Ahead of the 44 Plays for 44 Presidents event on Monday, October 29th, I had a chance to connect with Matthew R. Wilson, Artistic Director of Faction of Fools. Here's our conversation:
Jacqueline Lawton: How did your company form and how long have you been presenting work in D.C.?
Matthew Wilson: I started Faction of Fools in 2009 as a group dedicated to Commedia dell’Arte. Bit by bit, we acquired more Fools along the way through group trainings and began to build performances together. Today we have 11 staff members and 26 associated artists. Over 100 artists from the DC area have trained or worked with us in the past three years. We were honored as the 2012 Helen Hayes Awards recipient of the John Aniello Award for Outstanding Emerging Theatre Company. We are currently in residence at Gallaudet University.
JL: What impact do you hope to make in the D.C. theatre community?
MW: Our charter is to preserve and promote Commedia dell’Arte—in DC and around the world. We have educational programs and touring shows that have toured nationally and internationally, and we work with an international Commedia association called SAT to coordinate the International Commedia dell’Arte Day every February 25.
JL: Is political theatre important to you?
MW: Theatre is inherently political, as is laughter. In an age marked by virtual interfacing, the simple act of coming together, in one room, at one time, for one real-life purpose is important. I think we may be the last remaining industry that requires everyone to be in the same room for our work to happen. Coming together to form a community—however briefly—and to share in a single story is a public, civic, and, yes, political action. When people are united in laughter (i.e., in a single point of view) the event is all the more political. They leave as different people than they were when they walked in the room. In some small way, their world has been changed by being a part of the event.
JL: Why did you decide to participate in 44 Plays for 44 Presidents?
MW: I am a big fan of dog & pony, and I like the idea of a bunch of DC companies each bringing their individual work into one large collaboration.
JL: Which president are you featuring? What’s his political affiliation and campaign slogan?
MW: Our scenes are:
George Washington (1. “George Washington in the Garden of Eden”)
Millard Fillmore (13. “Yawn…”)
William McKinley (25. “The President’s Programme Today:”) - Campaign Slogans were Patriotism, Protection, and Prosperity and a Full Dinner Pail
JL: That's a lot! What’s something interesting we should know about one of them?
MW: I enjoy the Fillmore scene (“Yawn…”) from 44 Plays. He was Taylor’s VP and assumed office when Taylor died in 1850. Apparently, the entire cabinet resigned when Fillmore ascended. He also turned down an honorary degree from Oxford, saying, “no man should…accept a degree he cannot read.” Not one of the bright points in American leadership!
JL: Did any of them support the arts while in office? If so, how?
MW: Washington, for one, was known to be a fan of theatre, something that his opponents held against him. During the Revolution, theatre was often considered a British extravagance, and simple, hardworking colonists decried all such Old World excesses. In fact, theatre (along with gaming and races) was outlawed during the War. In cities occupied by the British, red-coat soldiers used to hold big theatrical events, fireworks shows, and the like both to sway allegiance from colonists who liked the spectacles and to rub it in to revolutionaries. The Brits seemed to be saying that if theatre and fireworks were going on in your town then it was still a British town. Still, many prominent revolutionaries did retain their British cultural heritage, and Washington was one of them. He seemed to enjoy public gatherings like dances or plays. Perhaps, like me, he saw the political import of people assembling together to be part of a shared story.
JL: Of the three presidents that you're featuring, who would get your vote?
MW: I would love to vote for George Washington. He was a genuinely selfless leader and someone who could unite people of different opinions. He warned against the difficulties of a two-party system and of the dangers inherent in mixing money and politics. I think we can see pretty clearly today that he was right with his predictions.
JL: In addition to 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, what’s next for your company?
MW: We are currently in rehearsals for A Commedia Christmas Carol, an adaptation of the beloved Dickens novel using Commedia dell’Arte masks and Faction’s signature, acrobatic style. A holiday treat that’s fun for the whole family, A Commedia Christmas Carol will run at Gallaudet University in November and December 2013.
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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!