Episode Show Notes
Director and Upper School theater teacher Matt Corsaro shares an inside look into Santa Fe Christian’s talented performing arts department. Take a listen to the lifelong skills his program imparts to students through the lens of drama and theater.
Mike Siciliano, Upper School Dean of Students, has a long history with Sante Fe Christian, sitting in several roles including alumnus, US history teacher, and football coach. As a student, Siciliano felt he had teachers and coaches who personally invested in him and made a huge difference in his life. Now, he tries every day to continue that legacy for current SFC students, live up to the standard his teachers set for him, and have a lot of fun.
Matt Corsaro, Upper School drama teacher, has been teaching in SFC’s visual and performing arts program for ten years. Matt’s love and passion for theater sparked in the fifth grade while watching a high school production of Godspell. It was then he knew he was called to become a drama teacher. Matt has directed over twenty shows at SFC and forty shows in his overall career. Family is extremely important to Matt. He is very thankful for his beautiful wife, Carlie, and two amazing kids, Nico and Cami, who remind him every day why family, following your heart, and pursuing happiness are so valuable.
00:00:00 – Introductions
00:01:46 – What about the arts intrigued Matt
00:07:49 – What specific things do students get out of the Drama program
00:10:37 – The sense of family and support Matt’s students enjoy
00:16:50 – Tradition of senior football players who get roles that become fan favorites
00:17:38 – How the Drama program builds skills useful in entrepreneurship
Mike Siciliano [00:00:00] Welcome back to another episode of our Eagle Perspective Podcast. I’m Mike Siciliano, Dean of Students at the Upper School. I am here with the one and only Matt Corsaro, who leads our drama department and is the chair of our Performing Arts Department.
Matt Corsaro [00:00:19] Good to be here.
Mike Siciliano [00:00:20] Introduce yourself to people. You teach Middle School, Upper School Drama. Are we doing 27 shows this year?
Matt Corsaro [00:00:28] That’s at 28. Do I list everything specifically?
Mike Siciliano [00:00:33] Sure.
Matt Corsaro [00:00:33] In the High School, I teach Drama I and Drama II, head up the VPA Department, and in the Middle School, I teach Acting Improv, Intro to Theater, and Intro to Broadcast. This year we’re doing four productions, but, really, the normal is three. We’re going back to three. I’ve even promised my wife, “We’re going back to three.”
Mike Siciliano [00:00:57] If you count Cabaret, it’s five this year.
Matt Corsaro [00:00:59] True. That’s true. But the Cabaret was really… My Drama II students, the advanced group, they really took on the—what’s the word?—lion’s share of that event. I didn’t have to do too much except technically make sure everything was sound.
Mike Siciliano [00:01:17] You also lead our Improv Club.
Matt Corsaro [00:01:19] Our improv team. Improv team, I should say, which is funny because a lot of other schools, I don’t think they’ve gotten it going again. This is funny. Do you want to talk about time and place? The year before the pandemic, we won the NCT San Diego tournament for improv.
Mike Siciliano [00:01:36] Are you telling me we’re still the defending champion?
Matt Corsaro [00:01:38] We’re a three-time defending champion.
Mike Siciliano [00:01:39] I love it. Awesome.
Matt Corsaro [00:01:41] Woo! Three years in a row. What a year to win it.
Mike Siciliano [00:01:46] Undefeated. I’m going to ask you a little bit more about yourself, and then ultimately, we’re going to get into the arts and the role that arts play at Santa Fe and, really, why you think it’s important for students, even if they don’t have professional aspirations in the arts. But for yourself, clearly, drama is something that pulled you when you were younger to the point that you became an educator specifically focused on drama and the arts. Tell us a little bit about that journey. What was it about the arts that uniquely grabbed you?
Matt Corsaro [00:02:14] What’s funny is that I don’t think… Before I had ever done my first show, I don’t think I ever saw myself being in theater at all.
Mike Siciliano [00:02:23] Really?
Matt Corsaro [00:02:23] Yeah. When I was in elementary school, middle school, I think the teachers had pegged me as just some class clown troublemaker like, “Ah, you just think you’re funny, Mr. Funny.”
Mike Siciliano [00:02:35] You probably were.
Matt Corsaro [00:02:38] Well, obviously.
Mike Siciliano [00:02:39] At all the wrong times.
