By Doris Wedge
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Mat Govich has seen the lights of Broadway, even been on New York City stages, but he is content to be back in Oklahoma and on the stages in Norman and in the area.
Having completed performances as Cornelius in the Sooner Theatre production of “Hello Dolly,” he said he never gets over the thrill of hearing the applause of an audience.
“It is a euphoric feeling,” he said, one he wants to experience again and again.
Theater “wasn’t on the radar” when he was growing up, the son of voice coaches Dr. Marilyn Govich and the late Dr. Bruce Govich.
Sure, the family sang around the piano, he said, and dad coached him when he was preparing for high school vocal competition. In addition to singing, Govich played the cello and was on stage in the high school plays, but it was sports that dominated his world.
“Basketball, baseball, football, bowling, golf, darts and being big” are listed as special skills on the resume of this 6-foot 4-inch fellow whose dream of a baseball career was cut short with an injury when he was 16.
Attending University of Central Oklahoma on a cello scholarship, it was there that he discovered theater. Before he left Oklahoma for New York City after graduation with a master’s degree he had a long list of stage roles including four seasons in “Oklahoma” at Discoveryland.
“My first role in ‘Oklahoma’ was as Jud,” he said.
After that first season, his baritone voice was heard in the lead role of Curley. It was on the “Oklahoma” stage that he first met Sooner Theatre Executive Director Jennifer Baker.
Heading for New York City was a major move and one he wouldn’t have tried without the encouragement of his mother and his sister, Milena Govich, who was making a name for herself.
“She sent me a ticket, and I left with $500 in my pocket,” he said.
Govich found that life as an aspiring actor in New York City is not for the feint at heart.
“It’s not nearly as glamorous as the old movies made it out to be,” he said.
Between auditions and occasional theater jobs, he supported himself in varying ways.
“Making sandwiches, a messenger for a publishing company, working in a retail store, managing luxury rental properties in Tribeca. I had a really good time. I always had a good time, even if not doing a show,” Govich said.
New York City is a great place to be while in one’s 20s, he said. He also practiced his skills at darts and was a member of the “Wasted Mondays” dart team that took the New York City league championship.
Govich, who goes by the name Mat, short for Mateja (the J sounds like Y), was always ready for a call, and often it was from a writer who needed him as a “reader” to participate in table readings of manuscripts in development.
“Someone narrates the stage direction and you read the play from start to finish. Actors say what they liked, didn’t like, what didn’t work. Then the writing team goes back to work,” he said. After changes are made “you do the same thing again.”
He played roles in “Cabaret” at Studio 54 and in “O’Pioneers!” but said “the most fun I had was in the shows that I barely got paid for.”
“People say, ‘You got to see some wonderful shows,’ but the answer is, ‘No. Actors don’t have the money to buy the tickets.’”
In New York, his mind kept going back to a girl he had met while acting at Discoveryland.
“Stephanie. She was a dancer and had the most beautiful legs I had ever seen,” Govich said.
He said he “imported a wife” and together they enjoyed the New York scene. She taught dance at several schools, including Broadway Dance Center, a renowned music theater dance school, and was with Royal Caribbean Cruise Line for a time.
“And then there were babies,” he said of Jelena, who is 5, and Mila, 2, “who are growing up thinking life is a musical. We sing all day long.”
Oklahoma began to look better and better to the couple.
“All our free babysitters were in Oklahoma,” he joked.
Now that Norman is, once again, home, they are moving on with their careers. His wife opened her own studio, Premier Dance Company, and he is active teaching voice and performing in local and regional theater.
In addition to the “Hello Dolly” role, he is proud of his roles as Tateh in Lyric Theater’s “Ragtime” and Don Quixote in “Man of La Mancha,” among other Sooner Theatre and Lyric productions he has appeared in. He directed the Sooner Theatre production of “Piggy Nation.”
Govich teaches voice in his own studio as well as at the Sooner Theatre Studio and the Thelma Gaylord Academy at Lyric Theatre. One day a week, he commutes to Tulsa to work with music theater students at the University of Tulsa.
“I have stepped into the family trade” of teaching voice, he mused, and is thrilled with the vocal talent that he is seeing locally.
“The theaters in this area have grown and offer great opportunities for performers and for the audiences,” Govich said.
Govich is looking forward to hearing the audience’s appreciation when he appears in the role of Fred in “Kiss Me Kate” in July. Edmond Summer Stock will present the show weekends July 19-28.