BWW Interview: Four Larks' Mat Sweeney - A Teddy Bear of a FRANKENSTEIN To Work With
The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts and Four Larks have teamed up to present their world premiere of Four Lark's adaptation of Mary Shelley's classic FRANKENSTEIN, beginning February 12, 2020. In conjunction with the novel's 200th anniversary, the collaborative creative forces of Four Larks, headed by its co-founders Mat Sweeney and Sebastian Peters-Lazaro, re-imagine Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN to question the moral responsibility of each new generation.
Mat managed to squeeze a few spare moments between rehearsals and being honored with his latest award to respond to my quizzical questions.
Thank you, Mat, for taking the time for this interview!
The opening line on your website reads: "FOUR LARKS make original performance work at the intersection of theatre, music, visual art and dance." Would you say an important element of Four Larks' uniqueness is your successful interpretation and utilizations of non-proscenium settings?
We've made work in theaters, in dining rooms, in abandoned warehouses, and in museums. We'll go wherever an audience is willing to come find us.
As in which came first - the chicken or the egg? - do you book a venue, then create your piece? Or do you sometimes have a piece on the backburner waiting for the perfect space?
The original space always inspires and guides the creative process. Some projects are site-specific or people-specific, others can be adapted to move around and shape-shift. We were thrilled by the invitation to make a new piece for The Wallis. It's a very fancy post-office made into an even fancier theater.
What would your three-line pitch of FRANKENSTEIN be?
Our FRANKENSTEIN is a new adaptation of Mary Shelley's novel. It's created for an ensemble of twelve astonishingly virtuosic actor musicians. It's one glorious hour of rapture and fury.
What versions of FRANKENSTEIN have you seen?
We watched as many different film adaptations as we could get our hands on in the first research stages of the project, but we're really just interested in the novel. Mary Shelley was a prophet of a poet. I think that fans of the film versions will find something satisfyingly unexpected in our adaptation.
When was the lightbulb moment when you realized elements of FRANKENSTEIN would make for a perfect argument against unregulated technology?
Reading the book! New technologies are always dangerous to some extent. Sometimes they'll isolate you in your room looking at a screen. Other times, they'll come to life and murder your family.
What first brought you and Sebastian together to create Four Larks in 2008?
We met at school, and made our first project with our friends in our backyard.
What is the secret to your successful collaboration of over a decade now?
We make the things that we would want to go see and hear. And we seek out the most incredible performers to build and inhabit them.
Which Four Larks show had the most disagreements between you that you surmounted?
Non applicable. Harmony is the soul of our companionship.
Then, which show was the smoothest for your creative relationship?
All of our projects have really unique parameters and provide different challenges. If it's too easy, you're not doing it right.
Do you prefer using lower case 'f' and 'l' in your company name?
The styling of our creative entity is in constant flux. Fixed identities are boring right?
Your projects range from the classics (PEER GYNT, ORPHEUS) to avant garde (KATABASIS, UNDINE) to now FRANKENSTEIN. What elements do you look for as a starting point to become a four larks project?
We always work from some kind of existing source material, whether it's a play, a novel, a historical event, a poem or a painting. Then we jump inside it, memorize it, tear it to pieces, and reassemble it in our own image. Each project is inspired by some artifact of the past, but arranged to reflect the future. Even when the titles are not universally familiar, we always make work that is accessible. It's for you and it's about you. Get in here!
The make-up in your shows is very stylized. What do the simple black lines on the musicians' faces in LACO SESSION NO.1 symbolize? I see the black lines repeated in your FRANKENSTEIN artwork.
Those lines are a cuneiform of space and sound- a mutation of musical and architectural notation. It was for a concert we created with composer Andrew Norman at a brewery. He's a hero.
You and Sebastian both have many creative roles on four larks. What did you originally study to become?
We studied humanities and art things right here at UCLA. But our real education has come through all of the incredible artists we've collaborated with over the years making work as Four Larks.
Mat, you were just awarded the 2020 Dorothy and Richard E. Sherwood Award at the Ovation Awards January 13, 2020. Congratulations! What went through your mind when you first knew you were being awarded the honor and the accompanying $10,000?
I was! Thanks! I was very grateful to the Sherwoods, and to CTG. It's an exceptional grant to support artists making new work in L.A., where financial support of that kind can be especially hard to come by. I was really honored to be acknowledged alongside some truly inspiring peers.
Any particular projects you have that award money earmarked for?
Right now, all of our focus is on this creature at The Wallis!
What would be the most satisfying Wallis audience response to you after FRANKENSTEIN's curtain call?
For all of our audience to register to vote in the California Primary March 3rd and this November. This country is a monster, but it's not too late.
Thank you again, Mat! I look forward to experiencing your four larks' take on Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN.
For ticket availability and show schedule through March 1, 2020; log onto www.thewallis.org