UT's Foss finds theater opportunities amid pandemic restrictions

·4 min read

Aug. 26—Coming off of last year's high of seeing his written play go from the University of Toledo to an award-winning Chicago stage drama, one might think things would have slowed down for UT theater and film professor Matt Foss, particularly during the pandemic beginning last year when in-person teaching and live performances were limited.

Instead, Foss doubled down to make the best of a bad situation and coached his students on how to write their own plays and morph them into a stage production — or in case of a pandemic, a show that can be streamed online.

The result was yet another UT award winner: a streaming production of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, for which students wrote a script from the Jules Verne novel to create a show that explores oppression and the morality of fighting for social justice using peaceful or violent means.

The show recently won the Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Award that "recognize[s] programs in higher education using theatrical production to promote long-term societal impact through an artistic lens, to encourage empathetic exploration of the complex cultural and physical world, and to advocate for justice on campus and throughout the world."

With coronavirus concerns still permeating campus, Foss said exploring methods of merging live performances with filming will likely be something that continues onward in the classroom.

"I think the award was a really nice reflection of all the students' hard work," Foss said. "They shot another film in the spring that should premiere this fall that uses this sort of similar live theater translating into film model, and so I think that that should continue to work well."

At the start of the last school year, Foss' All Quiet on the Western Front, which was performed in August, 2019, in Chicago, had won six of the seven 2020 Non-Equity Jeff Awards — similar to New York's Tony Awards — that recognize Chicago's top theater.

The show, an adaptation of Erich Maria Remarque's classic 1928 novel set in World War I, tackles issues such as equality, hyper nationalism, and xenophobia, through a diverse cast of characters who are on the German front lines during the war.

Foss won best new work, while fellow UT professor Stephen Sakowski, who did the design for the show, received the award for best lighting design of the year. The show also won best production of a play and best ensemble, which included two UT alumni: Austin Rambo, who performed in UT's production of the play, and Bianca Caniglia, who graduated in 2018.

The professional premiere of the play featured a unique collaboration between the University of Toledo and co-producers Red Tape Theatre and the Greenhouse Theatre Center, two professional companies in Chicago. In 2019, the play received the Kennedy Center's David Mark Cohen National Playwriting Award, recognizing the year's outstanding new work premiered at a college or university.

Now schools and colleges near and far can perform the show themselves. Foss' script was picked up by Heur Publishing and recently was made available on its website — marking the first time he's had a script officially published.

"It's available now and hopefully it can have a life beyond the very successful projects we were able to do here at UT," he said.

Upcoming shows:

—Godspell, a show by Waterville Playshop: 8 p.m. Sept. 9-11; and 2:30 p.m. Sept 11-12 at the Maumee Indoor Theatre, 601 Conant St., Maumee.

—Something Rotten!: 8 p.m. Sept. 10-11, Sept. 17-18, and Sept. 23-25; and 2:20 p.m. Sept. 19 and Sept. 26 at the Toledo Repertoire Theatre, 16 10th St., Toledo.

—The Sunshine Boys: 8 p.m. Sept. 10-11 and Sept. 17-18; 7 p.m. Sept. 16; and 2 p.m. Sept. 12 and 19 at the Village Players Theatre, 2740 Upton Ave., Toledo.

—I Ought to Be in Pictures: Sept. 17-19 and Sept. 24-26 at the Black Swamp Players' theater, located at 115 E. Oak St., Bowling Green.

—Something Rotten!: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 8-9 and Oct. 14-16, and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 10 and Oct. 17 at the Croswell Opera House, 129 E. Maumee St., Adrian, Mich.

—Matilda, a show by Waterville Playshop: 8 p.m. Oct. 22-23 and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Maumee Indoor Theatre.

—Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Fallen Soufflé: Oct. 29-31 and Nov. 4-7 at the Rep.

—Anastasia: (times vary) Nov. 4-7 at the Stranahan Theater, 4645 Heatherdowns Blvd., Toledo.

—A Christmas Story: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 26-27, Dec. 3-4, and Dec. 10-11; and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 28, Dec. 4-5, and Dec. 11-12 at the Croswell Opera House.

—An Officer and a Gentleman: (times vary) Dec. 2-5 at the Stranahan Theater.

—A Christmas Carol: Dec. 2-5 and Dec. 9-12 at the Rep.

—Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and Then Some): Dec. 10-12 and Dec. 17-19 at the Black Swamp Players' theater.

Jeff Schmucker writes about theater for The Blade. Send news of theater and comedy events at least two weeks in advance to theater@theblade.com.

First Published August 26, 2021, 7:30am