by Sharyn Kopf
Martin and Lewis. Laurel and Hardy. Abbott and Costello. Hermiz and Martin. Sometimes it just works.
As a freshman math major at Cedarville, Dustin Martin '96 performed in two plays for the fun of it. Matt Hermiz '97 enrolled a year later with an undeclared major. "I didn't really know why I was at Cedarville," he said, "except that it was close to home and supported my values." Neither was destined for theatre. Then, on a lark — and with no theatrical background — Matt auditioned for the fall play, The Boys Next Door. So did Dustin, and both earned lead roles. Soon, a lifelong friendship and passion for the stage was born.
It meant a lot to Matt that Dustin was willing to connect with a freshman. They bonded over shakes at Mom and Dad's Dairy Bar and discovered they were like-minded in many areas. "Dissecting plays and characters with Matt helped solidify the passion I have for theatre today," Dustin said.
They didn't just work together onstage but backstage as well. When Dustin was stage manager for The Sound of Music during his sophomore year, he asked Matt to be his assistant. Before the year ended, Matt had declared a theatre major and Dustin had swapped his math major with his theatre minor.
Both asked Professor Gary Barker '86 to be their academic advisor. He had directed The Boys Next Door, which brought the two friends together in the first place. "In the story of my life," Matt said, "Gary looms large."
Dustin also acknowledged that Barker was an instrumental figure in their lives and said both still find themselves doing theatre the way Barker taught them — "finding" the character as an actor and structuring rehearsals as a director to get the most creativity from the actors. "Matt and I have both received compliments from actors we've directed regarding our process," said Dustin. "This is a direct result of Gary's teaching and mentoring."
While Dustin stayed steady — finishing his degree, then marrying his girlfriend, Eve Edsell '96 — Matt's path was more uncertain. He dropped out of Cedarville for a quarter, returned for a quarter, then dropped out again, this time for two years.
"I didn’t have the money, and I was struggling with depression and an overall lack of direction at the time," Matt said.
Meanwhile, Dustin had moved back to his home state of Wisconsin to teach theatre and speech at the high school where he had graduated. He continued his acting and directing pursuits in community theatre. He and Matt made a concerted effort to keep their friendship strong. "We decided to talk every few weeks and try to get together once or twice a year," he said.
During his time away from Cedarville, Matt spent a year living in Virginia Beach, an experience that changed his life. He began asking himself what he really wanted to do and made a pro and con list for returning to the University. "The ambivalence faded," he said. "I decided I valued Cedarville, the education I'd already received, and I wanted to go back." Eventually he knew that was the right next step.
After officially graduating in 2000, Matt found a job in Columbus, Ohio. He rose through the corporate ranks and, before he knew it, eight years had passed. He had developed valuable skills and was good at his job, but it wasn't what he really wanted to do. And he wasn't involved in theatre. "Dustin was keeping the dream alive while I was becoming a company drone," Matt said. So he quit.
Since then, Matt has been on what he calls a "walkabout." He lost almost 100 pounds, spent a month as live-in nanny for Dustin's four daughters, and became even more involved in local theatre, directing Hedda Gabler and acting in numerous area productions. Currently, he is involved in starting a new outdoor Shakespeare company in Dublin, Ohio.
Dustin now works for a computer consulting firm. He is currently acting in a play, directed an adaptation of Pilgrim's Progress last fall, and recently flew to Columbus to see Matt perform in Talley's Folly. The two men still attend the Stratford Shakespeare Festival in Stratford, Ontario, every two or three years, a tradition they started at Cedarville. It feeds a passion for the Bard that they've shared since college.
Their friendship remains as strong as ever, despite the distance. "Thanks to texting, emailing, etc., it's easier to keep in touch," Dustin said. "We can still work off each other, even at a distance."