MU playwrights Matt Fotis wins Mark Twain Prize

MU playwright Matt Fotis won the Mark Twain Prize and directs a play in New Play Series.

Missouri Playwrights Workshop will present the third night of plays in the Mizzou New Play Series on Wednesday, but what marks this night apart is one unifying factor: Matt Fotis.

Fotis not only wrote two of the four plays featured, “58 & 59” and “Nights on the Couch,” but he’s also directing the last one -- “Alumni Walk.”

Fotis has won multiple awards for his plays, most recently winning the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival’s Mark Twain Prize for Comic Playwriting for his play "The Book of Adam.”

“He’s done something no other Mizzou Playwright has done yet,” theatre professor David Crespy said. “He's basically won the triple crown of playwriting. For example, just within the ten-minute play category, his play ‘58 & 59’ was one of four scripts selected out of 800 scripts nationally.”

Fotis was happily surprised he won the Mark Twain Prize.

“I think of myself as a comic playwright, so I’m glad to win the comedy award,” Fotis said.

Fotis isn’t just an accomplished playwright or busy undergrad at MU; he’s also a family man. He met his wife in an improv troupe and things have taken off since. They now have two sons and another on the way, which has helped Fotis manage his time.

“It actually made me focus my time more ‘cause I don’t have any time,” Fotis said. “Nap time is the time I get a lot of work done. It helps me focus that, OK this is the two hours that you’re going to focus on your play.”

Fotis started writing plays as an undergrad at Monmouth College. He needed to find a play for a directing class and was having trouble finding the right one.

“I couldn’t find a play that I liked, so I decided I would try to write one,” Fotis said.

The result was his first play, “On the Surface.” Although Fotis said it wasn’t exactly his best play, it sparked his interest in writing, which he found to be more exciting than acting or directing. Plus, he made people laugh.

“It’s a great feeling hearing an audience react to something that you’re doing,” Fotis said. “A lot of it is because you’re sharing that with the actors and director, and everyone is working on it together. It’s cool to see what little pieces everyone brought to it and then how an audience reacts to that.”

Fotis founded MU improv and has said that his work in improv -- the style of comedy, writing and structure – has been a major influence on his work. Rather than the short sketch comedy styles of Saturday Night Live or Second City, his work is more long-form styles of improv, like Improv Olympics, Fotis said.

“Comedy is so difficult,” theatre professor Heather Carver said. “I have seen many plays labeled as comedies that simply did not engage the audience, but Matt has a way of creating characters and plots that are both sophisticated in their complexity and hilarious in the actions and dialogue of the characters.”

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