Writer, Director Matt Ritchey Talks Mr. Malcolm's Music Factory


Monique LeBleu

Registered Critic, Writer, Editor



Mr Malcolm's Music Factory is currently playing at The Broadwater Second Stage at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. The show, which is specifically crafted to entertain families and children through puppetry, comedy, music, and general fun, addresses the range of emotions that school-aged children may be experiencingthe dark and oppressive kindin order to bring them into the "light."
I interviewed Actor, Writer, Director and Teacher, Matt Ritchey, who discusses the effect the pandemic, as well as recent traumas, has had on his students, the school staff, and his own life as a grade school improv instructor. Ritchey's improv arts-based teaching brought him to new friends with backgrounds in music, puppetry, and comedy, and together they've created Mr. Malcolm's Music Factory. Using the help of a rich collective of artists who hail from Broadway and popular shows like "Avenue Q", "Mr. Clown," "The Dark Crystal," and The Jim Henson Company's "Puppet Up!" improv, Ritchey's own theatre and Hollywood Fringe Festival experience, and a little crowdfunding, they have together created a live family show that comes not a moment too soon as a balm during times currently charged with trauma, loss, and recovery.

Can you tell us how the idea for Mr. Malcolm's Music Factory came about and what was the catalyst for its creation?

I teach improv to kindergarten through fourth grade and the kids have been going crazy. And all of the stress of all of that is really what made me decide to do a show.

Matt Ritchey

Do you teach other subject matters besides improv?

Just improv. I belong to this really, really cool school called the Larchmont Charter. They've got four schools. Two of them are Kindergarten through 4th grade and then one of them is 5th through 8th grade. And then there's the high school. I teach at both of the Kindergarten through 4th-grade schools... It's been a rough year for everybody. But, in terms of the school year, this is the first year that we've really kind of been back in person, after taking about a year and a half off. And, I am sure for every grade that's been REALLY hard specifically from a social-emotional standpoint. When you take a year and a half off, for an adult it might mean nothing, but when you're a kid one year can feel like 10 years. And that is the reason that Malcolm Moore and I started working on this show. Malcolm started off working with kids with social-emotional needs.

Let's start with how you and Malcolm Moore connected. Tell us about that?

It was funny because a couple of friends of mine from college suggested I meet this guy, Malcolm, because we had very similar sensibilities and just thought we would get along. And he had an idea for a puppet TV show that he wanted to do and then maybe I'd be interested because I'm really into puppets and Muppets and that kind of thing. So, around the same time, they found out that the school needed some help with a couple of things. And I started working at one of the schools slowly kind of building my way up into teaching, and I've been there for a couple of years now. And last yearwhen everybody was still online (learning)I was teaching art online as a substitute. I would show up at one of the campuses in person and a bunch of us would hand out free lunches to parents and kids who would come through and need something. And while I was there I'd get a chance to hobnob and meet people in person. [Malcom and I] do have very similar sensibilities, and we look enough alike that the kids either get confused or actively mess with us. There are a couple of kids who call me “Mr. Malcolm.”

But I found out that he really wanted to do this show, and was very into puppets. He knew a guy named Tom Caltabiano [a producer of] “Everybody Loves Raymond.” [Moore] has since been doing this very cute kid show, Mr. Clown, which is a YouTube channel show that he's been on every once in a while as a drum and social-emotional instructor [with Caltabiano.] And Malcolm wanted to do [a new show]... and he wanted it to be a social-emotional thing. So, I wrote a pilot for him, which he very much liked, and gave it to a producer he knew who thought it was great, but felt that in order to really pitch this to channels or production companies we'd need some visual stuff.

We discussed shooting a pilot, but that was going to cost like twenty to $40,000 to shoot...and then there's no guarantee of anything. This was the end of last year and since I knew Fringe so well I said, “Why don't I rewrite it to be a stage show?” That way, best case scenario, maybe we could bring it to other schools during the next year and do a social, emotional, and musical thing for kids in lots of different schools... start at [the Hollywood] Fringe and see how it goes and then maybe go from there?”

And that's what we did.

So how did you get connected with all the puppeteers?

Malcolm is also not only a great musician but also a drum instructor [who] has taught either in his classes in school or has taught in someone's personal house. Throughout the years he's met a number of people and a number of kids whose parents have been puppeteers or who have been involved with [The Jim Henson Company.]

He met a gentleman named Victor Yerrid, who is a very accomplished Puppeteer [and] has done tons of stuff, including the recent “Age of the Resistance” which was the “Dark Crystal” show that came out a little while ago. Incredibly talented. We also have on our team Christian Anderson, who built two out of three of the actual puppets that we're going to be having on stage.

