Mat Diafos Sweeney is a true multi-hyphenate creator: a composer-director-writer-designerchoreographer who makes theatre and performance pieces that defy easy characterizations. “I talk about the work that I make as ‘junkyard opera,’ both because of the different mediums that I’m working with in visual art and choreography and music and text all happening in a way that’s interspersed, and also because the practice is driven by collaging text and found materials and other source objects that create the piece’s visual and musical world,” he said.
We’re proud to announce that Sweeney is our 2020 Dorothy and Richard E. Sherwood Award recipient, a $10,000 prize Center Theatre Group awards to an innovative and adventurous Los Angeles theatre artist at a catalytic moment in their career.
Since 1996, the Sherwood Award has been given annually in honor of longtime Center Theatre Group supporters Dorothy and Richard E. Sherwood. Richard was President and then Chairman of the Center Theatre Group Board, and Dorothy was deeply involved in the award’s selection and curation process before her passing in 2018. This year their son, Ben Sherwood, was part of the internal panel that selected Sweeney.
Sweeney creates new work collaboratively, primarily with an ensemble he founded in 2008 called four larks. “My work is dependent on the virtuosity and variety of the performing collaborators I work with,” he said. “There is such an incredible, diverse multiplicity of artistic communities in Los Angeles that are typically sort of separate—like the city, they can be really spread out and disconnected—but the pleasure of my work is bringing in collaborators from different performance modes and creating unexpected artistic synapses.”
Four larks has created a number of pieces in nontraditional spaces, including katabasis at the Getty Villa, which Sweeney described as “part-art installation, part-roving opera,” and a new, ongoing site-specific series of contemporary music with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra called session. This month, he opens his “first major theatre commission in L.A.” from the Wallis: an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. As a result, the moment feels particularly catalytic for him.
“I’ve established my work by creating new opportunities across forms and in unexpected locations,” he said. “I’m excited to bring my practice back into established theatrical spaces, with an expanded spectrum of resources and support.”
His Frankenstein takes “the methodologies I’ve been working with in my site-specific practice and moves it into a traditional theatre space,” he said. “We’re using Mary Shelley’s text but collaged, to create a new piece that reexamines the questions she raised in 1818 alongside the scientific ethics of our generation and the use of new technologies in our daily lives.”
A Los Angeles native who studied theatre at UCLA, Sweeney feels that the city makes his work possible. “I spent some time traveling and living other places, but I was drawn back here by the community of artists and the collaborative spirit happening here that I think is really unique,” he said. “L.A. definitely feels like the center of the artistic universe that I want to be a part of.”