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Matthew Kilgore arrived in New York as a dancer with Broadway dreams, which he pursued for 17 years in musical theater. These days he is in the wings, working as a dresser and wardrobe assistant. This is Matthew’s West Side Story…
So, what’s your New York story? Born here, or just arrived?
I moved to NYC from Indiana in 2001, six months before 9/11. I was a dancer and had Broadway dreams, so NYC was the place to be. I spent 17 years working professionally in musical theater — on Broadway, on tour, in Russia, all over Europe, and on regional and stock stages all over the US.
In 2018, I decided to hang up the dancing shoes while I could still dance. It was a conscious decision. I didn’t want my body and its abilities dictating when I retired. My career transition has taken me into the wings these days, working as a dresser on Broadway and as a wardrobe assistant on TV.
How did you end up in Hell’s Kitchen?
In 2003, I was doing a production of The Music Man in Akron, OH, when the waiting list opened up for Manhattan Plaza. A woman in my show lived there and told me to get on the list, so I did. I waited and waited and waited for my name to come up, but it never did. In 2014, however, I received a piece of mail informing me that a brand new building was going up in Hudson Yards and would be subsidized for artists. Since I was nearing the top of the list for Manhattan Plaza, I was given application preference (I think, to alleviate MP’s waiting list for studios). I spent an entire year filling out and updating paperwork, and FINALLY got in the building. It’s been life-changing — living in Hudson Yards and working in HK. It certainly doesn’t get better. I feel so lucky.
What’s your favorite thing about Hell’s Kitchen?
HK is so close to the Broadway neighborhood, and that’s where I’ve spent most of my time in NYC. I’ve auditioned, made friends, laughed, cried, eaten amazing food, enjoyed crazy nights out — all in HK. It’s really ALL of those things that make HK so special to me. But, if I had to pick one…it would be the friends I’ve made in Hell’s Kitchen.
And what’s your Hell’s Kitchen pet peeve?
The uptick in tourism. For such a long time, HK felt like New York’s little secret. Tourists wouldn’t venture further west than 8th Avenue, so HK was our neighborhood. This has changed, and while I’m sure it’s been great for business, I do miss the days when it was midtown’s best-kept secret.
Did you stay put when the pandemic hit, or did you find an escape for some of the time?
I’ve been here since the pandemic hit, minus a month-long road trip to visit family in June. My partner Nick and I rented a car and took the month to visit family in Ohio, Indiana. We also visited Dollywood, camped and saw bears in the Smoky Mountains, drove and hiked in the Blue Ridge Mountains, visited Roanoke and Annapolis, before making our way back to NYC.
What did you do for work pre-COVID? What are you doing now?
Before COVID, I was working as a dresser at Hamilton on Broadway. When Broadway went dark, I spent months sewing masks for people, which provided a little extra income. In August, I got a call from someone at CBS saying I’d been recommended for a job on a new TV show. They asked for my resume, I interviewed, and was hired within a period of eight days. So, I’m currently working as the tailor/wardrobe assistant on The Drew Barrymore Show.
What’s the most interesting thing that you’ve learned during the pandemic?
As silly as it seems, I’ve regularly reflected on the fact that our dog Norway has NO idea that we are in the middle of a global pandemic. He is content to eat, walk, pee, poop, and nap on the back of a comfy couch all day long. 2020 has really been a gut punch to slow down, refocus, and relearn what is really important in life. It’s your health. Your happiness. Your family. Your friends. The way you treat others. Not being afraid to ask for help. And that sometimes a nap in the sun on a comfy couch really is all you have to do some days.
Tell us one thing that’s given you hope during the pandemic?
Biden won. Thank God.
What’s the most serendipitous (random/obscure/ insane) experience that’s happened to you in Hell’s Kitchen?
I celebrated my 30th birthday at Perdition (RIP). My parents came to see me in No, No, Nanette at City Center Encores, so I had a big party with my friends and family. Cut to 2018 — I finished my Bachelor’s Degree at SUNY Empire, and surprised my parents at the graduation. Long story, but they had no idea I went back to school. My partner Nick, in turn, surprised me by throwing a huge 40th birthday party for me at Perdition. I graduated, then was whisked away to celebrate my birthday with all my friends. He put together the most perfect concert of my friends singing for me. It was truly the most memorable night I’ve ever had in HK. The kicker is — he planned the entire surprise party and concert while we were working and living together (in a single room) at Gateway Playhouse while doing A Chorus Line.
