We are called Fermat’s Last Theater because one of our company, upon re-reading The Merchant of Venice, had an idea for a production, but like the 17th century mathematician, we found that his conception was too large to include all the details in the margin of the text.
Fermat’s Last Theater Company is a small troupe based in Madison, Wisconsin. We stage classic and contemporary works that explore issues of social justice. Founded in 2013 we have produced four summer plays – Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and Troilus & Cressida, Strindberg’s Miss Julie, and in 2016 our original adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial. And we are a free public theater – we do not charge admission or sell tickets. Come to a performance, take a program, find a seat.
In 2017 we are expanding to a year round season of work, beginning with our Brecht Project, an 18 month exploration of the plays and poetry of Bertolt Brecht. In fall 2017 we staged an adaptation of Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children titled Mother Courage Alone. The four performances at Arts + Literature Lab and the Play Circle in UW Memorial Union were a condensed, linear retelling of the play with one actress, one narrator and one musician. Each show was followed by a panel discussion about the issues raised by the play – the fate of civilians and refugees caught in seemingly endless war, and the choices these individuals and families have to make.
We view theater as process – we discover meaning through experimentation and discussion, and we work collaboratively. All members of the cast and crew comment and contribute to the development of the work during the rehearsal and performance period. By working with members of the UW faculty and artists and authorities in the community, we seek to ground our work in the historical and political circumstances of the work’s creation and evolution.
In August 2017 we also initiated our Podcast Project – monthly audio recordings featuring both classic works of theater and literature and readings by local poets and authors. Our first reading was by Madison poet, musician and photographer Katrin Talbot.
We have funded our summer plays with Kickstarter campaigns and small grants, but are moving to a membership/subscriber model, akin to public radio – we make theater available for free to everyone and ask those who value our work to donate. Details are in the Donate section of this web site and on our Facebook page.
These are the key values that guide our work in theater:
- Stage works of theater and literature that confront issues of injustice;
- Engage the community and audience in dialogue about the social, cultural and political issues raised by the works we perform, through workshops, outreach and discussion sessions;
- Build a new and diverse audience for theater by making all of our performances free.
Board of Directors
In addition to the board, Fermat’s is supported by the talent of local artists, including photographer Marie Schulte, who has taken all the images on the site unless otherwise noted.
Excerpt from the Isthmus – June 9, 2015
Free theater – Fermat’s Last Theater Company stages an edgy tale of class, sex and power
by Catherine Capellaro
In an ideal world, theater tickets would be free. But they rarely are. Fermat’s Last Theater Company, however, is experimenting with a new crowdsourcing model that, if successful, would mean free admission to its next show. The group’s Kickstarter campaign is less than $1,000 from its goal.
The classical theater group’s upcoming production of Miss Julie, Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s controversial 1888 play about the fallout after an upper-class woman initiates sex with a servant, opens July 30 at the Fredric March Play Circle at the Memorial Union.
Founded by production manager David Simmons in 2013, Fermat’s Last Theater Company is a relative newcomer to Madison. Its first two productions were Shakespeare plays: The Merchant of Venice and a circus-themed, gender-bending Troilus and Cressida, in which Helen of Troy was a drag queen.
Simmons says Miss Julie is a fitting choice for a company that wants to do plays with social-justice connections. “Miss Julie is all about class and privilege,” he says.
When it came to the choice to offer tickets for free, Simmons says there are companies in other cities offering free shows on a regular basis, such as Oracle Productions in Chicago.
Simmons says he hopes the new model will succeed so the company can focus on creating quality productions instead of worrying about ticket sales.
“At some point the philosophical and the practical merged,” he says. “One of the missions of the theater is to build a new and younger and more diverse audience, and cost is an issue. I had this crazy idea: Why don’t we just do the show for free?”
Support Free Public Theater
All of our performances and readings are free. It is part of Fermat’s mission to build a new and diverse audience for serious theater in Madison and Dane County. Ticket prices (which can range from $10 to $60) are a serious barrier that prevent many from seeing live performances – especially if the work is unknown, challenging or dark (we have been known to stage such works!). Doing away with tickets also literally frees us as a troupe to choose plays without regard to how many tickets we can sell – no musicals, no drawing room comedies – serious theater, radical truths, always free.