Matt Corsaro [00:02:40] At all the wrong… I remember one time they gave us googly eyes because we were making some kind of arts and crafts, and I decided to glue them to my hand so I could be like, “Hello, everybody. When’s recess happening?” I was sent outside for that one. But when I got into High School, the Drama teacher there, Ricky Hernandez, he ran drama in a very unique way. It was not exclusive; very inclusive. Am I saying that right?
Mike Siciliano [00:03:15] Yeah.
Matt Corsaro [00:03:15] Okay. I always get the two mixed up.
Mike Siciliano [00:03:17] Well, not exclusive and very inclusive art: two ways of expressing the same thing.
Matt Corsaro [00:03:23] He really treated the arts like it is something that a lot of kids should have the opportunity to at least try or experience, dip their toe in the water. If you think about it, isn’t that how you grow in appreciation for something, especially if people don’t really know a lot about it? He made it something that seemed really fun, and approachable, and relatable. Really, that was the moment that I realized, “This is amazing.” When we finished our first show and there’s that moment where your family is coming up, and hugging you, and saying they’re proud, and friends, and all that, you realize that’s a really cool, special moment. I wanted to give that moment to other kids. That was really the first step in me saying, “This is what I’m going to do.”
Mike Siciliano [00:04:26] As I listened to that, some of that is you found someone who saw you and your uniqueness and didn’t think it was annoying but was like, “Hey, this is actually a gift that you can do this stuff, and here’s how you can use that.”
Matt Corsaro [00:04:39] Right. If you think about it, every high schooler has different kinds of gifts and abilities. As we’re going through childhood and middle school, do we know the best timing on when to do these things?
Mike Siciliano [00:04:54] No.
Matt Corsaro [00:00:56] But I think that, also… Here’s what’s interesting. I forget who it was. This psychologist, she did this study years and years ago where she went to a kindergarten class, and she said, “Who wants to be a singer, a dancer, and actress, a ballerina?” and every kid’s hand shot up every single one. What she did was she tracked that class. For the most part, most of them were still together when they got into eighth grade. When they were in eighth grade, she went back to that same group of kids, and she asked the same question, and no hands went up. Now, what’s interesting is: do those things become less enticing when you get older? Does the idea of being Ironman become less exciting as you’re older? No.
Mike Siciliano [00:05:45] I’m more excited than ever about trying to become Ironman, just so you know.
Matt Corsaro [00:05:49] Oh, yeah. Next Avengers movie, we’re in. If Harry Styles gets in, then why can’t we get in? My point is: what was it that made those kids’ hands not go up? I think it’s because there’s this vulnerability to say, “This is something I’m excited about and want to do.” You’re scared that someone is going to go, “You? You can’t do that.” Once someone says that, that’s the worst.
Mike Siciliano [00:06:17] You start to believe it.
Matt Corsaro [00:06:18] That’s the worst because no one’s going to… If you pick a job where somebody… Here’s the thing. I think in life, sometimes we forget that people can show ugly sides, and instead of celebrating others’ achievements, we can just try to knock others down. When that happens, you can’t be celebrated for things that you do that you’re excited about. All of a sudden, you’re just more worried about almost hiding it from other people. Maybe I’m going off-topic. I guess the point is that I want kids, as they’re going through high school and going into that as they transition into young adulthood, to understand you have a lot of abilities, and gifts, and talents. It’s time to put it to use and celebrate things you can do. It doesn’t mean that all of you are going to go off and become actors one day. But it does mean that there’s something in you that you need to at least take this moment in life to get the fullest experience with it. Do it with each other. We really encourage that it’s a family atmosphere, that everyone sticks together in a family. Families fight sometimes; families celebrate each other sometimes. When you’re in a family atmosphere, it makes the experience that much more memorable, I think.
Mike Siciliano [00:07:49] Well, let’s talk about… The reality is most of the kids that go through your program here are not going to be doing something in the arts professionally. That’s fair to say. We have some, but the typical kid that comes to the program is probably not going to be doing that as a career. Expand a little bit on why is this good for them. What are specific things that they’re getting out of this by being a part of your program?
