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Diego Matamoros stars as Walt Disney in the experimental comedy A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney.JOHN WAMSLEY/Supplied

Two weeks after a multimillion-dollar, mud-slinging boardroom battle over entertainment conglomerate Disney was bitterly resolved, a play about its namesake visionary makes its Toronto premiere.

Lucas Hnath’s experimental comedy A Public Reading of an Unproduced Screenplay About the Death of Walt Disney, produced by Soulpepper Theatre Company and Outside the March, runs to May 12 at Toronto’s Young Centre for the Performing Arts.

Diego Matamoros, who plays Walt Disney, spoke to The Globe and Mail about the man and the mouse, but also about the state of live theatre.

You’re keeping busy, but how healthy is the Toronto theatre scene these days?

Obviously there are financial issues. But the health depends on how much people are desiring to have theatre in their city and how much they understand what it does to their culture and to their lives, and how to support it. We take things for granted. Then, looking back, we say, ‘Oh, we had this and we don’t have it any more, and how did that happen?’ What’s important is that if one doesn’t remain active with certain issues, they will deteriorate.

Some theatre companies are cutting back on programming. Are we simply losing productions each season or are there certain types of productions being cut?

It’s simply a matter of taste. There are shows which appeal to a larger audience, and there are other shows which will find a smaller audience. The decision to say, ‘Well, something that doesn’t appeal to many isn’t really important to lose,’ that’s a great mistake. It’s always the experimental artists who do something in a purer form, and then the mainstream takes the exciting part of what was being experimented with and creates popular shows with it that have the edge and the purpose and the effect that entertain a lot of people. In the world of art, one feeds, and is the catalyst for, the survival of the other.

Without the small, there is no big?

There’s excitement in every show. The question is more about how we fund everything, because everything is the art. The notion that big theatres are the art and small theatres really aren’t is a very naive point of view.

You’re starring in a play The Los Angeles Times described as “the dark side of Walt Disney brought to weird life.” Accurate description?

That’s very good. It’s kind of a fever dream Disney is having. It includes not only his desires but his anxieties, his frustrations, his inner conflict and his coming to a philosophy that I think is very powerful. It’s that we all live in our own heads and we can’t live somewhere else. The play incorporates this.

What do we get from the play?

It’s one of the functions of art to wake us up to all the different facets of our perceptions of different famous figures. It always happens. There’s the fame, there’s the person and then there is the exposure of how these people are human and what fame does to people, and how they personally suffer. Or how the picture that is created is an illusion. With Walt Disney, it is a very powerful thing because he created these fantasy lands and theme parks, even though he was working on building a real city, which is part of the play.

There was more to him than Mickey Mouse.

Yes. The play shows that he was someone who ultimately felt trapped by the entertainment format and the Illusory all-perfect world of having fun in amusement parks. He wanted to do something deeper for society. However his psyche reasoned it out, that’s where his psyche was going. But he died before he could do that.

Of lung cancer, at 65, in 1966.

Yes, and one of themes of the play is disease. We’re terrified of disease – we’ve just gone through a giant pandemic. In this piece, it’s about the end of his life. He died diseased. It’s something we can all feel – our fears and our sense of time and how time works.

What’s your take on the play and, more importantly, the man?

It’s a fascinating portrait. He created unbelievable things and lived in a time when that could happen. It’s not possible today – we live in a different society. If you look at that time of the 20th century, with technology the way it was evolving, he was at the right time as a pioneer in cartooning. He began with Mickey Mouse and did the voice himself, initially. Now we have the Walt Disney Company that controls, in a corporate way, massive amounts of the world. It’s an extraordinary journey.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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