Ahead of the 44 Plays for 44 Presidents event on Monday, October 29th, I had a chance to connect with Mark Chalfant, Artistic and Executive Director of Washington Improv Theater. Here's our conversation:
Jacqueline Lawton: How did your company form and how long have you been presenting work in D.C.?
Mark Chalfant: Washington Improv Theater was reformed in 1997 by a group of passionate improv students and performers. We’ve been presenting and teaching since.
JL: What impact do you hope to make in the D.C. theatre community?
MC: WIT promotes improvisation as performance craft and shares improv training with students from throughout DC’s theatre environment.
JL: Is political theatre important to you?
MC: Yes and no. Improv by design stays away from pre-planned agendas. We try to work in a collaborative creative space where everyone can feel welcome, and to give integrity and authenticity to any characters we portray, even if we might not like them much if we met them ITRW. That said, the choices you make while improvising happen before you can think about them, so sometimes they will reflect your beliefs.
JL: Why did you decide to participate in 44 Plays for 44 Presidents?
MC: We’re currently in performance at Source with POTUS Among Us, an improvised election satire, so this collaboration just seemed like a no-brainer. Plus WIT is a scrappy, unconventional company with artistic curiosities similar to Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind and dogandponydc.
JL: Which presidents are you featuring? What are their political affiliations and campaign slogans?
MC: We're playing with five presidents, but the one who resonates the most for me is President Kennedy, the Democrat of Democrats. His slogans were “Leadership for the 60’s,” and the less dated “Time for Greatness.”
JL: He's one of my favorites too! What’s something interesting we should know about him?
MC: He had massive health problems, including chronic back pain, that were kept hidden from public knowledge. He saw three doctors regularly but one of them was kept secret from the other two because his treatments were so unconventional.
JL: Did he support the arts while in office? If so, how?
MC: His White House invited artists, writers and intellectuals to rounds of White House dinners. His legacy for the arts is enormous – his successor President Johnson created the National Endowment for the Arts, and the presidential memorial for Kennedy is the Kennedy Center.
JL: If he was running for office this year, would you vote for him? Why or why not?
MC: Certainly. But in today’s media environment his extramarital affairs would probably have undone him.
JL: In addition to 44 Plays for 44 Presidents, what’s next for your company?
MC: WIT performs POTUS Among Us through Nov. 5 (a special election-eve show), and then in December we’ll present Seasonal Disorder, a cornucopia of improv shows extolling, exploiting, and maybe even exterminating the unavoidable chaos that the holidays deliver each year.
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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!