Matt Corsaro [00:08:12] Well, look. If somebody has incredible talents and abilities, sure, there’s opportunities for them, but when you talk about the percentage of making it, it becomes eventually time, and place, and even a little bit of luck. But it really does matter because we encourage instinctually trusting your gut, trusting your intuition, having confidence, especially in front of an audience. Even though they may not go off and do auditions after high school, they’re all going to do interviews. How powerful is it to be able to walk into an interview at whatever company it is that you dream of working for and be able to just wow them? Or let’s say you’re trying to start your own company, and you’re looking for people to invest in what you do and what you believe in. You need to be able to walk into a room and convince everyone in that room, wow, this person is electric. They know what they’re doing. Their heart is in it. You can’t treat everything like it’s some robotic formula. You think about it, people want a human to connect with them, and they want someone to really speak to them, speak from the heart. I feel like being a part of the arts, especially the performing arts, helps give a student that ability. Here’s the other thing, too. Especially with doing live performances, there’s always a chance something could go wrong. In that same sense, when something goes wrong, I feel we really helped give the tools to say, “Don’t panic. I can fix this, and I can look even smoother fixing it than ever.”
Mike Siciliano [00:10:13] That actually wows people, too, when they know something goes wrong, and they see how you handle it. That’s almost more impressive than just doing it right in the first place.
Matt Corsaro [00:10:23] Yeah, because everyone’s going to translate those moments to down the line. Well, how are they going to handle inventory coming in late? How are they going to handle this or that? Well, this person obviously can think on their feet.
Mike Siciliano [00:10:37] There’s lots of skills that students will develop going through your program, whether it’s for interviews, for presentations, whether—I don’t know—their future employer asked them to host a podcast randomly one day, that type of stuff. But beyond that, you also mentioned connection. When I think of your program specifically, the connection, not just that people make with the audience but that the students make with each other, is pretty unique. You have a little family up there right now in that Drama room. There’s a whole crew that hangs out at lunch together back there. Talk about what that means for those kids.
Matt Corsaro [00:11:14] Definitely. There is such a bond that these kids share together that they really just enjoy without even, I guess, realizing it on a day-to-day basis. For these four years, they share different memories and milestones together. One of them gets his driver’s license, one of them gets asked to prom, one of them gets into XYZ College. They celebrate these things together. On the other side of that, there are days where this person is having a rough day. Somebody didn’t get into that school, and someone is going through a breakup. They are there for each other to just help comfort each other. I think that’s such an impressive thing to see happen. If anything, I’m more proud of that than anything that happens with a show because that is, I think, a true identifying image of what you want to see in a program. The other thing, too: when new students come in, whether they transfer in or whether they’re freshmen, I tell the seniors and juniors… I tell them aside, “You got to bring them in.”
Mike Siciliano [00:12:35] It’s so interesting you say that. I was recently at a show of yours, and I ran into a parent of a freshman who was wowed by… She was just expressing, “My daughter is a freshman, and there’s no difference between the freshmen and the seniors. They really welcome them in. There’s no condescension. It’s become a home.” I feel like that’s what you do in your program is create a home on campus for a lot of our students. They find performing arts as the place where they feel the safest and the most themselves.
Matt Corsaro [00:13:11] Really, I think the thing that I would hope comes out of this conversation is that the students who have experienced it and tried it out know how much fun of an experience it is. But those students who aren’t… Oh, sorry. I hit the mic.
Mike Siciliano [00:13:34] That’s such a rookie move. I introduced you as the creator of podcasts at Santa Fe. You’re talking about all these skills for performing arts, and you’re going to hit the mic? Come on.
Matt Corsaro [00:13:44] I am going to play off this moment in real-time to show you how sometimes in life you’re going to bump a mic, but you got to move forward in life. Even if your co-podcast host berates you live for it, you have to move forward.
Mike Siciliano [00:14:02] I think there’s multiple sets of tire tracks on your back right now from the bus that I threw you under.
Matt Corsaro [00:14:06] Speaking of tracks on my back, my daughter is in this zone where she’ll wake up in the middle of the night, and she’ll be like, “You know what would be fun? If I just start kicking,” and heads back. “I’m just going to go and climb into their room.”
Mike Siciliano [00:14:25] You and I have shared quite a bit. We are both in the phase of having a daughter wake up in the middle of the night. In my mind you’re so talented. I just get mad and…
Matt Corsaro [00:14:37] Oh, no. I get mad.
Mike Siciliano [00:14:39] I feel like you’re doing improv or whatever to get her to calm down and go back to bed. That’s what happens in my head.
Matt Corsaro [00:14:44] Are you kidding me?
Mike Siciliano [00:14:45] That’s the skills that young people don’t know they need that will pay off.
Matt Corsaro [00:14:49] Man, at two in the morning, when you need your baby to go back to bed, there’s nothing like, “Who wants to watch Cocomelon?”
Mike Siciliano [00:14:59] You’re a big Cocomelon. See, we’re into Bluey in our house.
