Sep 22, 2009
I Interview Playwrights Part 58: Mat Smart
Hometown: Naperville, Illinois. Southwest suburb of Chicago. Where I developed an incurable disease called being a Cubs fan.
Current Town: Minneapolis.
Q: You just had a reading at Ars Nova. Tell me about this new play.
A: It's called A BED THE SIZE OF PORTUGAL. It's one of the craziest full-length plays I've written -- full of impossible stage directions and natural disasters. It's about newlyweds who are beautiful and in love, but she snores so bad he can't sleep and he's losing his mind.
Q: You're in Minneapolis for another year for a Jerome Fellowship. What projects are you planning for the long winter?
A: I just finished my first two-person play, so I think I'm going to try writing a ten-actor historical piece about a short-lived glass manufacturing company in Iowa City in 1880. I'm also going to read a few of the books that I've been meaning to read, and then burn them for warmth. It's a different kind of cold here.
Q: You went to grad school at UCSD. How was that?
A: I loved it. UCSD only has one or two playwrights per year and does a full production of each writer each of the three years -- then brings in ten theatre professionals from around the country to the see the work each year. It's the perfect way to get three polished scripts and get introduced to the "real" world. The other departments are fantastic -- great actors, directors, designers, stage managers -- and they all work on your show each spring. On top of that, the weather is perfect. And the kettle corn at Petco Park is the best in the major leagues.
Q: Why do you like sports so much?
A: I like that in a three-hour baseball game only one or two split-second events determine who wins and who loses. I like watching Carlos Zambrano pitch against Prince Fielder and know that I'm watching two of the best in the world try to beat each other. I like not knowing what's going to happen. I like that any at bat or any game could, technically, last forever.
Q: What is it like to date a dramaturg?
A: It's hot. H-O-T. A great dramaturg can save you time and help you become a better writer. A great girlfriend can make everyday feel like a gift. Sarah Slight is both a great dramaturg and a great girlfriend and so that makes me very, very lucky.
Q: Tell me a story from your childhood that explains who you are as a person or as a writer.
A: My dad worked for thirty-five years at Fermilab -- a particle physics lab outside Chicago. When I was a kid, I used to go into work with him on Saturdays. I'd see these big machines that were smashing atoms and trying to figure out if the universe was going to keep expanding, stop, or collapse back in on itself... I think it got me interested in big questions.
Q: What is the purpose of theater?
A: To ask big questions in visceral, dramatic, visual, funny and weird ways.
Q: What kind of theater excites you?
A: The kind that makes people yell, gasp, cry, sigh, laugh -- things that any Cubs game at Wrigley does.
Q: What advice do you have for playwrights just starting out?
A: Don't use courier font. Don't keep rewriting your first play over and over. Drink coffee in the mornings, Red Bull at night and don't sleep until you get it out.
Q: Any plugs?
A: Look out for my play THE FOLLY OF CROWDS in NYC at Slant Theatre Project in November. And also THE 13th OF PARIS at Seattle Public Theatre and The Warehouse Theatre in Greenville, South Carolina in the spring.