Glenwood grad hopes his world is on stage |

Glenwood grad hopes his world is on stage

Stina Sieg
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Courtesy photo

DENVER ” Nearly two decades into it, Mat Hostetler still sounds fresh when talking about his career.

To the former Glenwood Springs resident, acting is a constantly evolving thing. After all, it is his life.

“There’s a quality about it that’s just absolutely infectious,” he said, all friendly and articulate. “It’s almost like a drug in a lot of ways.”

Hostetler, 32, was speaking from his now-home of Denver. He was just getting out of rehearsal for his most recent piece, Denver Theatre Company’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” in which he plays Fenton. Now in his second year at the National Theatre Conservatory, his world revolves completely around the stage. He takes theater classes, acts in productions and lives off a small stipend provided by the school. All the while, he’s gearing up for next year, when, in a final project, he and classmates will fly to New York and perform for casting agents, directors and the like at an off-Broadway theater.

Don’t think for a second, however, that his world of his is charmed or easy. In order to get into the program, he had to work to beat the odds, completely. Of the 400-500 who auditioned, he was one of eight chosen in his year. For him, getting to that point was no straight line.

Born in Hutchinson, Kan., Hostetler grew up thinking he might want to be an astronaut. In his freshman year of high school, he and his mother, Debi Billings, moved to Glenwood. He’d much less “seen a play,” never mind acted in one, he said, but he was taking a drama class, all the same. With absolutely no experience and no expectations, he tried out for “The Stolen Prince,” a production at Colorado Mountain College.

He was given one of the leads. And his whole reality changed.

“Really, from the time I stepped on stage for the first time, and I got that rush you get, I was really just set in my ways,” he explained.

While Tom Cochran, the play’s director, laughed that his young star was no “angel” then, he could see that “special something” in him. Cochran tried to show him the dramatic ropes a bit and took him to see other theater productions.

“Just boom! He was there,” said Cochran, now 59. “He was a stand-out. He was a natural being there on stage, being an actor. He had that natural talent that you can’t teach.”

Years later, after Hostetler had been in numerous high school shows, Cochran would work with him again, casting him as Huck Finn in “Big River.”

Though Hostetler was still a teenager, Cochran wasn’t nervous about his abilities. Even then, he said, he knew this kid could go professional if he just wanted it enough.

As a side note, Hostetler would later say that Cochran’s encouragement was one of the reasons he really went for theater. Cochran seemed absolutely shocked and happy when he heard that.

After high school, Hostetler won a scholarship from the local Defiance Community Players group and attended the University of Kansas in Lawrenceville. Upon graduation, after doing nearly a dozen college shows, he thought of going to New York. Like so many young actors on the make, however, he opted for Los Angeles. There, for seven years, he had a career, with parts in commercials, television shows and movies. His all-American, chiseled face landed him in military shows like “JAG,” and he was given a large role in the film “The Utopian Society.” He was making it, surviving, creating connections, yet he still felt knocked around by the ebbs and flows of the industry.

A few years ago, the ebbs started to get to him. Simply, he just wasn’t enjoying himself enough to stay.

“I could live in Los Angeles,” he remembered thinking, “or I can go and do something with my life.”

He chose the latter. Eventually, the hunt for a great theater program led him right back to Colorado.

Any time you take from this “here today, gone tomorrow” showbiz industry can be scary, he said. Yet Hostetler didn’t sound frightened. Instead, he seemed driven by his return to his “first love of theater.” After graduating, he sees himself in New York, where he hopes to be on stage full-time, with maybe some cinema or commercials on the side. As he put it, he wants to come away from the program “a better, grounded actor ” and person, in general.”

“I’m excited about all of it,” he said. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to literally go and do the thing you love.”

And while you can’t read about this artistic journey in Time or Newsweek yet, there’s someone out there with the lowdown on all of Hostetler’s accomplishments: Mom.

“I am his biggest fan,” Billings laughed. “But I am his mother.”

When it comes to creativity, she feels “you should follow it if you have it.” People used to come up to her, and they’d roll their eyes and ask if she was really going to support Mat doing “that.”

For her, that was no question at all.

“It’s just good to know that somebody’s following their dreams,” she said, her voice flooded with pride.

Contact Stina Sieg: 384-9111

Post Independent Glenwood Springs CO Colorado

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