Saturday, March 26, 2016

Spotlight On...Matthew Widman

Name: Matthew Widman

Hometown: Portland, Oregon

Education: Williams College, BA in Religion, Columbia University Writing Program, HB Studio Playwriting Workshop

Favorite Credits: The intense audience talkbacks after my play In the Garden (memorycareplays.org), about a family struggling with Alzheimer’s disease.  The play seems to resonate and bring out very strong passions and emotional responses from so many people who are dealing with loved ones battling dementia – a disease that ravaged my father and a number of members of my family.  These are heartbreaking and incredibly moving evenings.

Why theater?: There’s something unique and primal when humans congregate and share a common experience.  When actors and words connect with an audience, I’ve found live theater, at least for me, to be one of the most powerful storytelling experiences.  In a few incredibly lucky instances, I think it can be transformational.

Tell us about Stop and Frisk: Stop and Frisk is a social drama about a stop and frisk encounter in an urban park between two plainclothes police officers and two young men heading to work.  It’s a fictional event – a composite based on media accounts, posted footage, personal experience and the experiences of friends and acquaintances.  The play is about the abuse of power that has made Stop and Frisk such a controversial policing policy. It’s a study of one account of what happens when human nature meets public policy and the potential dangers of these intense human interactions. I’m very fortunate to be part of DUAF and to be collaborating with an exceptional director, Gwynn MacDonald, and four terrific and talented actors, Paul Eisemann, Lenny Thomas, Pharaoh King Champion and Misha Braun.

What inspired you to write Stop and Frisk?: I came across some footage recently on the web of some stop and frisk incidents that really incensed me.  It made me realize that this story - of what’s going on with the hundreds of thousands of these kinds of police stops all over the country – is a story that just can’t be told enough. In the particular, every individual stop can be dangerous and risky – men, guns, authority, respect, dominance, power - like putting together matches and gasoline.  As the many recent tragic events have shown, implementation of public policy really comes down to how people interact on the streets, to the decisions that are made, often in the spur of the moment and to all the personal factors that inform the actions - and reactions - of the (mostly) men involved. Universally, this policing policy begs a broader question of what happens to the bond of trust between citizens and those who we hire to protect us.  We’re a society built on laws that are designed to safeguard our democracy. Ultimately, it’s about trust – we need to trust our public servants – and our law enforcement officers need to be able to do their jobs.  But bad government policy and/or bad enforcement techniques and attitudes can have tragic consequences and can corrode the very respect for authority and the law that’s so crucial to protecting all of us.

What kind of theater speaks to you? What or who inspires you as an artist?: Theater that’s honest.  By that I mean that it aspires, successfully or not, to push the conversation.  This could be in a way that’s emotional or social or experimental or just entertaining, as long as it’s not derivative or cynical but is fresh and original and attempts to either say something new, or say something in a different way.  When I go see a play I want to be taken on a bit of a journey, I want to leave the theater with something more to think about, or laugh about, or cry about than I had when I came in.

If you could work with anyone you’ve yet to work with, who would it be?: So many.  The great part about the project-oriented nature of theater, film, music and much of the arts, is that it allows you to meet and interact with new artists all the time – which means learning new things, new processes, different perspectives.  It’s a process of constant learning and, hopefully, continuing growth.

What show have you recommended to your friends?: Shaun Leonardo’s I can’t Breathe, an extremely powerful art/performance art participatory piece of theater that viscerally conveys the sense of fear, anger and violation that’s unleashed in physical confrontation.  Shaun is an important new American artistic voice whose work takes on issues of masculinity, the body, violence, and violation and puts them into the political and social context of our time.

Who would play you in a movie about yourself and what would it be called?: It would be called "My Life as a Human" – I’d be played by Wilbur, our dachshund, and the entire movie would have Swedish subtitles.  This would be a slice of life film, a dog’s-eye view of human behavior.  Besides lying around in the sun all day, I’d observe (as the dog) how human behavior pretty much too revolves around food, sex, sleeping and the occasional treat.

If you could go back in time and see any play or musical you missed, what would it be?: My theatrical fantasy would be to see all ten of August Wilson’s plays - with original cast and direction - in chronological order, ten days in a row.

What’s your biggest guilty pleasure?: Kettle corn.

If you weren’t working in theater, you would be _____?: Probably teaching humanities in middle school, a high-energy environment where there’s both preponderance of drama and of truly iconoclastic and creative thinking.  The question of “why?” comes up a lot – a question which we, as adults, often stop asking…

What’s up next?: Two full length plays, a comedy, Kill the Dog, about parenting, self-absorption and community with director Gwynn MacDonald and a dark comic drama examining the current state of anger that seems to be so pervasive American politics and society.  A couple of screenplays are in the works as well.

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