City Weekly’s Best of Utah ARTs Awards (formerly Arty Awards, formerly Slammy Awards)

We at Plan-B Theatre are bursting at the seams to have have been nominated again this year for Salt Lake City Weekly’s Best of Utah Arts Awards!

– Best Local Theatre Production: MAMA by Carleton Bluford

– Best Original Play (all three slots went to Plan-B plays): MAMA by Carleton Bluford, A/VERSION OF EVENTS by Matthew Ivan Bennett and PILOT PROGRAM by Melissa Leilani Larson

Although we have been nominated every year since 2000 and won 49 previous awards, this is the first year we have swept a category. And it never ceases to be exciting and humbling.

Please click here to vote by August 24 to help us win our 50th City Weekly Best of Utah Arts Award! You’ll need to vote in 3 categories so we recommend voting for Latoya Rhodes (who appeared in MAMA and A/VERSION OF EVENTS) for Best Theatre Performance for Wasatch Theatre Company’s THE COLOR PURPLE.


Mark Fossen on juggling two wives in PILOT PROGRAM

Mark Fossen has previously appeared in Plan-B’s THE ALIENATION EFFEKT, EXPOSED, AMERIGO, THE SCARLET LETTER, CLEARING BOMBS and the Script-In-Hand Series readings of THE NORMAL HEART, 8 and MARRY CHRISTMAS. I’ve had the chance to play some wonderfully challenging roles in my time with Plan-B: a prizewinning economist, a machiavellian schemer, a genocidist, and more. Who would think that one of the most challenging characters to inhabit would be a man who lives a few miles from where I do now, is my age, and is married to a woman who looks suspiciously like my real-life wife? PILOT PROGRAM is about a lot of things: polygamy, loneliness, family. However, the biggest step for me was the question it asks about what you would do for your faith. I am not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and never have been. I grew up in areas of the country where the Church is not prominent, and the first members of the Church I think I knew were when I met my wife’s family. Since moving to Utah, I understand the basics, and am familiar with a lot of the terminology, theology, and culture. But, of course, understanding is very different than a lived experience. My biggest hurdle was in the very basic premise-before-the-premise of PILOT PROGRAM: “What if you were called to serve in the restoration of polygamy?” While “polygamy” is the eye-catcher in that sentence, it was the “called” that was my biggest challenge, the thing I could not understand. While I can imagine the personal religious revelation that could inspire polygamy, I cannot imagine...

April Fossen on polygamy, monogamy and PILOT PROGRAM

April Fossen has previously appeared in Plan-B’s MIASMA, SHE WAS MY BROTHER, MESA VERDE, LADY MACBETH, SUFFRAGE and NOTHING PERSONAL; many a SLAM; and the Script-In-Hand Series readings of 8, MARRY CHRISTMAS. I admire polygamists. Not the Warren Jeffs variety, but the modern, Big Love-type folks. Consenting adults who are doing what we all do—working jobs, raising kids, doing their best to be good people—just with more than one wife. Okay, yes, I struggle with the patriarchal aspects of polygamy. But…those women. Here’s the thing: marriage is complicated. I never call it “hard” because I don’t think it is, just complicated. Juggling the disparate needs and wants of two people, or two people plus kids—that’s complicated. Adding god into the mix? What he/she/it wants/expects of you? That’s a whole new level of complication. And on top of that, add more wives? It’s mind-boggling. But that’s not even the reason I admire them—I guess with a good calendaring system a lot of things are more possible. What I admire is the self-sacrifice. The generosity of spirit. I guess this is where I’d have to admit that I also admire people who can maintain open marriages or polyamorous marriages. I DO NOT know how they do it. Be willing to share your partner? Do it with love and understanding? Put the needs of your partner so far above your own? I honestly can’t wrap my brain around it. And I’ve tried. I’ve been thinking and talking about these aspects of marriage pretty much nonstop (apologies, friends and loved ones) for the past year, since I first read a draft of PILOT...

