May 23, 2010
I first encountered Plan-B Theatre Company in 1997 when I bought a ticket to see AN ANCIENT HOUSE at the long-gone Bilbiotect book store. I was enrapt. So I auditioned for the next show, FAHRENHEIT 451. I ultimately accepted another role and, to this day, count that as my biggest professional misstep.
Fast forward to August of 2000: Cheryl Cluff had recruited Morgan Ludlow to help her run Plan-B, replacing Tobin Atkinson, who had joined the Army. Six weeks later, Morgan decided to move to San Francisco but suggested to Cheryl that I might be interested in doing more than directing the play they had hired me to direct (MOLLY SWEENEY).
Cheryl and I didn’t really know each other at all but, a few days after Morgan’s decision she and I were sitting on my bed, trying to decide if we could run a company together. Cheryl was understandably wary, having been through two Tobin Atkinson; one Tracy Michael Hall; and one Morgan Ludlow departure(s). But we decided to give it a go – I thought Plan-B would be my side project while I maintained my full-time job as a Producer at the Egyptian Theatre in Park City.
We clicked right away and after six months it became clear where my focus should be. I left the Egyptian to devote more time to Plan-B. Of course, at that time, we weren’t getting paid much – a stipend of a couple of hundred dollars per show, so I worked a series of part-time jobs (Utah Association for Home Care; Catalyst Magazine; event planner; freelance director) for the next three and half years as well.
Back to the fall of 2000: Morgan and Cheryl had chosen a season of MOLLY SWEENEY, A PERFECT GANESH and PSYCHO BEACH PARTY. My first major decision proved to be a fateful one. We dropped PSYCHO BEACH PARTY. Between MOLLY SWEENEY and A PERFECT GANESH, Cheryl and I had both read a manuscript of THE LARAMIE PROJECT, a new play which wasn’t yet published or available for production. We reacted to the script in the same way – we had to find a way to produce it. In Cheryl’s words, I ‘sold my soul to Dramatists Play Service.’ I called them every day for four months. Two, three, four times a day. I wonder if they eventually caved (allowing us to stage the first independent production of the play anywhere in the world) simply because I annoyed the hell outta them! A special shout-out to SLAC and PTC, who both championed our cause.
THE LARAMIE PROJECT was the mother of all mile markers for Plan-B. It made it possible for us to segue from a community theatre to a community-based professional theatre. With it, we launched our Benefit Performances Program; realized the value of creating true community awareness around each play; committed to producing at least one play per season focused on LGBT issues; and began focusing more tightly on socially conscious theatre.
From 1999-2001, Plan-B rented the Downstairs Theatre/Chapel Theatre at Salt Lake Acting Company. When it came time to plan the 2002 season, we were informed that our rent would increase by 400%. So Plan-B was again homeless and looking for a venue. But, in the way things seem to happen for us, David Barber called from the Salt Lake County Center for the Arts. He was considering converting the West Studio at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center into the 75-seat Studio Theatre and wondered if we’d be interested in anchoring the space. With that, Plan-B found a permanent home. By the fall of 2004, we had gained tenant status and I became the company’s first full-time employee. We moved to resident status in 2007 and Cheryl left Intermountain Health Care in 2008 (after 19 years) to work exclusively for Plan-B.
So…the second decade of Plan-B:
MOLLY SWEENEY by Brian Friel
A PERFECT GANESH by Terrence McNally
THE LARAMIE PROJECT by Moises Kaufman and members of Tectonic Theater Project – regional premiere
MOLLY SWEENEY was our first production to offer an Equity contract. A PERFECT GANESH taught us to focus on specific populations, as a significant portion of the audience was from the Indian community. And THE LARAMIE PROJECT had only been performed by the creators, Tectonic Theater Project, prior to our production. And through a series of events – including actually auditioning for the role of himself – Jedadiah Schultz portrayed himself in our production. This was truly theatre at its most powerful and rewarding.
@ Rose Wagner:
MY LEFT BREAST by Susan Miller
THE WAR OF THE WORLDS adapted from H.G. Wells by Orson Welles
We moved to a calendar season when we moved to the Rose Wagner. Our MY LEFT BREAST was the first English-speaking production not performed by the playwright. And THE WAR OF THE WORLDS was the third Plan-B radio show but our first live radio broadcast (on KRCL on Halloween).
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH by John Cameron Mitchell & Stephen Trask
AND THE BANNED PLAYED ON begins
BASH: LATTERDAY PLAYS by Neil LaBut
HEDWIG was another mile marker for us; a helluva a lot of fun and THE. MOST. FUN. AT. AN. AUDITION. EVER. Our BANNED fundraiser began this season – we wanted to create a fundraiser that reflected our work as a company, so we settled on celebrating the First Amendment. And BASH scared us so we knew we had to do it.
ANIMAL FARM adapted from George Orwell by Nelson Bond
AND THE BANNED PLAYED ON
A LETTER TO HARVEY MILK by Leslea Newman – world premiere
ANIMAL FARM was quite possibly the most rewarding experience I’ve had as a director – how often do you get to put your favorite book onstage? SLAM began this season – create, rehearse and perform five 10-minute plays in 24 hours – why not? And A LETTER TO HARVEY MILK was our first world premiere in four years – it and SLAM helped us refocus on original work.