Matt Corsaro [00:15:03] Please don’t think I’m big on Cocomelon, that I’m the one choosing that.
Mike Siciliano [00:15:07] Let’s be honest. The kids drive the entertainment.
Matt Corsaro [00:15:11] Blippi is a star in our house.
Mike Siciliano [00:15:14] Blippi is divisive in our house.
Matt Corsaro [00:15:15] Oh, really? Political things?
Mike Siciliano [00:15:17] Yeah, political views. My three-year-old loves Blippi, and my six-year-old, for whatever reason… I think my six-year-old is at this stage where she feels like she should know everything that Blippi is talking about. It’s like, “I already know how to pick the cherries from the cherry tree. Are we really watching this?” She needs Drama, by the way.
Matt Corsaro [00:15:42] She wants Blippi to get into deeper things.
Mike Siciliano [00:15:44] Absolutely.
Matt Corsaro [00:15:45] I get that.
Mike Siciliano [00:15:46] “Tell me how to grow my own cherry orchard; don’t tell me how to pick a cherry.” Yeah, honestly.
Matt Corsaro [00:15:52] I am so not answering the question. I don’t even remember what the question is.
Mike Siciliano [00:15:59] Well, we were talking about family, the family atmosphere.
Matt Corsaro [00:16:02] Okay, here’s what I wanted to say. What I hope comes out of the conversation is that students who… There are students that come to our shows and support the show and watch. They’re metaphorically looking over the fence. They’re like, “Oh, that looks cool.”
Mike Siciliano [00:16:20] “But I could never do it.”
Matt Corsaro [00:16:21] Exactly. That always drives me crazy. I have so many students that are always like, “Yeah, but I don’t sing, I don’t do any of that.” Well, the singing and acting, that’s our job to help you maybe get better at that. I am very good at making you look good. Not you, specifically, to the kids.
Mike Siciliano [00:16:44] Me, too.
Matt Corsaro [00:16:45] That’s what I consider my job is to help. I’m going to put you in a place to where you are going to shine.
Mike Siciliano [00:16:50] You’ve done that so well. I’m going back through some of the shows. We have this tradition thing, where a lot of times, a bunch of the senior football players will try out for the musical. Sometimes they end up with some pretty significant comedic roles or dance roles that become the fan faves because you figure out how to use their talents in a way that is going to be awesome for them.
Matt Corsaro [00:17:17] Or sometimes they step into theater, and they totally surprise us. No one saw it coming. It was years ago Matt Beniseck—remember that?—had never done any show ever, and he comes out and auditions. It was amazing.
Mike Siciliano [00:17:38] I think that’s some of… Another topic that Rod has talked a lot about, and we’ve done a podcast on or will be doing a podcast on. I never know what order they release it in. But there’s one coming, if it’s not already out, about entrepreneurship and this idea that one of the things we want to do here with kids is encourage them to be self-starters, and to take appropriate risks, and to be creative in ways that can create value, not just business value but value for society, the entrepreneurial spirit. I feel like kids get that a lot going through your program. Maybe you can talk a little bit about that. What are the ways you’re forcing them to develop those skills?
Matt Corsaro [00:18:19] Well, let’s talk about right off the bat when we audition. For students, there’s few things in life as scary as an audition, even though they’re just singing in front of a few of us. Then there’s the dance audition process, and then for some of them, there’s the callback. That is incredibly scary because it’s like I talked about earlier. It’s that vulnerability. You’re putting yourself in front of someone and risking somebody…
Mike Siciliano [00:18:47] It’s the original Shark Tank.
Matt Corsaro [00:18:48] We were American Idol before American Idol was American Idol. That’s the first step. Then there’s the risk factor of let’s say you get a role that you were looking forward to. Now you got to deliver. Now people are looking at you and counting on you to deliver. One of the things I tell students as we prepare for shows is, “If you don’t master this role that you’ve been given, if you don’t take everything out of this role that you can, you’re not letting me down; you’re letting everyone in the show down.” I don’t know if we should put that in the podcast. That sounds so horrible.
Mike Siciliano [00:19:30] Basically, we put so much pressure on kids…
Matt Corsaro [00:19:34] This is the thing. In life you’ve got to deliver at times. You have to deliver.
Mike Siciliano [00:19:38] But you do a good job of supporting them and encouraging them along the way.