Playwright Melissa Leilani Larson brings the awkward to PILOT PROGRAM

Melissa Leilani Larson makes her Plan-B debut with PILOT PROGRAM. An award-winning writer from Provo, Utah, her plays MARTYRS’ CROSSING (IRAM Best New Play) debuted at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (Association for Mormon Letters Drama award) enjoyed a sold-out run at Brigham Young University last March. Her screenplay FREETOWN, presently filming in Ghana, will be in cinemas in April 2015. Other plays include LITTLE HAPPY SECRETS (Association for Mormon Letters Drama award), A FLICKERING (Trustus Playwrights Festival finalist), STANDING STILL STANDING (Mayhew award), and LADY IN WAITING (Lewis National Playwriting Contest for Women winner). Dramatists Guild ambassador for Utah, BA in English from BYU, MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop. I’m rather good at being awkward. The other night I went to a screening of a film I worked on. It’s probably been one of the biggest things I’ve done so far, just by sheer audience size: 750 people saw that one screening. That’s more than whole runs of shows of plays I’ve produced. A little depressing if you think about it, actually—but amazing at the same time. After the film, the filmmakers moved to the lobby where a vinyl backdrop emblazoned with the film’s title had been set up. The producer, director, distributor, composer, and myself posed for photos in front of the title backdrop. Because everyone wants to get a photo taken with a first time screenwriter, right? At one point I stepped up to take a photo with the director—just him and me. We’re friends, so I didn’t have any qualms about giving him a hug or putting an arm around him...

Actor Susanna Florence Risser on PILOT PROGRAM

Susanna Florence Risser makes her Plan-B debut with PILOT PROGRAM. She was most recently seen in ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS at Pioneer. I met Melissa Leilani Larson in 2000 at BYU. I was enrolled in a class called WDA (writers, directors, actors) and Melissa was one of three playwrights (or screenwriters) selected to workshop a piece that they had in process. Every week each writer would bring in revisions in response to the feedback she or he had received the previous week from the professors and other participants in the workshop. I liked her play immediately. The first things that struck me about Mel was that her writing was consistently natural and easy, though her subject matter varied widely. The second thing that struck me was how prolific she was. While other writers would come in with small, sometimes inconsequential changes of grammar or syntax, unwilling to make major changes or let go of clever bits that didn’t really serve the story, Mel would come in with pages and pages. She was quick to evaluate critique and then was able to revise and revamp, accepting feedback but also maintaining the integrity of her own idea and voice. We developed a natural friendship and I immediately looked forward to being in a full production of one of her plays.  I have been to productions of many of her plays as well as many readings in New York, Provo and Salt Lake (one inspired by a request I made that she write a play about Joan of Arc). However, because of consistent life events, moves, grad school (for both of us)...

Carleton Bluford’s version of A/VERSION OF EVENTS

Carleton Bluford has previously appeared in Plan-B’s WALLACE, SLAM, MARRY CHRISTMAS and THE THIRD CROSSING; he appears in A/VERSION OF EVENTS through March 15. His play MAMA premiered in February at Plan-B. It’s hard to say what my journey is/was with A/VERSION OF EVENTS. Grief can come from many places and events in our lives. I find that as an actor, to access those emotions, you have to relate and connect somehow to the material. Although I’ve never had or lost a child, I do know what it’s like to feel loss and despair. I have been on my own personal journey this year dealing with old demons within my family, my career and as a person. it’s been a very reflective year. So when asked to do A/VERSION OF EVENTS, a show in which I’m forced to drudge up these emotions, its a very fine science of walking that line between character emotion and real emotion. That being said, as you can imagine, it’s been a bit hard. I will tell you what makes it easier though: working with such a talent as Latoya. She is bold and courageous and beautiful. very insightful and giving on stage. And it has also been a blessing working with Christy as a director. I’m sure we bugged and irritated her with all of our questions and promptings, but she was very knowledgeable and flexible and dedicated to the piece. Playwright Matt Bennett has really out done himself in such a good way. As actors, it’s a challenge and a good one at that. Other actors are most certainly going to want...

