Dr. Matt Foss

Dr. Matt Foss

Associate Professor of Theatre, University of Toledo. Theatremaker.

October 5, 2020

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Tell us more about some of your past projects?

I usually make theatre pieces or stories from the ground up-either working with existing texts and turning them on their ear to try and bear a better or more immediate witness to what’s going on in our own time and place, or find a way to listen to stories from and about a place and then translate that in as authentic of a way possible. Sometimes that’s on stage, sometimes we have to figure out what kind of stage it’s on-or invent one where it can fit. I work a lot with students in my professional work and my experience alongside them teaching at the university informs almost everything-from process to both aesthetics and ethics.


What current projects are you working on?

We just finished up a socially distanced production of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea with the UTOLEDO Black Theatre Ensemble and Department of Theatre and Film and finalizing the edit for that. 

Then I’m working on a few new plays and writing projects that I hope can speak to what’s happening while navigating the obstacles facing all kinds of makers-not just theatre folx-and treat that as an opportunity. In the theatre, we’re usually pretty short on cash, but often long on imagination, so it’s a decent try to try.


What advantages does being in Northwest Ohio/Toledo offer your efforts?

The community here is incredible.  The willingness to try or allow risktaking-which allows for innovation-is amazing.  There’s great people full of craft and a commitment to vocation that I feel so fortunate to have the chance to be a part of the conversations and collaborations here.  I’ve only been here for a short period of time, but both in the community and at the college, it’s been a blessing.


Tell us about one of your greatest successes.

I feel fortunate to be a teacher, where you get a front row seat at some pretty incredible things every day. Those moments when students render your obsolete-those feel the best.

In terms of work, I made this small play that nobody really saw-only had a few performances in a small theatre in Moscow, Russia-this kind of melancholy, one-person version of The Little Prince. I puppeteered this little coat and a recording played out of an old radio-like a memory kind of thing-of my niece’s voices saying the Little Prince’s lines. 

Not a lot of folx saw it, and it had some problems but there were some ideas in that play that I was proud of, or like still interested in. That’s not always the case-often when you make a play you start from a question and wrestle with it and then go on to the next, better question—maybe, if that makes sense? But I’m still kind of into those questions in that little Russian play.


Tell us who or what gives you inspiration?

I am probably best working with and for other people and their stories. I not a great writer, but I’m a decent typist when it comes to listening to people and then holding up the paper and saying, “Is this it?”  


Tell us about your background.

I grew up in a lot of rural places, got my undergraduate degree in science and conservation biology but had a good family that let me try out a lot of my crazy ideas back then.  I went to school for my MFA and PhD, but I was primarily subsidizing a lot of risks and expedited mistake making through doing homework. It was less about the diplomas and more about the luxury of space and time to try a lot.


Do you have a motto or favorite quote you try to live by?

I really like the image of Gregory Peck slowly walking away at the end of Roman Holiday. That’s probably not going to ever work as a mission statement, but I like that image and feel of a kind of sad, accountability of doing what’s right while knowing the cost. I loved watching that movie with my grandparents and always loved that moment.

Richard Ford has a quote that is something along the lines of “If loneliness is the disease, storytelling might be the cure” or something like that. That has been a big something that lives with me for a long time to.


Favorite place for local culture?

Lately it is in backyards or driveways with a beer talking to local artists and dreaming up projects.


Toledo’s “best kept secret” is . . .

Dave’s MIT-the marathon training program.  You get to be in the Metroparks and I am not a runner but they help you feel equipped to really do it. It’s been life-changing and such an inclusive running culture is a real gem and not the norm across the country.

I also love Walbridge Park-the view on the riverside-walk it almost every day with my dog and it’s pretty special.


My favorite place to chill locally is . . . 

I have a ‘rona yard and garden that has been pretty special or meaningful to me lately. Loved working back there this summer-my first off or without travel or a project in about a decade. It really made Toledo feel like home.


My favorite natural space in the Toledo area is . . . 

The Maumee River-maybe especially near Walbridge Park.  Walt Whitman talks about baseball in saying “let us leave our closed in spaces and get better air in our lungs” or something like that - I only know because of Ken Burns - but each day, especially in the quiet cold in the winter, that wide open space is just helpful. I grew up in places where the sky always felt pretty big and there’s a stretch of the path around the park that has a good view, this really good view of the river and it functions kind of like a pressure release valve.


When I’m not working hard, I can always be found at . . . 

Probably at home. I’m an intense introvert that insulates myself with occasional flares of extroversion.


If you could change anything about the current landscape for creative, progressive people . . .

It would be amazing to have large, format collaborative spaces that are less clean than a gallery but not so dirty as an abandoned warehouse (so we can save time on all the sweeping-that’s a big time suck doing things in warehouses). Like maker laps you can build something together in. I think there’s got to be stuff like that around, but I’m not the best at finding them and everybody is keen to make together I’ve found but resources of time and space seem to be the biggest obstacles.


Any exciting collaborations (past or present) you would like to tell us about?

The 20K Leagues with the Black Theatre Ensemble and Department at UT was cool working with Yusuf and Brad.


Name one person (living or deceased) who you would love to collaborate with.

There’s this Russian director named Yuri Butusov, but that would be like crazy.

I know this is cheating, but I would love the chance to have like a month with old and current students . . . get a chance to make something all together again. That would be pretty special.


Name a CD, book or website you can’t live without.

The Brothers K by David James Duncan was always a good friend for a long time.  I love that book.


3 words that best describe me or my work are . . .

maybe something like a rough, transparent magic or something like that.


Give us 5 Desert Island Album picks.

I’ve kind of been in a music desert lately-usually what I’m listening to is tied to work. I listened to a lot of Jason Isbell when I was training for the marathon last year.


My biggest vice is . . .

portion control.


The last lyric that moved me was . . .

maybe

Well it's a Thursday night but there's a high school game
Sneak a bottle up the bleachers and forget my name
These 5A bastards run a shallow cross
It's a boy's last dream and a man's first loss

or

It's knowing that this can't go on forever
Likely one of us will have to spend some days alone


One movie character I identify with is . . .

That Gregory Peck moment was pretty aspirational but probably always more on the Goonie side of things. My mom cried during “Rushmore”-when he gets thrown to the wrestling mat so hard. Rang a little to true to her experience watching me grow up-all the clubs and self-made plays and my disastrous athletic career.


The best gift I’ve ever received was . . .

The costume designer for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade sent me an artifact bag when I was a kid.  I wrote him that I was preparing for adventures and needed some gear. Still have it, still used it.  It’s been on some.


My most inspiring moment was/is . . .

Most of them orbit around my experiences with my family-especially on my grandparents’ farm down in Texas.


I want my last meal to be _______________.

. . . maybe a cup of coffee, in the morning, in Montana.  But I’ll take quiet and with people I love.


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