Ahead of the 44 Plays for 44 Presidents event on Monday, October 29th, I had a chance to connect with Flying V's Production Manager, Ryan Maxwell, and Producing Artistic Director, Jason Schlafstein. Here's our conversation:
Jacqueline Lawton: How did your company form and how long have you been presenting work in D.C.?
Jason Schlafstein: We've been around just shy of two years now (we have a birthday in December), and started with a production of Augie Praley's Become What You Are. Flying V was started by myself and Colin Grube to make the kind of theatre we wanted to see more of, with a focus on creating original work by local talent that focused on inspiring people to grab life by the throat and really live it. And to do it with people we loved, and theoretically make that process easier.
JL: What impact do you hope to make in the D.C. theatre community?
JS: We like creating. That's really important to me. We focus a lot on genre fiction and pop-culture, what I call modern mythologies. The metaphors of now. I'd love to be known in the theater community as the company that does new work by local writers or other contemporary pieces about, I dunno, Vampires and Robots, but that has real intelligence and heart to it. Plays about Vampires and Robots that help make you feel more human. And if we can help shift the perception of DC as a theatrical import town into a city of generative artists, if we end up having any part in that, that would be a real success.
JL: Is political theatre important to you?
JS: To personally create? Not particularly, at least not as a primary goal. I'm glad it exists, and I've often enjoyed good productions with a political base, but I think other people and companies are more interested and do it better.
JL: Why did you decide to participate in 44 Plays for 44 Presidents?
JS: The Neo-Futurists are and were a huge influence on me with the creation of Flying V in terms of style and tone, so the opportunity to do a piece of theirs was very exciting. We do a lot of short, quirky plays as part of our repetoire so doing a few scenes from this fell right in our wheelhouse. Also, and maybe most importantly, the chance to tag team with a lot of other area companies in a DC jam session sounded pretty awesome. I'm going to let Company Member and 44 Presidents Director Ryan Maxwell handle questions 5-8. Take it away!
JL: Which president are you featuring? What’s his political affiliation and campaign slogan?
Ryan Maxwell: Our plays are about the following presidents:
JL: That's a lot! Okay, what’s something interesting we should know about a few of them?
RM: Adams: He was rather ambivalent about being president, before, during, and after his term. Harrison: He was responsible for more Native American deaths than any other person in the US government. Grant: His real name was Hiram. He wanted to be a math teacher. Harding: There was a rumor that his wife (who was well-connected and played a role in getting him elected) was trying to kill him while he was still in office. Bush Sr: Lee Atwater, a major player in Bush Sr’s campaign, RNC chairman and architect of the infamous race-baiting Willie Horton ad, was also an accomplished blues guitarist who played with B.B. King.
JL: Did he support the arts while in office? If so, how?
RM: No idea for the first four. The Bush Sr administration’s most visible contact with arts was probably when his VP Dan Quayle got into a prolonged fight with a fictional character (Murphy Brown) about the threat that single mothers pose to traditional family values and the American way of life. Given Mitt Romney’s recent statement that two-parent households prevent spree-killings, it would seem that everything old is new again.
JL: If he was running for office this year, would you vote for him? Why or why not?
RM: Adams: Yes. He seems a thoughtful, caring, genuine person. Also, he was one of the framers of the Constitution and an all-around amazing figure in American history. Harrison: Hell no. Don't need genocidal war-criminals running things at this point. Grant: Maybe. He was a tortured, conflicted soul. Also, as a military man, he would be something of an anomaly for a modern president (as we haven't had one since Eisenhower) Harding: Hell no. Two words: Teapot Dome. Bush Sr: No. I remember what this country was like under him, and have no desire to go back to that. Also, we already had another President Bush, and that didn't work out so good.
JL: In addition to 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, what’s next for your company?
JS: We're doing a collection of short plays by Company Member Augie Praley called Staring at the Sun as part of the Charm City Fringe Festival Preview Weekend in November. It's a one night event and has three of our plays, along with work by two other companies. Our shows include a remount of Elizabeth at the Tea Party (about a little girl who's stuffed animals rebel against her tyranical rule), Monkey See Monkey Do (where a hapless doctoral student of linguistics learns the secret history of human evolution), and ...And On Forever Like This... (which sees amateur pornographer Skip Sandwich caught on an unending talk show, which is kind of a theme for us). We go up Friday November 9th at 7pm, at the Autograph Playhouse, 9W 25th Street, Baltimore, MD 21218. Tickets are $15. This is our first trip to Baltimore, so we're stoked. We're also doing a production of company member Zachary Fernebok's The Pirate Laureate of Port Town in Bethesda in February, and we'll have more info on that soon.
I'm a playwright, dramaturg, and teaching artist. It is here where you'll find my queries and musings on life, theater and the world. My posts advocate for diversity, inclusion, and equity in the American Theatre and updates on my own work. Please enjoy!