What’s your superpower?
I think my tenacity. That’s just a nice way of saying I’m stubborn, right? I think that’s the quality I possess that’s pulled me through almost every situation in NYC. Most people who make NYC home have to have a tenacious side for them to thrive here.
I guess I’m also pretty good at figuring things out. I often joke that you can learn to do ANYTHING on YouTube, and it’s the first place I go when I need to figure something out. Rewiring a light? YouTube. Fixing your refrigerator? YouTube. Tailoring a jacket? YouTube.
Seriously….that’s the superpower. YouTube tutorials.
What’s your closest brush with world fame and celebrity?
I designed and built Drew’s Halloween costume this year. She was Glinda from The Wizard of Oz. When the show aired, my social media blew up. She gave me a shout out on the show, I was tagged in her social media posts, and the costume was covered extensively by the press. So, I became low-key Insta-famous for a whole weekend. That was really fun and exciting, but the best part was that Drew LOVED the costume. That was my goal — and as long as she was happy, I did my job.
What song do you sing at the top of your voice in the shower?
Over the past year, it’s been anything by Nanci Griffith. Currently, I’m belting Christmas songs.
Which people inspire you the most?
My theatrical family. I’ve seen our entire industry shut down. I’ve watched my friends pivot from performing to teaching, from dressing to launching businesses, really just figuring out how to thrive. That’s what the Broadway community does — figures it out and gets it done. Thankfully, work is slowly starting to come back in film and tv, but stages are still dark — so our intermission keeps getting extended. The heart and soul of NYC — Broadway — is still waiting to make its triumphant return. Every actor, dancer, singer, stage manager, designer, director, musician, stagehand, company manager, usher, front of house — the list goes on and on — who is out of work and is figuring it out right now inspires me endlessly.
What’s your favorite quote or saying?
Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day that says, “I will try again tomorrow.”
Do you love Times Square? Why, or why not?
I love to avoid it. I mean, it’s just become a mess of Bedbug Elmos, 8ft-tall Statues of Liberty, Batmen, Elsas, and Minions. I loved Times Square when Howard Johnson’s was where the American Eagle sits, when you could see a movie in the basement of the Virgin Megastore, when the Drama Book Shop was on 48th Street. Those were the days when Times Square was fun.
Do you love Hudson Yards? Why, or why not?
I live a couple of blocks from Hudson Yards, and we just got a Whole Foods this year, so I love it. I enjoy the mall, the Vessel, and the outdoor plaza. I lived in the neighborhood before any of this opened, and it was very secluded without much to offer, so it’s all been a welcome addition to the west side of Manhattan.
If you could bring one thing (person/place/event) back to HK that is no longer around, what would it be?
Just one? McHale’s. But if I get more than one…the middle of the block Yum Yum. 9th Avenue Saloon. Fazil’s Dance Studio. GoSushi next to the 2nd Vynl. Vynl. Roseland.
Add your shameless plug or personal profile?
@matthewkilgore on Insta
Anything we missed?
While I lived in Astoria and Washington Heights before moving to Hudson Yards, Hell’s Kitchen is the one part of my life in NYC that has remained constant. Most of that is due to its proximity to the audition studios, the Actors’ Equity Building, and Broadway. It’s simply the neighborhood where actors live their lives. We audition to find work, we work survival jobs, we socialize, we live — we do all these things in and around Hell’s Kitchen. HK is a very integral community within the greater Broadway and performing arts community in NYC.
HELL’S KITCHEN HAPPY PLACES
World Wide Plaza. The memories of this place will last a lifetime. This was the place to go after auditions in the spring, summer, and fall years ago. You could just grab a table and see ALL of your friends. Some of my favorite HK memories are post-audition moments at World Wide Plaza and margaritas at Blockheads.
Domus. This shop is so special. It’s a perfectly curated place to find the most unique items you never knew you needed. Any time I want the perfect gift, I stop in.
Hudson River Park. It’s the perfect place to walk the dog, take a stroll, listen to the water, have a picnic, go for a run, hang out with friends, learn to kayak, ride a bike. And it’s clean and safe.
The Harrow. The food here is incredible. Nick and I had dinner with Bob Mackie and his associate Joe McFate here, and it was a perfect night of food and conversation.
Obao. Since my favorite Yum Yum closed, I needed a new go-to Thai restaurant to fill the void. Nick and I tried Obao one day between shows when I was working at Frozen, and it has become our new favorite. Great service, unique cocktails, and terrific food!