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Matthew Sabato on Performing with Makeup and Clouds

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Matthew Sabato (Mur) is a New York City based composer and performance artist. He premiered his first song cycle, Shopgirl, as part of an installation for Creatures of Comfort in 2016. As a performance artist and composer, he has exhibited solo works in collaboration with Jill Platner, Illesteva, Soho House, and Tictail. In the fall of 2017, he wrote and directed a play called Vagina Town, which opened at the 13th Street Theater in New York.

I grew up in a very heteronormative home in Kentucky, Tennessee, Connecticut, and Michigan, and although my parents were and still are supportive of my self-expression, for a long time, we really had no understanding of fluidity. I was bullied heavily in public school for being different. I had a high pitched voice (still do), I’m lanky and gentle. I thrived in opera and musical theater. I was an easy target for anyone looking to bully. Kids stole my backpack, punched me in the face, and I’m pretty sure they actually thought “faggot” was my real name.  I was extremely fortunate to have my parents ship me off to an arts academy in the middle of the forest where I began to accept and love myself.

I first started experimenting with makeup after seeing a production of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber's “Cats” on Broadway. I was 10 years old and I felt like my entire world changed. I remember going into my mom’s bathroom and digging through her makeup drawer. I used her lipstick and eyeliner to paint my face just like Grizabella, the glamour cat. My sister also used to dress me up in her dresses. I was into it. We were not aware of what we were doing. I think there is more normalcy to children crossdressing, than adults.

Back then, I found Natalie Imbruglia to be really beautiful and I wanted to look exactly like her. At that time, blondes like Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera were big but I was drawn to artists who offered a darker look.  Now I find people like Judi Dench, Elizabeth Warren, Lena Dunham, Toni Collette and my mom to be the most beautiful. Really, everyone is beautiful to me now and it's become easy for me to find some beauty in everyone, even the scariest ogre like Donald Trump. There is beauty in all of us. We must constantly seek it and know that it is everywhere.

I don’t usually wear makeup in my day to day life, but I do see it as an art form that allows me to express myself. As a theatrical performance artist, makeup is a medium that allows me to tell stories. Whether I’m dressing up as a cloud or as a shelter dog, makeup helps me create a totally unique identity for my characters.

Seeing and hearing stories of artists who fell down and got back up to keep going is what inspires me most.  Frida Kahlo, Joni Mitchell, and my friends Mari Andrew and Susan Alexandra. Knowing that they have overcome difficult times encourages me to keep moving forward.