By Leigh Ann Rutledge
MALVERN – Area residents will be treated to a unique performance by Matrix Performing Arts March 31 at 6 p.m. in Damascus Friends Church in Malvern.
Doors open at 5:30 p.m. at the former school building. The performance will take place in the large gymnasium. Admission is $2 and benefits the church’s “Wildfire Youth” and the Backpack Project at Malvern High School.
Matrix Performing Arts is comprised of two ensembles, Matrix World and Matrix Open. The ensembles are made up of nearly 100 percussionists and dancers between the ages of 14 and 22. The performances will focus on teen suicide and the effect of the media-driven world on our society.
Rob Ferguson, of Cuyahoga Falls and formerly of Carrollton, founded the group in 1999. The mission of Matrix Performing Arts is to foster the artistic, intellectual and personal growth of young adults through the education and performance of visual art and music.
Ferguson has a long history in music. He began playing drums at age five and grew up in the Carrollton Schools band program. He earned his undergraduate and master’s degree in Music Performance from Kent State University and founded Ferguson Design Solutions.
Ferguson Design Solutions is a team of designers who work with a graphic artist to provide custom arrangements, original compositions, consulting and design resources for marching bands, drum corps and indoor percussion ensembles in all major arenas of the pageantry arts.
MATRIX PERFORMING ARTS
Matrix Performing Arts consists of two competitive indoor percussion ensembles, as well as an entertainment division. The two competitive ensembles, Matrix World and Matrix Open, compete in Ohio within the Ohio Indoor Performance Association (OIPA) circuit, as well as nationally and internationally in the Winter Guard International (WGI) circuit.
There are two divisions of competition:
- Scholastic – units whose membership comes from the same high school or a school that feeds to that particular high school;
- Independent – units whose members are not necessarily associated with a particular school.
The units are then divided into classes:
- A Class – Beginning programs and performers;
- Open Class – Intermediate developmental level of performers;
- World Class – The most advanced programs and performers.
The students audition each fall to gain membership in one of the ensembles. Over the past 19 seasons of Matrix World, the performers have come from across the Midwest, Texas, Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Canada, Belgium and Japan. This year is the third season for Matrix Open. Both ensembles have been World Championship finalists each year they competed.
“Members pay a tuition each season and are instructed by a world class staff of educators from across the midwest,” Ferguson stated. “They rehearse each weekend from Friday night through Sunday afternoon beginning late October and finishing mid-April. During this time, they learn a custom production that changes each season and culminates with performances at the WGI World Championships held in Dayton.”
Members are contractually obligated to the schedule and often sleep on the floor during rehearsal sessions. While working with the ensembles, staff and designers donate their time and talent. Many staff members were former performers with the Matrix ensembles.
The ensembles traveled abroad three times to perform and put on educational clinics, twice to Belgium and recently to Chaiya City, Taiwan. The ensembles have numerous corporate sponsors and the instruments are provided through endorsements.
The Matrix World production is entitled, “WH1TE NOISE” and focuses around the idea, we as a society become obsessed with digital information rather than human interaction. “Using the idea of a digital jungle as a metaphor for the state of our society at large, the production takes on an animalistic style and jungle-like environment as we become more and more addicted to digital media and our news feeds,” explained Ferguson. “As the show nears its end, the performers shed their media addiction in place of human interaction and a move toward community.”
The program features adaptations of “Wild Things” by Alessia Cara, “Jungle” by X Ambassadors and “Wolves” by Selena Gomez, as well as original music by Ferguson.
The Matrix Open production is titled “Unsteady” and deals with the growing issues of teen depression and suicide in America. The show features adaptations of “Unsteady” by X Ambassadors, “Heavy” by Linkin Park and “1-800-273-8255” by Logic.
“The show addresses the idea that teens struggle to stay balanced and need to understand that there is always someone there who can help,” Ferguson stated. “Using data from teen suicide rates, balance beams and the number 1-800-273-8255, the national suicide hotline number, the ensemble tells a story of struggle, support, despair and hope.”
THE CREATIVE TEAM
Ferguson begins working on the conception for the next season at the end of May-beginning of June. Each year features a different theme. Writing music begins in September. Performers start practice near the end of November and begin performing the first of Feburary.
Matrix Performing Arts has an instructional staff of 15-20; six designers; an administration team and board of directors.
Along with Ferguson, the design team is comprised of Kevin Stahl, who has instructed Matrix Percussion since the 2005 season and has been a visual designer since 2006; Thomas Sparling, a full time visual designer and percussion educator; Evan Brown, an active sound and amplification designer in pageantry arts.
World and open staff members are percussionists, educators, music arrangers, active marching band instructors, directors, designers and choreographers.
Cory Lutton of Carrollton is a member of the board of directors for Matrix Performing Arts. A member of the Carrollton High School drumline, he played in the drumline in college, along with marching two years in a senior drum corps and one in another drum corps.
Lutton and Ferguson have known each other since marching in the Bell-Herron Middle School band and through high school. Lutton was a snare tech in 2001 and 2002 for Matrix Performing Arts.
“I became a board member when Rob approached me last year. It has been an honor to be even a small part of such a great organization,” Lutton explained. “One of the main goals and reasons for myself to become a part of the board was so I could help him bring the organization to the Carrollton area. We want to help bring music and arts to an area that does not currently have anything like this sport. Once you see the activity, there is no question that these individuals are in tremendous shape and it truly is a sport.”
He travels with the organization and said it is the best part of being a part of the organization and, the fact his son is a first year member, Lutton added.
“I tell everyone these are the ‘one percenters’. They are the best in young adults,” he noted. “They are the hardest working and responsible individuals you will meet. I am constantly impressed by their work ethic, personalities, team work, dedication and manners.”
Performers who are able to perform at the world level, even at age 16 are rare, according to Ferguson. The world level is considered “full entertainment”, an event you would pay to see.
Elijah Lutton, 14, is a member of Matrix Open. He’s been drumming since 5th grade.
“I auditioned because I wanted to be part of some kind of WGI group and I already knew Rob, who runs it,” Elijah stated. “I think being part of Matrix helps me be more responsible and helps me problem solve.”
The son of Cory and Melinda Lutton of Carrollton, Elijah is a freshman at Carrollton High School.
“Being a part of Matrix Performing Arts is an absolutely life changing experience for these kids,” stated Ferguson.
When Ferguson created Matrix Performing Arts, he had about 25 performers in the ensemble. He has plans for Matrix and shifting roles in the future.
“Our goal is to continue to evolve, to watch members become staff,” stated Ferguson. “The future me is in this group or on staff now.”
For more information, visit matrixperformingarts.com or wgi.org.