Matt Corsaro [00:19:42] A hundred percent. I try to lead with a very gentle lion’s roar, where they know that I got their back the whole way, and they know, just like a lion, I am going to make sure that they are watched after and they are cared for. But at the same time… Here’s the thing. One of my biggest things I try to focus on is if there’s a note to give someone, obviously, you give them the note. But let’s say somebody is totally just dropping the ball in rehearsal, and we’re a couple weeks out from a show. They’ve done this before correctly, but for some reason they’re having an off day, because people have an off day. The last thing you should do is go and berate them after rehearsal and be like, “You let us down. How could you?” No. If anything, you got to help them focus on what they did right. They know what they messed up on. The last thing they need is somebody to be like, “Hey, can I remind you of all your faults?”
Mike Siciliano [00:20:54] “This feeling you have of disappointment? I would like to accentuate that feeling.”
Matt Corsaro [00:20:58] Can we all just stop and look at the…? Here’s the thing. Some of the most famous paintings in history, there are a bunch of brushstrokes that we don’t see in the finished version, because that painter, they take a step back, they look at what needs to be fixed, and they make adjustments. What we see is the finished product. What the audience sees is the finished product. They don’t see the rehearsal process. If things go wrong in rehearsal, one of my favorite things to say is, “That’s why we rehearse, everyone.” There you go. Really, each of these kids, they are the secret ingredient to what we’re doing. Because if it wasn’t these students, the shows that we put on, they’re not the same shows at all.
Mike Siciliano [00:21:47] It’d be different.
Matt Corsaro [00:21:48] Completely different. Do you know the whole story about the mirror in my room?
Mike Siciliano [00:21:51] No.
Matt Corsaro [00:21:52] It’s funny, because it started as a joke that I would do, and then it got translated into some really meaningful thing, which is cool. A lot of times the cast will give me some kind of memento after a show. After we did Newsies…
Mike Siciliano [00:22:11] Which was a fantastic show, by the way.
Matt Corsaro [00:22:14] Thank you. You were in it. This guy appeared in Newsies, everyone. Do you remember any of your lines?
Mike Siciliano [00:22:20] No.
Mike Siciliano [00:22:21] There we go. I did remember them during the show, unlike someone who will not be named who also had a cameo.
Matt Corsaro [00:22:31] Let’s move forward. Let me back up, actually. My theater teacher used to do this joke where if somebody would walk back into the room from going to the restroom, he would say something like he was finishing this grand story: “And that’s the story of how I climbed Mount Everest,” or, “And that’s how I…” Then everyone in the room would go, “Oh!” The person’s like, “I missed the big story.” When I came here to Santa Fe, I was like, “I want to continue that, but I’m just going to make it, ‘And that’s the secret to theater.’” If someone would come back from the restroom, “And that’s the secret to theater.” “Oh! Ah, you missed it.” Anyways. We kept doing it, and it just became this running joke. Then they started to realize when they would walk into the room, that is when I say, “And that’s the secret to theater.” If you, Mike, walk into the room, “And that’s the secret to the theater,” that’s the secret, you. Everyone goes, “Oh!” The Newsies crew gave me a mirror. At the bottom of it, it says, And that’s the secret to theater. You see yourself, and that’s the secret. That’s the thing that I think a lot of kids can tend to forget or not think about is the fact that they are what’s going to make it special and what it is. If we run a program where kids that aren’t currently in the program feel like, “I can’t do that,” then we have failed. We have to make it something where they feel like it’s a party and they’re invited, as well.
Mike Siciliano [00:24:22] I love that so much. We are so lucky to have you here.
Matt Corsaro [00:24:24] Thanks, man.
Mike Siciliano [00:24:25] Thank you so much, Matt, for taking some time with us and for joining us today. I know we could talk for hours, and we have. There might be some of those old podcast episodes on the Internet somewhere. We deleted all those yet?
Matt Corsaro [00:24:38] I don’t know. I don’t even know where they exist anymore.
Mike Siciliano [00:24:41] I don’t either, but I’m sure they’re out there. But anyway, just thank you for all you do for our kids, and for making a home for so many of them, and for teaching them so many important things.
Matt Corsaro [00:24:50] Thanks, man.
Mike Siciliano [00:24:51] This has been another episode of our Eagle Perspective Podcast. Again, special thanks to Matt Corsaro for joining us. If this is your first time joining us, we have plenty of other episodes. You can check us out on Apple Music, Spotify, or elsewhere where podcasts are found. You can also watch our video podcasts on YouTube. We’ll be back again with another episode in the near future. Thanks so much.