Geneviève Flati is working with us as well, who I knew from a show she did a while back called “Les Miz and Friends,” which was a painfully funny “Les Miserables” puppet show. And Christian and the guys have done “Puppet Up!” here and there with her.

Do you know what "Puppet Up" is? It's brilliant! It's an adult-only puppet show that takes place once every couple of months on the Henson Lot. Henson, which used to be the Chaplin Studiosand also where they recorded [the song] "We are the World"has a bunch of actors and puppeteers with a whole bunch of different puppets...So they kind of teach you how to do puppets for TV, but then it's an anything-goes Puppet improv! It's brilliant. It's absolutely brilliant.

Alan Heitz, a great actor and an old friend of mine, did a really good stint on the “1883” TV show. I gave him a call as we needed someone to play the bad guys in the show. So Alan came in and he's doing a fantastic job. And I think that's everybody...they're so good. They're so funny...the kids are gonna lose their minds.

I was doing tech the other day and I realized that most of these kids are going to be experiencing Malcolm and puppets for the first time in a controlled environment with special kinds of sound and sound effects, and the lighting, and it's gonna bring things to life in a way that I don't think they will have experiencedsome of them ever!


"Hey, we've just come out of this major, major, major pandemic. How can we remember the things that are important and get back to where we were with gratitude and with love and acceptance?"


So it sounds like you're expecting many of the kids and their families who are from Malcolm's classes and yours?

It's my hope that they're going to be coming along. In order to do this, I first went by my usual Fringe plan [which is to] do everything as inexpensively as possible. Then I work with performers and everybody and I say to them “Okay, listen, we're in this as a group. And however this winds up, I want to try to raise money at the beginning so that we know we can do the show at either no loss or a minimal loss.” I do a [crowd fundraiser] to get whatever it is, and come up with the budget of $3,000, let's say. But I also believe that the donors should be getting more for their money than just a “Thank you” and a T-shirt or something. So if you're giving money to a show you should be able to come to see the show, right? By giving money to the project you get a ticket, and it's also advanced ticket sales!

We've already got a number of people who are going to be bringing their families and stuff, and we know that because they bought tickets in advance to help us on the show. And then from that point on we hope all the kids in our schools are going to be able to come.

But this experience has been unique for me because I know how to handle Fringe in terms of getting other shows' participants to come. Doing a kid show at Fringe is a whole different thing for me. Because, going to [Hollywood Fringe networking] Office Hours and meeting people I certainly hope they would like to come and see the show, but the show is specifically a social-emotional show for kids. And it'd be fun to have people who are doing other shows to come and see it, but we do want the kids. So in addition to letting everybody at the Larchmont schools know about the show we've been trying to get the word out as much as possible. We're in LA Parent online right now, we're on Discover Hollywood, and I've sent things to as many parent blogs as possible.

We didn't really have the money to do big advertising in big periodicals, unfortunately, because we're still a small-time thing. But trying to get some word of mouth trying to get as many people who have kids to say, “Hey, you know, this will be a great fun thing to come and do on a Saturday morning in the first month of summer!” So, it'll be interesting to see how this goes. It's the first time for me in that sense.

So what does the B.A.D.S. acronym stand for?

It's Big Anxiety-Driven Splotches. Steve Troop, who's done a bunch of Fringe puppet performances before, is playing our kind of bad guythe B.A.D.S. So the concept of the show is that Malcolm and his friends' factory is inside a lighthouse. They make rhythms and beats and drums and music to light up the world, and that's where the lighthouse comes in.

But pretty soon, these kinds of dark splotches start attaching themselves to the lighthouse and start dampening the light. And everybody's emotions start getting darker. People start to get worried. They start to get sad. They start to get angry. And the characters have to figure out, “What's going on? And what are these things? And how can we get past this?”

So, as much of a kid show as this is, the deeper aspect is, "Hey, we've just come out of this major, major, major pandemic. How can we remember the things that are important and get back to where we were with gratitude and with love and acceptance?"

Mr. Malcolm's Music Factory show times at The Broadwater (Second Stage), 6320 Santa Monica Blvd. are Saturdays, June 18, 2022, 2:00 P.M., and June 25, 2022, 2:30 P.M. (live and virtual), and Sunday, June 25, 2022, 11:00 A.M. Be sure to check Better Lemons calendar for any updates or future extensions that may be scheduled and The Hollywood Fringe Festival's specific Covid Safety Protocols prior to purchasing tickets and attending.


Monique A. LeBleu/Event Editor and Contributor.

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