Jeff Mosser interviews Jennifer Uphoff Gray of Forward Theater Company the morning after Gov. Scott Walker’s recall election.
Jeff Mosser: Good morning! How is Wisconsin this morning?
Jennifer Uphoff Gray: It’s not a happy morning here in Madison. What does make me happy is that the turnout was high regardless of the outcome… it would have been harder with a low turn out. This was a stand and be counted moment.
JM: How does Forward Theater Company fit into Wisconsin politics? The theatre scene?
JUG: We are very focused on serving our community and choosing productions based on what we think would be relevant and interesting and thought-provoking. We’re the only Equity theatre in Madison so we feel the responsibility to do not just one type of theatre. Doing relevant and timely shows in a swing state like Wisconsin is great. One of the things that I can appreciate is about it (44 Plays for 44 Presidents) is the non-partisan take on politics. It gets everyone talking together about our civic responsibilities. That’s what excites me about it in an election season. It sends people out the door saying, “Vote. VOTE! Tell your family colleagues etc, to vote!” And that’s the message not “these guys are bad” or “go team”.
JM: What put 44P above other plays when deciding your season?
JUG: I personally, as a director, love the theatricality and form. It’s something we really haven’t done before. As far as doing this one versus other political plays it’s the one that sends a clear and important message of civic responsibility going into an election season.
JM: Forward Theater Company was one of the first productions to sign on to the Festival. You pretty much had your pick of the Presidential litter for your video project, and you snapped up George W. Bush. Why him?
JUG: He was my first choice. I think the message of the whole evening is summed up in that piece. Honestly, I hope that people take away the message that presidents are human beings who all, without exception, are doing what they think is right. Now they may be misguided or may be at odds with most of the American people, but it’s our job to be informed, engaged, responsive and not just at election time, but year round. It’s our job as a populace to be educated as we vote. Let your voice be heard! We’re working on that in Wisconsin right now. Certainly, Madison as a whole has a political leaning and it’s very easy to see who vilifies George W. Bush, but I believe he believed in what he was doing. The two liberals and conservatives who block their ears in the play are the problem with democracy right now! The risk in that approach that we’re surrounded by is something that I’m really concerned with: the danger of a society that yells at each other.
JM: Are you doing any community outreach for this production?
JUG: We do pre-show lectures before Thursdays and Sundays throughout the course of our run that explores both the content and context of the show, and we’re going to do talkbacks after each performance. We generally retain 50-75% of the audience because they are so lively. This is going to be a great talk for the talkback. Also, were hoping to organize a red night and a blue night at the theatre.
JM: What do you say to a company that is on the fence about this play?
JUG: A play like this one offers a unique opportunity to show how theatre can directly impact communication on issues.
Jennifer Uphoff Gray most recently directed A Thousand Words, by Gwendolyn Rice, for Milwaukee Chamber Theatre, Love’s Labour’s Lost for Milwaukee Shakespeare (“Best of 2008”) and The Diary of Anne Frank for Madison Repertory Theatre (“Best of 2008”). Her work has also been seen at Second Stage, Musical Theater Works, Ensemble Studio Theater, HERE (all in New York City) and the Chunchon International Theater Festival in South Korea. She holds a degree in Dramatic Literature and Stage History from Harvard College. Jen was born and raised in the Madison area and is now raising her family on the near West Side.