Video: Colorado New Play Summit Spotlight: Mat Smart, 'Midwinter'

Our interview, in video and words, with Colorado New Play Summit featured playwright Mat Smart, author of Midwinter. The play was inspired by Smart’s time working as a janitor at a research center on Antarctica.

“One thing that’s interesting about the station is that the people there fall in and out of love and have these epic relationships for, like, two weeks – and it’s very genuine,” said Smart, whose calls his story a riff on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Here are highlights from DCPA Senior Arts Journalist John Moore’s conversation with  ‘Midwinter’ playwright Mat Smart

John Moore: What was your first introduction to the Denver Center?

Mat Smart: It probably was about 10 years ago. I came and had a meeting with (Associate Artistic Director) Bruce Sevy. I find the Denver Center to be both wonderful and a little bit intimidating.

John Moore: Tell us how it came about that you became a commissioned playwright here at the Denver Center.

Mat Smart: I believe Bruce and (Literary Manager) Douglas Langworthy had seen some of my plays over the years, and we kept in touch. I think they really enjoyed my first play about Antarctica, The Royal Society of Antarctica, and I think after reading that they commissioned me. I gave them a few ideas that I was thinking of, and they liked the idea of me doing another play set down there.

John Moore: How did you end up at the McMurdo Research Center?

Mat Smart: I’m trying to go to all the continents and write about them, I just have one left actually, South America, and I’m leaving in less than two weeks for that one. But I had a friend who took a year off and drove a truck down there. So she put in a good word for me because actually a lot of people apply for jobs down there. I was a janitor for three months in the summer when there are about 1,000 people there.

John Moore: How do you describe how different that world is?

Mat Smart: It has the best of humanity and the worst of humanity because the science and the questions that are being asked is fascinating, and it is inspiring to be able to be in a place that is so isolated and so difficult and inhospitable. But then it’s also like a nonstop freshman dorm-party atmosphere with people saying, “What happens on the ice, stays on the ice.” So it is sort of the best and the worst all together.

Midwinter Quote Mat Smart. Photo by John Moore.

John Moore: For those who don’t know: What is McMurdo, and what are we doing there?

Mat Smart: The United States Antarctica program has three bases across the continent and McMurdo is the largest, it has a capacity for about 1,000 people. It’s mostly science having to do with climate change. What are we doing to our planet and how can we maybe stop it? How can we learn more about it? They can drill ice cores, so they can look at ice that’s 30,000 years old and it has perfectly preserved air so it can tell us about what the atmosphere was like in any number of years. There’s lots research with the penguins and the seals and the sea life. For example, there are fish with antifreeze in their blood. And just because the conditions are so extreme, there are a lot of interesting things that happen down there.

John Moore: Is there anything metaphorically inspiring for you as a playwright about your being literally at the bottom of the world?

Mat Smart: The way I like to write is that I sort of take a journalistic approach. I like to go places and I like to get out of my comfort zone and meet people I normally wouldn’t meet. So to take an audience on a journey, I want to first go on a journey myself.

John Moore: Do you think of Midwinter as a sequel or a continuation of a theme?

Mat Smart: I think it’s a continuation. One character is the same – but you don’t need to know the first play at all. If you do know it, there are a couple inside jokes you’ll get.

John Moore: tell us more about the world of the play.

One of the things that struck me most about being down at McMurdo is how quickly and genuinely people fall in and out of love with each other. And that made me think of A Midsummer’s Night Dream. And then when I found out that the big evening of the whole winter was The Midwinter Dinner, and that it is this majestic, special night full of pageantry, I just thought, “that’s a play.” Set it on Midwinter, in the 24 hours of darkness, and have people falling in and out of love with each other.

John Moore: You are part of the second class of playwrights who are getting a second week f development and a second weekend of readings here at the Colorado New Play Summit. How has having that second week helped your play.

Mat Smart: It’s made all the difference for me. I took a good first step with the play during the first week, but I would say that I really discovered what the play is and who the characters are and what the big moments are just in the past couple days. So I’m very grateful for the opportunity to have another week to take a crack at it.

John Moore: What is the reputation of the Denver Center’s new-play development program around the country?

Mat Smart: That the Denver Center has a great passion for new plays, and an audience for them, and the resources to back them up and support them the way they need to be supported. One thing that’s really awesome about my project here is that I have some of my favorite actors from Chicago, Los Angeles, Minneapolis and New York City her with me in Denver. It’s a great gift to be able to bring people from all over the country to work on this together.

Jaime Castaneda, Director Midwinter, Colorado New Play Summit

Jaime Castaneda, Director of Mat Smart’s ‘Midwinter,’ addresses his cast during rehearsal for the Colorado New Play Summit. Photo by John Moore for the DCPA NewsCenter.

Midwinter: Cast list

Mat Smart, Playwright
Jaime Castaneda, Director
Lee Trull, Dramaturg
Xochitl Romero, Helen
Maurice “Steve” Jones, Dmitri
Nicole Rodenburg, Hilary
Sadieh Rifai, Tamara
Deirdre Lovejoy, Eka
Bruce A. Young, Tal Thompson
Mehry Eslaminia, Stage Directions

2016 Colorado New Play Summit: Ticket information

Second weekend (Festival Weekend): Friday, Feb. 19, through Sunday, Feb. 21
303-893-4100 or INFO

Previous NewsCenter Coverage of 2016 Summit (to date):
Summit Spotlight video: Lauren Gunderson, The Book of Will
Summit Spotlight video: José Cruz González, American Mariachi
Summit Spotlight Video: Tira Palmquist, Two Degrees
Summit Spotlight Video: Mat Smart, Midwinter
DCPA rolls out the welcome mat: It’s Summit weekend
2016 Summit playwrights introduce their featured works
Three major Summit events to be streamed live
Featured playwrights named for 2016 Summit
Audio: Colorado Public Radio on the 2016 New Play Summit

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