Trolley Tour GM has stage presence

By 
R.J. Donovan, Special to the Reporter
Sep. 6, 2012

Matthew Murphy wears a lot of hats in life.  By day, he’s General Manager of Old Town Trolley Tours of Boston.  After hours, he’s a trained singer and actor.  Either way, he’s always on stage.

In addition to his full-time tourism duties, the Dorchester resident spent a decade singing with The Handel & Haydn Society.  He has also served as bass soloist at Wellesley Hills Congregational Church.  Last year he appeared in a staged reading of Marina Carr’s “Marble” as part of the Irish Festival at ArtsEmerson.  And last month, he appeared in the Bad Habits Production of Moises Kaufman’s “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde” at the Boston Center for the Arts.

Born in Ohio and raised in southwest Virginia, Matthew originally set his sights on a career in music.  Starting out at The Juilliard School in New York, he later relocated to Boston and finished his education at the New England Conservatory. Part Irish and part Welsh, he first hit the spotlight in a high school production of Neil Simon’s “Barefoot In The Park.”  In his native Bristol, Virginia, he also joined Theater Bristol.  “It was a community theater, but really good, quality work,” he said.  “I did a number of productions there: ‘Cabaret,’ ‘You Can’t Take it With You,’ a variety of children’s shows.”

Once Juilliard prompted him to go to New York City, he subsequently found work appearing off-Broadway, off-off-Broadway, in a couple of touring companies, and doing summer stock.

He came to Boston to help a friend start an improvisational theater group.  Although the company persevered for a couple of years, “it didn’t really take off,” he said.  “But it was a very good artistic experience . . . It was called Eater’s Theater – theater to help us eat.”

His arrival in Boston also marked a well-needed change of pace. “I had gotten burned out on the whole audition-rat race-treadmill in New York,” he said.  “New York is a very tough place to subsist as an actor, waiting on tables between gigs.”

Falling in love with the Hub, he considered making a career change to either psychology or religious studies.  But in the end, he decided to finish what he’d started at Juilliard and applied to the New England Conservatory.

“I finished my undergraduate degree and went right on into the master’s program and got my master’s in vocal performance.  And of course the side story to all of this is that during those five years I was at the Conservatory, I was working at the trolley tour company.”

He said, “I had just kind of fallen into this job of being a trolley tour guide, thinking it was something I would do temporarily while I was finishing my music degree.  But now, here it is 19 years later and I’m general manager of the operation. “

Old Town Trolley Tours’ familiar orange and green trolleys provide a fully narrated 110-minute tour of historic Boston covering more than 100 points of interest.  Riders may hop on and off at any or all of the trolley stops to shop, dine, and explore the city at their own pace.  At the height of the season, Matthew oversees up to 110 employees, all of whom are termed “Cast Members.”

“We consider ourselves an entertainment company first and foremost,” he said. “Entertainment, service, and people are the three things we focus on.”

He explained, “It really is akin to running a theater company, except we don’t have a theater.  We’ve got 43 little theaters that are all rolling around the city.  Every time one of our conductors steps on a trolley, they’re stepping on stage. The spotlight is on them . . . There’s a sincere desire to provide professional, quality hospitality, and information to people.  But we also want to entertain and give them a memorable experience.”

Despite a demanding schedule, he said, “I still try to make time for one or two productions a year around the Boston area . . . There’s this part of me that really thrives being on stage.  But not just the performance – I really enjoy the process of developing a character and working collaboratively with a group of people to create something special on stage . . . It feeds my spirit and I find it very satisfying and enjoyable.  It’s my hobby.”

In “The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde” Murphy played Edwin Clark, Wilde’s attorney.  Based on trial transcripts, personal correspondence, interviews and direct source material, the play details the downfall of the Irish-born poet and playwright whose artistic genius would be forever overshadowed by scandal and imprisonment for “committing acts of gross indecency.”

With the last performance at the Center for the Arts, it was back to the job at hand.  Matthew Murphy is in the enviable position of having found his niche in life, artfully balancing his vocation with his avocation.  The good news for the rest of us is that he’s got more stories to tell and more performances to share.

R. J. Donovan is publisher of OnStageBoston.com.