Spotlight On … Matthew Widman

The Founder of the New York Theater Festival returns with RISE OF THE PHOENIX: The 2017 Spotlight-On Festival, running April 17 – 30 at The Wild Project, 195 East 3rd Street, NYC. Frank Calo, founder of Spotlight-On Festivals, the first organized theater festival in New York City, pre-dating the New York Fringe Festival by one year, was a leader in presenting new and exciting works, rarely seen plays, and even classical presentations during the late 1990s and early part of the 21st Century. Its high production values and locations in areas such as Times Square made Spotlight-On a popular facet in the NY theater scene. Spotlight-On returns with a series of works from some of its prominent alumni. RISE OF THE PHOENIX features works from previous participants who have gone on to great things and who are thrilled to return to where it all began.

We spoke with a few of the playwrights and producers about their inspirations and why Independent Theater is so valuable to them … and to us:

Stop and Frisk Matthew Widman - Playwright - PlaywrightMatthew Widman is a New York playwright and screenwriter.  Matt’s award winning plays have been produced at theaters and festivals throughout the country.  His bittersweet drama, In the Garden, about a family coping with Alzheimer’s disease, is part of the national MemoryCare Plays project ( and is published in the IPPY award winning The MemoryCare Plays anthology ( 

Stop and Frisk, part of a stage and screen night called American Stories/Forgotten Voices  at the Spotlight On Festival 2017 

What inspires you as an artist?

What inspires me?  People.  Events.  Culture.  Our history and mythology.  Putting it all together to try to tell stories that both entertain and engage with the world.   When I set up characters in dramatic situations I have to ask myself a million questions.  Why is this character acting the way that they do?  What motivates them?  What is their psychology?  Their moral code?  Their philosophy?  It forces me to explore human nature in a way that often results in something surprising – I learn something that I hadn’t thought much about or I’m forced to confront a perspective that changes the way I think.  That’s the inspiring part of the process.  And it’s something I want to share with the audience.  To have them wrestle with it too.  Humans are incredibly complex and interesting and unpredictable.  It’s all there.  The good, the bad, the beautiful – and the ugly.   And as artists, we get to tell stories about it.

Why Independent Theater?

The independent theater is a really unique cultural space.  Audiences come wanting to be entertained and challenged – and artists have the freedom to go places and take chances.  It’s the theatrical mad science lab where lots of things are tried, lot’s of different voices are heard, and lot’s of stories are told that wouldn’t be told anywhere else.  At its most basic, it’s just a dark space with an audience, actors and a “stage.”  But add in that uniquely human live element, different every night, and often something exciting – and occasionally even extraordinary – can happen.

We then met with members of his cast and got their thoughts on our pair of queries:

Stop and Frisk - Cast Photo - 2017 Spotlight On Festival

Lenny Thomas – Actor/Stop and Frisk Cast Member

What inspires you as an artist?
What inspires me as an artist are the extraordinary efforts made by ordinary people. I truly believe there is no such thing as impossible. It’s more like “we haven’t figured it out, yet.” Humans are capable of incredible things, and I feel like it’s our job as artists to live in a way that calls attention to that potential we all possess. Actors are fortunate enough to play in front of dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people in a heightened sense with tactical, purposeful action. The opportunity to reach someone’s heart or mind in that space is exhilarating – and what can come of that is like food for the spirit.
Why Independent Theater?

Independent theatre is like a communal garden. It’s where people come together, plant seeds (ideas) and tend the soil with the hopes to produce flowers and produce to share with the community. I believe everyone deserves exposure to the arts, but not everyone can afford the “Great White Way.” With independent theatre we can bring theatre to the people, which is crucial to the longevity of the arts.

Pharaoh King Champion Actor/Stop and Frisk Cast Member

What inspires you as an artist?

My name is Pharaoh King Champion. I love art. Acting is a living breathing art form that allows you to reach so many people. It allows you to tell your story and the story of so many others. I believe it can be used as a tool to teach and empower. I believe in using this power to impact social justice and social change. I am a former US Army Military Police Officer and I plan to start CUNY Law School in the fall so justice means a great deal to me. Along with this wonderful project Stop and Frisk, I am working on two other personal projects. My play 1 American N America covers the real life stories of Americans from different cities in the country ranging from the age of 5 to 36 and the extreme racial incidents that impacted their lives. My second project is a documentary of a young black man in his 30’s who was wrongfully convicted of crime he did not commit and denied his constitutional right to a trial, as he struggles to become free from his felony conviction through education. He currently has a masters degree and CUNY is providing him the means to go to CUNY Law School where he can continue to fight for justice for himself and others. I believe this documentary will help him get a pardon – and possibly over turn his conviction. I call this doc

Pardon Johnny.Why Independent Theater?Independent theater helps individuals like myself, who don’t have commercial backing, bring important projects to life. It allows artist the chance and break from formulaic genres. With independent theater you can explore and test boundaries. You have room for growth and creation. It is a beautiful place to build up concepts and ideas into finely tuned


Stop and Frisk - Promo Art - American Voices - Spotlight On 2017




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