Q&A: Matt Slaybaugh of Available Light Theatre

From the September 13, 2012 edition


Matt Slaybaugh founded Available Light Theatre in 2006, and it has since become one of Columbus’ most acclaimed theater companies. Slaybaugh talked about the creative collaboration that goes in to every production — including “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” which opens Sept. 20.
The first part of our mission statement is that we’re a fellowship of artists dedicated to building a more conscious and compassionate world by creating joyful and profound theater. The most important thing about that sentence is that the world is in the sentence before the theater. We’re all people interested in contributing something to our community and making a positive dent in the universe. Theater just happens to be the way that we go about that when we’re together.
We look for, and try to create, shows that ask the biggest, most difficult questions possible. That’s the biggest theme that runs through them.
Pay what you want is real simple. It’s just better when anybody can afford to see the shows. We all are people who grew up loving theater, wanting to go see shows, and even here in Columbus we couldn’t get in the door because things were so expensive. Every show, we have people come up to us and say they’re grateful for it, and that we’ve enabled them to take their family to see some art that maybe they wouldn’t normally get to. We’re proud to offer that unique thing to the community, and anybody who’s seen the shows knows it hasn’t prevented us from making the best theater around.
“Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” — two bloodies, it’s that bloody, that ridiculous — is the most outrageous, incorrect, inappropriate, wildest musical that you could possibly imagine. I’ve been describing it as “School House Rock” as performed by the Sex Pistols. And yet, it has an amazing amount of historical insight.
There are times when the show stops being like a play at all and becomes a rock concert for a few minutes. We’re working on turning the space into something much more like a rock concert. We’ve changed the orientation of the audience and moved the stage closer and things like that. Part of that is because a lot of us in the theater group really want to be in rock bands, but we’re not quite cool enough for that.
It’s a really fast, witty show with a lot of inappropriate humor. It just gives no concession whatsoever to trying to keep things really pat and dry like a standard play. It mixes modern references with historical ones. People are not dressed up in period all the time. They look like rock stars more than historical figures, which is appropriate because it’s about America’s first great political rock star, Andrew Jackson. What’s interesting about him now is that his legacy is really mired in controversy. Some believe he really is an American hero because he opened the West and doubled the size of America, and yet we also know he killed a lot of people to do that. Now we look back and say, maybe that wasn’t the best way to go about it.


Photo by Tim Johnson