Introduce Yourself(ie): 10 Questions with the Title Star of Toni Stone, April Matthis
April Matthis stars as the title character in Lydia Diamond's world-premiere off-Broadway play Toni Stone. Produced by Roundabout Theatre Company, Toni Stone tells the story of the first woman to play baseball professionally in the Negro league. A fixture of the off-Broadway scene, April Matthis recently was awarded the Obie Award for Sustained Excellence of Performance.
Scroll on as April talks with BroadwayBox about bringing the groundbreaking baseball player's story to the stage, her bonkers time with Fairview, and why Toni Stone is a contemporary story.
1. What first attracted you to this story and this production?
Pam MacKinnon sent me the script. I’d been dying to work with her, and the fact that it was a Lydia Diamond play was really enough. But then to learn that it was centered on this female black athlete excelling in a man’s sport during Jim Crow, and written with such humor and voice, it was just an amazing opportunity.
2. Where did you begin your research after finding out you’d been cast?
The first thing I did was buy the definitive biography on her—Curveball, by Martha Ackmann. And then I started combing the interwebs for any images, articles, archival footage I could find.
3. What is one thing you learned about Toni Stone that you think everyone should know right off the bat?
She was the first woman—of any race—to play baseball on a professional level.
4. Why do you think Toni’s story feels immediate and timely still?
We’re still seeing firsts in 2019–in congress, the Oscars, sports—the talent was always there, but there’s always been so little access to these institutions. Toni’s story isn’t just timely, it’s very much contemporary. For a black woman in America to live on her own terms is radical even for today.
5. What do you enjoy most about being the only woman in this cast?
Being reminded how much we have in common outside of the gender binary most of us have been socialized into. There’s also a lot of fun movie references and songs we joke about backstage.
6. What’s been your most fulfilling artistic endeavor with Elevator Repair Service?
That’s a tough one. I love the work we do. I guess it’d be a toss-up between originating the dual roles of Collette Richland/Dora Fitzhubert in Fondly, Collette Richland and stepping in for Susie Sokol as Jordan Baker in Gatz this winter in Perth, Australia.
7. You’ve been a part of so many amazing off-Broadway productions, which challenged you the most?
Taking over the role of Jasmine from Roz Ruff in Fairview last summer was just so much to jump into so fast—the choreography, the meticulousness in repetition, the timing (not to give too much away). It felt bonkers to do with only a week of watching the show and a couple put-in rehearsals, but the cast and team were super-supportive and I found my way into the performance. Still, I remember sitting offstage during the show thinking, ‘this may be the hardest I’ve ever worked.’
8. What do you hope audiences walk away from your upcoming film Fugitive Dreams with?
I hope they fall in love with this unlikely friendship between two broken people who somehow find beauty and joy in the darkest places. I hope we can affect audiences and leave them with some of that wonder.
9. What was the film or play that first inspired you to want to act?
When I was a teen, my mom showed me the 1970s film adaptation of The Boys in the Band by Mart Crowley, and I fell in love with the crackling wit and wrenching drama. I somehow identified with/aspired to be like Michael. My mom and I watched it over and over and would quote lines as inside jokes. I don’t think I realized it at the time, but it definitely planted the seed for my interest in playwriting and theatre.
10. If you could ask the real Toni Stone one question, what would it be?
If you could go back to replay one particular game, which one would it be, and what would you want to get right this time?
Don’t miss April Matthis as Toni Stone in ‘Toni Stone’ at off-Broadway’s Lauren Pels Theatre through August 11.