Christy Summerhays on directing A/VERSION OF EVENTS

Christy Summerhays has acted regularly for Plan-B over the past decade, including Matthew Ivan Bennett’s MESA VERDE. She also directed PETER AND THE WOLF, Plan-B’s inaugural Free Elementary School Tour. Ironically, one of the first obstacles I found myself facing when preparing to direct A/VERSION OF EVENTS was to allow myself have my own “version” of this play Matthew Ivan Bennett had written. I knew I must allow the piece to speak to me through the particular lens that was my own and that I had to honor that as best I could. That was my job. A well-written play always has a wealth of information to spark your imagination and this piece had much to say from the very beginning. Though it might not have come easy, ultimately, we got along very well and I was able to feel confident going into our first rehearsal . . . where the next “version” of the play was to be added – the actors. They would bring their own point of view – and who knew what would come of that! Exciting! This piece is about a married couple – two very strong individuals who have suffered a terrible tragedy and now must navigate their way through it. At its core is the universal theme of grief and, with it, the varied ways each of us copes with grief. Sometimes we laugh through it, sometimes we shut down, and sometimes we let it all hang out. Matt has explored all of these colors through the characters of Hannah and Cooper. Now that we’re about to open the play, we will...

High school playwriting students visit A/VERSION OF EVENTS Rehearsal

On Friday, February 20, a group of high school playwriting students from American International School of Utah sat in on rehearsal for Matthew Ivan Bennett’s A/VERSION OF EVENTS. They shared a bit about their experience with ua. The play was amazing and I can’t wait to see it come together. I had fun laughing and learning how to run a rehearsal. I also got many ideas for my play. Also Oscar was the most adorable child ever! – Brinlee Burmingham I loved the dialogue in the run through. I feel that they have a very talented crew and actors, I loved how the director knew exactly what she wanted and then so shyly and quietly delivered her constructive criticism and yet it had an authoritative state to it. I think it will be a great play. – Jonah Russell This experience of watching the director with the actors was truly memorable. It shows me how much hard work the actors actually put in to these plays. Thank you Plan-B for giving me this opportunity. – Alexa Hill Well when I got there I thought it was going to suck but after like the first 15 minutes I started to love it. It was the best thing I have ever seen I wish I could go again like 10 more times. – Jackson Spencer I loved the experience! I loved being able to see the actors up close and acting. They did a great job. I loved the show. The acting was great and the director and writer were very nice and accommodating. – Chloe Gilmore Sitting in on a...

Actor Latoya Rhodes on performing in MAMA and rehearsing A/VERSION OF EVENTS

Latoya Rhodes has previously appeared in Plan-B’s HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (10th anniversary revival), SLAM and the Free Elementary School Tour of DIFFERENT=AMAZING. She is currently appearing in MAMA and in rehearsal for A/VERSION OF EVENTS. “Guess what they have at the Pennsylvania Wawa? Éclairs mama!” Wait? Was that the line? It has been interesting balancing running MAMA performances at night and rehearsing A/VERSION OF EVENTS during the day. I remember everyone telling me to make sure I don’t start reciting lines from A/VERSION during MAMA. Thus far, I’ve  achieved keeping the shows separate, and have not merged them together . . .  yet! Last Monday the chaos began for me with daytime rehearsals for A/VERSION OF EVENTS and  evening performances of MAMA. Because of the energy of starting a new play my energy was bright, alert, and ready to dive into the piece. To connect with the material, and start getting into the shoes of Hannah. Also, thinking in the back of my mind, “We open MAMA this week!!!” So my energy probably was everywhere, ready to take on the challenge of putting up two new shows back to back. Thinking to myself, what an honor this is! Along with, what the hell was I thinking! More of the former than the latter. I remember Christy [Summerhays, director of A/VERSION OF EVENTS) asking me if I was exhausted. I oddly was not! I was extremely pumped. In MAMA I play all the daughters in the scenes and in A/VERSION OF EVENTS I’m playing a woman struggling with the idea of being or becoming a mother because a...

