Culture Club: Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance

What’s in a name? Consult William Shakespeare and you’ll see that, in the Bard’s opinion, “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” But ask Eli Mattson and you may get a very different response from the “piano man” who catapulted to fame last year as runner-up on the third season of America’s Got Talent and is currently the spokesperson for Cellcom.

For better or for worse, branding has become an increasingly important part of American culture. Not merely the province of designer jeans and celebrity-endorsed athletic shoes, its influences reach deep into the experiential and psychological pockets of our personalities. Some brands have become so successful that their names have become interchangeable with the products they represent – Xerox and Kleenex, to name a few. And it appears that in today’s economy, branding is becoming even more critical to success.

Back to Eli’s story. As many of us know by now, Eli Mattson found his passion for the piano at a very young age. Encouraged by his family, he honed his craft and, at the age of only 17, he was awarded a grant from the Peninsula Arts Association to help further his music career.

In 2001, while my husband and I were house hunting, we attended an open mic at a new little theater in Sturgeon Bay. Since we were from out of town, we didn’t recognize any of the performers, but we were delighted to know that there was a live performance center in Sturgeon Bay, and passed a very pleasant evening watching the various acts. For the last performance of the night, a young man entered stage right, sat at a keyboard and played one song. At the end of his number, there was a stunned hush and then thunderous applause filled the house.

I looked at my husband and said, “Oh my. I’m going to remember this boy.”

That young man’s name was Eli Mattson. And I did remember it, but by the time I began working for Third Avenue Playhouse in August of 2004, Eli had moved to Chicago and was playing clubs and bars, trying to earn a living by doing what he loved.

This September, Eli Mattson will return to the stage of Third Avenue Playhouse as part of a promotional tour sponsored by Cellcom. He has come full circle, returning as a celebrity to the theater where he once played as a young student. I love the arc of that story. I love the message that it sends to other young musicians and actors about the importance of finding your passion and believing in yourself. Our stage is home to so many talented members of our community who have found a way to incorporate their love of the performing arts into their lives. You’ll see many of them during our fall and winter season. Perhaps not all of them have experienced the career trajectory that Eli has, but something tells me that even if America’s Got Talent had never come his way, this young man would still be writing music, playing his piano and living his dream. Still Eli Mattson.

That’s my favorite part of the story.

Third Avenue Playhouse’s 2009 Fall/Winter Season:

• September 19:  Henhouse Prowlers – Bluegrass the way it was meant to be!

• September 25 & 26:  Eli Mattson in Concert

Friday, September 25, 7:30 pm:  SOLD OUT

Saturday, September 26, 7:30 pm:  SHOW JUST ADDED

Tickets: $25/person.

• October 3:  Moonglow – Music of jazz & swing greats, the Boswell Sisters

• Oct 8 – 11 & 15 – 18:  The Odd Couple – Neil Simon’s enduring comedy

• October 24:  Lost Mothra

• October 31 & November 1:  Chills & Thrills with Illusionist Tristan Christ

• November 7:  Broadway Bound with Daddy D

• November 21 & 22: Primavera Strings (Hans Christian, Lynn Gudmundsen and Beth Hon)

• December 3 – 6:  The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

• December 11 – 13:  Winter Tales with Milwaukee’s favorite son, John McGivern

• December 19:  Hagen Family Christmas

TAP’s box office is located at 239 N. Third Avenue in Sturgeon Bay. Tickets also available at Dancing Bear, 13 N. Third Avenue in Sturgeon Bay, over the phone by calling 920.743.1760, or online at MasterCard, Visa, and Discover accepted.