive experience and will use his increased endurance to cover both ends of the court.

“I’d like to think I’m a better defender because I’m moving quicker,” he said.

J’Covan Brown, the squad’s eccentric guard, didn’t lost any weight but improved his stamina with early morning workouts and more cardio. He’ll move into the shooting guard role after struggling with turnovers at the point.

“I’m in way better shape,” Brown said. “The team moves faster. We’ll be an up-tempo type team this year.”

In addition, the rehabilitation of Dogus Balbay and Shawn Williams appears complete. Both have returned to practicing full-time although there are situations where the two require repetitions off during drills.

With Brown changing positions, Balbay will be the most experienced point guard for Texas. The Turkish national was Barnes’ main ball handler and perimeter defender last season before tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee at Texas Tech on Feb. 20.

“I was out for six, seven months, but mentally and physically I’m ready to go,” Balbay said. “At the beginning of the season I’m trying to get used to it and trying to take my time a little bit more, but [the] knee feels great.”

Williams will get another shot at his freshman year after being granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA. He played in seven games, averaging 1.6 points and 1.7 rebounds. He injured his left ankle early on and needed surgery in the offseason.

The squad’s new composition will force some players to contribute more. Hill, who players say has become an on-court leader during practice, had just 15 points and 26 rebounds last season.

Point guard Jai Lucas, a transfer from Florida, averaged 10.3 minutes per game but was good for only 1.4 assists and 2.7 points per game. He’ll need to improve those numbers as Barnes turns to him for depth at that position.

Sophomore swingman Jordan Hamilton, regarded as one of the team’s best shooters, will have to develop a stronger inside game to deal with the roster’s lack of height inside.

Alexis Wangmene and Clint Chapman, two reserve big men, are likely to get on the court more this season and could boost the team’s untested rebounding capabilities if they play well. Positional questions abound over Texas’ 2010-11 season.