Thoughts from some of the real-life people portrayed in MAMA

        Carleton Bluford’s MAMA receives its world premiere February 12-22 at Plan-B, featuring Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin, William Cooper Howell, Latoya Rhodes and Elizabeth Summerhays, directed by Jerry Rapier. Click here for tickets, press and more information. Below are responses from some of the real-life people portrayed in MAMA (opening tonight!) who were able to attend a preview earlier this week. I’m sitting in my car with tears still running down my cheeks. MAMA is the best piece of theatre I have had the joy of watching in a very long time. The actors are superb storytellers of Carleton’s wonderful script. As a Mom I saw bits and pieces of me (and my Mom) in every scene. The play moved fluidly like silk! Perfection is the only word to describe MAMA. A simple set, great lighting, excellent job by every single actor, the director and Carleton for sharing his story with us.I was truly moved! Thank you! – Kande Shackelford I wasn’t sure what to expect but my friend and I were pleasantly surprised. I can honestly say that this play was beyond what I thought it was going to be and evoked emotions in me I didn’t even know I had for my own Mom. You see what others have gone through and it makes you appreciate your Mom even more. I thought there was a great balance of humor, humility, love and devotion in the show. The best part is that Carleton wanted to honor all mothers and not just his own. It’s a tribute to the kind of man that he is. Selfless, kind and appreciative. I loved...

ICYMI: All the preview press for MAMA, opening tomorrow!

Below are links to the preview press coverage of Carleton Bluford’s MAMA, running February 12-22 at Plan-B. MAMA is the first play in partnership with The David Ross Fetzer Foundation for Emerging Artists and the first world premiere in Utah history by an African-American playwright. ByKennethJones Catalyst Magazine Gavin’s Underground Salt Lake Magazine Standard-Examiner The Salt Lake Tribune The Utah Review UtahTheatreBloggers   Carleton Bluford’s MAMA receives its world premiere February 12-22 at Plan-B, featuring Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin, William Cooper Howell, Latoya Rhodes and Elizabeth Summerhays, directed by Jerry Rapier. Click here for tickets, press and more...

Elizabeth Summerhays reflects on her own Mama as we prepare to open MAMA

Elizabeth Summerhays makes her Plan-B debut in MAMA running February 12-22, 2015. Attempting to capture my own mother’s influence in my life is like trying to articulate the influence my limbs have had on me – it’s hard to isolate or pinpoint the ways she has shaped who I am. My mother had eight children; I am number seven. In addition to raising her children, to help my dad make ends meet my mom also taught piano, ran a day care, and formed a singing group for neighborhood kids. In stark contrast to my dad and her children, my mother is a quiet, shy, unassuming, enigmatic woman, and a bit of a loner. When I look back at how my mother raised me independent of my siblings, I realize why I became such a free spirit. I used to think that her hands-off approach as I grew up was because she was tired by the time my younger sister and I came along. However, as an adult I can see that there was a method to her parenting that suited my own unique personality and shaped the way I approach this world. When I ask her why she let me wear the same weird outfit to school four days in a row, or why she didn’t say anything to me when my teacher called her in because I would read books in class instead of doing the assignment, she tells me it was because she “didn’t want to stifle my creativity.” Though I scold my mom for this and joke about how I would have liked a little more...

Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin reflects on her own Mama at the end of the second week of MAMA rehearsal

Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin has previously appeared in Plan-B’s THE THIRD CROSSING, NOTHING PERSONAL and SLAM. She plays all the Mamas in MAMA running February 12-22, 2015. When Carleton Bluford’s call for stories about mothers first came across my Facebook feed, I thought about submitting, but then I couldn’t drill down to to one watershed moment of maternal relations on one post. Also life got in the way and I forgot. I am glad that I get a ‘ do over” in this regard. Not only did I get to participate in the first reading of this production but I get to play all the Mamas and, in so doing, I pay homage to my Mama. My Mama is tough as nails yet has the most generous soul. She was the oldest of 8 siblings and became a mother herself at a very young age. Yet somehow she managed to not only help take care of her siblings as well as my brother and me but, growing up, I remember always having people crash at our house for extended periods of time when they were down on their luck. My Mama did not take any crap from anyone. I recall the time we moved into a new neighborhood that three young girls who I had never met came to my house. When I answered the door they started yelling and cursing about how they wanted to kick my butt. I closed the door and went back inside to watch TV with my mother and brother. My mother heard all of the shenanigans and told me that I better go outside and...

William Cooper Howell reflects and his own Mama at the end of the first week of MAMA rehearsal

William Cooper Howell has previously appeared in SLAM 2013 and worked as a directing intern on the 2012 revival of HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH. He is a senior in the Musical Theatre Program at the University of Utah. At the end of the first week of rehearsal for MAMA, he reflects on his own mother. I think it’s impossible to rehearse a play about mothers and not reflect on her each rehearsal. My mother . . . describing her is . . . how am I supposed to write a short blog post about this woman who shaped my entire life? What would it even mean to you as a reader? Nothing really, because—in most cases—your mother is far more important than mine. And that’s what makes mothers so special…so influential and powerful. It’s as if we’re all houses waiting to be built, and these women are an agency of architects ready to design their perfect home. And no one wants a shitty architect, right? Well, my mom was a fucking genius architect. You can agree or disagree—I don’t really care. What I do care about is Lori Howell. She’s the woman who made me the man that I am today, and I’m about to tell you why. When I was a kid, I had terrible ADHD. Everything was hard to do. I couldn’t concentrate on anything long enough to be good at anything. I felt left out everywhere. School was the worst. I had a “resource” class every day (which was social suicide, btw) and—because of my non-stop doodling, writing, and looking out the window—I had to sit next to...

Carleton Bluford’s MAMA

Carleton Bluford is a member of The Lab at Plan-B, a cadre of 10 local playwrights. He has created roles in Plan-B’s WALLACE by Jenifer Nii, THE THIRD CROSSING by Debora Threedy and MARRY CHRISTMAS by Elaine Jarvik; he will also appear in A/VERSION OF EVENTS by Matthew Ivan Bennett later this season. MAMA, winner of the inaugural Plan-B Theatre grant from The David Ross Fetzer Foundation for Emerging Artists, is his first full-length  production. Way back in the day, when cell phones had a limit on texting, so ancient times, I helped create a ten-minute play festival at Weber State University. The students wrote their own plays and the thought of creating a different world that someone would see excited me. Larry Dooley then offered a playwriting class and from that melting pot of creation came the student-written, one-act play festival. Obviously, since I had written a full length play and a number of one acts by then, I assumed that I was a playwright and had some passionate and crazy things to say to the people. I immediately found the first company I looked up that focused on new plays and submitted everything I had, all the while expecting to be called post haste because of course, once Jerry Rapier at Plan-B noticed my genius, he’d be more than willing to produce my masterpieces. But he didn’t call. What he did do was cast me in a show and then allow me to do a two-year production and marketing internship with Plan-B, along with a two-year playwriting workshop where I sharpened my pen. I learned a lot...

Playwright Melissa Leilani Larson on PILOT PROGRAM (2014/15 Season, Show #5)

