An Interview with Welcome to Matteson! Director Andrew Binger

With Passage’s first live online play reading of the season, Welcome to Matteson!  by Inda Craig-Galván, around the corner, the cast and creative team is getting prepared to start rehearsing the script. This includes the director, Andrew Binger, who will be imparting his own artistic vision onto the piece.

The writer of the Welcome to Mattson! Postscript, Victoria Davidjohn, got the inside scoop on how Andrew is tackling the directing process when it comes to this live online reading. Here is the interview between Victoria and Andrew:

What motivated you to take Welcome to Matteson! on as a project? 
“Well invitations are always nice! In all seriousness though, simply starting to read through the piece was enough to sell me. The language sort of popped, and the dialogue was tight! The characters leapt off of the page. It’s hard to pass up being connected to an amazing piece like this. As an artist, I am deeply committed to hearing and sharing stories from Black and Brown storytellers, as those stories are incredible powerful. To be able to use my talents to help tell this story is an amazing feeling. I love the process, especially for a ‘newer’ piece. I also love connecting to new writers. I think Inda Craig-Galván’s writing is just so excellent. I love to follow writers and watch their journeys. To be a small part of whatever journey this great piece will undoubtedly take is an honor!”

How does the satirical nature of this play provide a challenge for you as a director? Do you have any strategies you rely on when taking on a dark comedy such as Welcome to Matteson?
“I think satire is really such an acting challenge and I plan on guiding our amazing cast through the process of staying committed to telling that truth. For me, satire requires wavering commitment. In the case of this story, it’s a commitment to some pretty ugly ideals. However, that commitment is what highlight the absurdity of the beliefs that underpin the characters’ actions. The challenging part of acting, especially with satirical material, is delving into the mind of someone that believes something and working your way into understanding why they believe what they believe. When we do that, we find that most beliefs are rooted in something that makes sense. 

As far as strategies go, I’d say that digging into the subtext of the script and the backstories of the characters is extremely helpful. We have to dig really deep to understand why a seemingly nice person would do a horrible thing or believe something really ugly. I won’t say these ideas are ever justified, but I do think there are lines that can be drawn between important moments in their lives, in the play and outside of it, that run parallel to their beliefs, even (or especially) when the ideas change.”

How are you envisioning the design of this play, which deals with specific shifts in time and space, coming to life? What challenges are you most excited by?
“It’s really incredible how zoom has become a regular part of our digital theatre world. New lanes in ‘virtual’ design are being paved by theatres everywhere as we become more creative and inventive in using the resources available to us. While I am not the most technologically inclined, I do know there’ll be some great opportunities to use technology to enhance the creative experience. Backdrops, and sounds, and other elements are going to help us tell the story effectively. 

I should also say that in the current virtual entertainment landscape I feel like my attention span has shrunk! Multitasking has taken on a whole new meaning, when I can have a work meeting, while shopping online, while looking up recipes, while having a full blown convo with someone in the actual room with me with my mic and camera muted (not saying that I’ve ever done that)! I think zoom entertainment is going to have stiff competition with the variety of distractions that exist in our homes. However, I think if the listening experience is tight, the audience will be able to follow the story. I want to focus on making sure we suck the audience into this amazing story with the way the language flows.”

What do you hope folks take away from Welcome to Matteson?
“I love theatre believe it captures slices and slivers of life. For those who are not familiar with those stories it can be educational. For others who recognize the stories that familiarity can create a sense of ease or comfort or reassurance (as well as things like anger). Representation is so important. 

I hope that people get to hear this amazing story. And I hope they reflect on the characters and the realities that the play highlights and exposes. Some may not like change, but everyone loves progress, obviously based on how they define it. This play challenges what progress looks like a Black American, on an individual level and even more holistically. Is it possible that what we’ve viewed as success has only managed to further divide us? Are agonizing realities hidden in plain sight, right before our eyes? I think we need more voices sharing their authentic stories and reflecting more realities. Only when we begin to listen to other experiences, can we begin doing the work to positively impact those experiences.”

What was the spark that made you interested in pursuing a career in directing and the theatrical arts? What’s made you keep going?
“Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved being the center of attention. I vividly remember friends gathering around me in a circle in the hallways as I impersonated teachers or played some character. That started off my first love, acting. Directing came next. In some ways in came out of necessity, but it also was a chance for me to think about characters and storytelling on a different level.  It was a chance for me to think about some of the higher order ideas that go into creating theatre. In some ways it’s a different side of the coin of creation. As mentioned already, Black and Brown stories are needed and creating positive, supporting environments for these stories is so important. We need creatives on all levels of the process to help these stories get told.”

This interview was excerpted from the Welcome to Matteson! Postscript with the permission of author, Victoria David John. To read the entire Postscript, Passage’s educational research guide, click here!