Matthew Capodicasa is a 2015 graduate of our Fordham University/Primary Stages MFA in Playwriting. In honor of our MFA Alumni Reading Series, which runs January 9-12, 2017, we’re catching up with the graduates to hear about what they’re working on these days.
Tell us about your play in the Alumni Reading Series.
Frelmetsch the Maneater is about two puppeteers who meet inside Frelmetsch, a two-person puppet on the set of a fantasy adventure film. The play came about after I saw a documentary about the puppeteers inside Jabba the Hutt during the filming of Return of the Jedi. I was fascinated. I’d seen Jedi probably a hundred times, and while I’d always known that I was watching a puppet, I’d never once thought about the human beings inside it. Underneath that creature’s latex skin was a complex and agonized-over collaboration that was entirely invisible to me. I wondered: could a play taking place inside a puppet get at something essential in how people connect, or become estranged? Or even disappear? And what is the cost of allowing your identity to be subsumed by the act of creation?
How did you come to be a playwright?
I was always writing, but usually in secret (I operated under the misapprehension that I was going to be an actor), and towards the end of my time as an undergrad, I got bold enough to show people some of the play I was working on, and I got to put up a production of it. That was the first time I’d ever not been onstage for a production I worked on.
That strange and thrilling experience got lost in the shuffle as I farted around from audition to audition and from tiny gig to tiny gig over the next few years. But eventually the idea of acting fell away (which was, for anyone who was forced to see me perform, a blessing) and the idea of writing remained. Of telling stories. Of listening, of trying to imagine other people, of striving for empathy, of trying to make the invisible visible. And that felt like something I had to do. I committed myself to just writing (and, naturally, a plethora of day jobs), and after a couple more years, I decided I wanted to go to grad school.
Of course, that’s just how I tell the story, and I may have gradually re-arranged the timeline, re-sequenced the decision-making, and without realizing it made a bunch up. Which I suppose is an equally valid answer to this question.
Tell us about a pivotal theater experience from your life.
When I first moved to New York, I got to see Mabou Mines’ The Red Beads. I was young and stupid and didn’t know anything, but I do remember thinking how thrilling it was to watch this company, this production, this play using every imaginable theatrical tool they had at their disposal to tell a very old, very beautiful, very human story. They had created–out of text and music and puppetry and dance and flight and color and light and sound–their own language. And despite my youth and stupidity and not knowing anything, from time to time something (an image, a word, a crazy choreographic gesture) would crack it open for me and I was right there with them, and I felt like I could almost understand this new language myself.
Also, I got to see Elaine Stritch do Madame Armfeldt. That was pretty awesome.
Which plays, playwrights or theater artists do you admire?
Oh, gosh. This could take a while. I’m just going to rattle off a whole host of writers whose work I love and pretend like that’s an answer. Alphabetically, so as not to show any favoritism: Edward Albee, Annie Baker, Samuel Beckett, Georg Büchner, Chekhov, Caryl Churchill, Cusi Cram, Bathsheba Doran, Christopher Durang, Will Eno, Maria Irene Fornes, Melissa James Gibson, Amy Herzog, Naomi Iizuka, Rajiv Joseph, Sarah Kane, Tony Kushner, David Lindsay-Abaire, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Marsha Norman, Nick Payne, Sarah Ruhl, Jenny Schwartz, Shakespeare, Nicky Silver, Diana Son, Stephen Sondheim, Paula Vogel, Thornton Wilder, Tennessee Williams, August Wilson, Lanford Wilson.
Seen or read anything good lately?
The Wolves is pretty awesome. And Vietgone is just fantastic. And the experience of watching the Gabriel plays at the Public this year was strange, troubling and beautiful.
What else are you working on right now?
I’m working on a play right now about cities and doubles and disguises and war and refugees and travel and global vs. personal grief. And pushy waiters and ancient jazz singers. Also I’m hoping maybe it’ll be funny.
Any New Year’s resolutions for 2017?
Catch a reading of Frelmetsch The Maneater by Matthew Capodicasa on Wednesday, January 11 at 6PM. The reading is free and open to the public. RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org.