Melissa Leilani Larson makes her Plan-B debut with PILOT PROGRAM.  An award-winning writer from Provo, Utah, her plays MARTYRS’ CROSSING (IRAM Best New Play) debuted at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE enjoyed a sold-out run at Brigham Young University last March. Her screenplay FREETOWN, presently filming in Ghana, will be in cinemas in April 2015.  Other plays include LITTLE HAPPY SECRETS (Association for Mormon Letters Drama award), A FLICKERING (Trustus Playwrights Festival finalist), STANDING STILL STANDING (Mayhew award), and LADY IN WAITING (Lewis National Playwriting Contest for Women winner). Dramatists Guild ambassador for Utah, BA in English from BYU, MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop. What would it take for me to leave my Mormon faith behind? Polygamy. Other faithful Mormons have told me on multiple occasions that I will find love in the hereafter, as some lucky guy will be blessed to have me as a plural wife.  Lucky?  Really?  I’ve always been grateful to know polygamy is a thing of the past. But is it?  Plural marriage was decriminalized in Utah in 2013.  Recent decisions on both state and federal levels have called the definition of marriage into question, and I began to wonder: could polygamy really be legal?  Could it make a comeback in LDS practice?  And the possibility, as insignificant as it may be, terrified me. As a lifelong Mormon, marriage is something that I’ve heard about for as long as I can remember. As a child and a teenager and even in religion classes in college, I was taught that marriage was the key to the kingdom.  I’ve been told all my life that I would marry a good man...

Playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett on A/VERSION OF EVENTS (2014/15 Season, Show #4)

Matthew Ivan Bennett has been Plan-B’s resident playwright since 2007, when he wrote his first radio play, RADIO HOUR EPISODE 3: LAVENDER & EXILE.  Since then RADIO HOUR EPISODE 4: FRANKENSTEIN, BLOCK 8, DI ESPERIENZA, RADIO HOUR EPISODE 5: ALICE, MESA VERDE, RADIO HOUR EPISODE 7: SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE BLUE CARBUNCLE, ERIC(A) and DIFFERENT=AMAZING have premiered at Plan-B, along with a plethora of short plays including TERMS OF USE.  His plays RADIO HOUR EPISOD 9: GRIMM and A/VERSION OF EVENTS receive their world premieres as part of Plan-B’s 2014/15 season as shows #1 and 4, respectively. Sometimes you don’t want to talk about plays because you want people to be surprised. So I’ll talk around the plot of A/VERSION OF EVENTS and tell you why I wrote it. My parents lost a baby when I was 18. Actually, he died on my nineteenth birthday. I can still hear my stepdad sawing wood for a tiny blond coffin in the backyard. I can still hear Benjamin cry. I can still feel my younger self’s cold anger. I didn’t understand my baby brother’s suffering. Or the certainty with which our neighbors cooed things like, “You’ll see him again one day.” Now I’m 36. Twice the age I was then. I’m not twice as wise, probably, but I can parse the remembered anger from the faith, love, and hope that was also alive in our house. The play isn’t autobiographical, or even an adaptation of those events, but it’s a place for my past anger and present acceptance to live side by side for 90 minutes. But besides grief, it’s a play...

Playwright Carleton Bluford on MAMA (2014/15 Season, Show #3)

Carleton Bluford is a member of The Lab at Plan-B, a cadre of 9 local playwrights. He has created roles in Plan-B’s WALLACE by Jenifer Nii and THE THIRD CROSSING by Debora Threedy; he will also appear in A/VERSION OF EVENTS later this season.. MAMA, winner of the inaugural Plan-B Theatre grant from The David Ross Fetzer Foundation for Emerging Artists, is his first professional production. There are a couple of poignant things about MAMA that make it what it is. First is my mother Dawn Bluford. MAMA is a sort of homage to motherhood and her.  She is so much of the reason why I am where I am today and the reason why I’ve done what I’ve done. Without her, I couldn’t be the man that I am. So MAMA is really a way to say to my mother and all mothers, “We may not always say it, but we see what you do, and we thank you!”  We celebrate the sacrifices our mamas make for us on a daily basis that raise all of us to our higher potential. Second is David Fetzer.  His influence was a huge motivation for this play. He was a friend of mine and we talked about the kind of theater he wanted to show people and the kinds of experiences we wanted people to have in the theater. MAMA was written with him in mind and I’d like to think he’d get a kick out of it. I’ve been blessed with one of the most talented casts I could hope for and a company that really cares about our work...
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