TRAGEDY: a tragedy by Will Eno
AND THE BANNED PLAYED ON
PATIENT A by Lee Blessing
RADIO HOUR begins with RADIO POE adapted from Edgar Allan Poe by Cheryl Ann Cluff
A LETTER TO HARVEY MILK – tour
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH – revival
Will Eno’s TRAGEDY: a tragedy, while a good production, was a thorn in our sides. We were the first company to produce it in the U.S. But we were asked to call it a ‘workshop production’ (even though the script was already published) so that Berkeley Rep could claim the American Premiere. Three years after we produced it. SLAM and BANNED continued and Lee Blessing’s PATIENT A concluded the season. Sort of. See, by then we’d worked out a partnership with KUER to do a live Halloween radio show (for which Cheryl adapted Edgar Allan Poe’s Premature Burial and The Telltale Heart into RADIO POE); A LETTER TO HARVEY MILK toured to Der Lesbisch-schwules Kulturhaus in Frankfurt, Germany; and we got a wild hair and revived HEDWIG, which was even more fun the second time around!
AMERIKA by Aden Ross – world premiere and tour
SCRIPT-IN-HAND SERIES launches
AND THE BANNED PLAYED ON
MIAMSA by Eric Samuelsen – world premiere
RADIO HOUR: THE HITCHHIKER & ZERO HOUR
We received the largest grant we’d received up to that point from the Drama/Arts Initiative to develop and produce Aden Ross’ AMERIKA. We launched the SCRIPT-IN-HAND SERIES as a next-step in our new play development process with Matthew Ivan Bennett’s COLD, expanded from his 2005 SLAM play. AMERIKA was invited to Toronto’s Fringe Festival, marking our second international appearance in less than a year. The season concluded with Eric Samuelsen’s MIASMA and the second installment of RADIO HOUR, broadcast live on KUER on Halloween, this time featuring THE HITCHHIKER by Lucille Fletcher and ZERO HOUR by Ray Bradbury. AMERIKA and MIASMA, it should be noted, both began as 10-minute plays in the very first SLAM in 2004.
FACING EAST by Carol Lynn Pearson – world premiere, tour
THE ALIENATION EFFEKT by Tobin Atkinson – 10th anniversary revival
SCRIPT-IN-HAND SERIES continues
AND THE BANNED PLAYED ON
We shifted back to a fall/spring season (the RADIO HOUR listed in 2006 above was also a part of this season – there was only about 4 weeks from the close of MIASMA to the opening of FACING EAST). FACING EAST was another mile marker for us as a company. My dear friend Bruce Bastian championed the play and ensured we were able to run twice in Salt Lake and then transfer the production, intact, to New York for a limited off-Broadway run at Atlantic Stage 2, then tour to Theatre Rhinoceros in San Francisco. Also that season we staged a 10th anniversary revival of the most successful Plan-B play in the 1990s, THE ALIENATION EFFEKT. SLAM and BANNED continued and we expanded the SCRIPT-IN-HAND SERIES to include two plays – MESA VERDE by Matthew Ivan Bennett and UGLY TO THE BONE by Cort Brinkerhoff – from their 2006 SLAM plays. This season we also began our partnership with Theatre Arts Conservatory.
RADIO HOUR: LAVENDER and EXILE by Matthew Ivan Bennett
EXPOSED by Mary Dickson – world premiere
GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL! by Scott Brown & Anthony King – regional premiere
THE END OF THE HORIZON by Debora Threedy – world premiere
THE TRICKY PART by Martin Moran
AND THE BANNED PLAYED ON
Mary Dickson’s EXPOSED was another mile marker for us – a true intersection of art and life. Performing a preview for Mary’s family – the play was focused on the death of her sister from an autoimmune disease due to nuclear fallout – was one of the most sacred experiences of my life. Then came our third annual RADIO HOUR, comprised of two short pieces based on Utah ghost stories, LAVENDER and EXILE, Matthew Ivan Bennett’s first piece as our resident playwright. Then came GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL! While I was in New York scouting theatres for the off-Broadway run of FACING EAST, I got snowed in and stuck in the city for an extra week. During that time I saw a little show called GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL! I laughed my ass off. Seriously. So at intermission I called the Rose Wagner scheduling office to see about adding dates to our 2007/08 season. We were able to and, after jumping through some hoops, we were the first company in the world to produce GUTENBERG after its London and New York runs. Then came the world premiere of Debora Threedy’s THE END OF THE HORIZON. SLAM and BANNED continued. Juniper Press/Oxide Books published an anthology of eight of our plays in PLAYS FROM BEHIND THE ZION CURTAIN. We put the SCRIPT-IN-HAND SERIES on hold. And we took a very special journey with Martin Moran’s THE TRICKY PART.
RADIO HOUR: FRANKENSTEIN by Matthew Ivan Bennett – world premiere
EXPOSED by Mary Dickson – tour
BLOCK 8 by Matthew Ivan Bennett – world premiere
DI ESPERIENZA by Matthew Ivan Bennett – world premiere
AND THE BANNED SLAMMED ON begin
This season was devoted to new plays by our resident playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett. We started with an enhanced RADIO HOUR as a run of show with a live audience and two live broadcasts on KUER on Halloween – Matt adapted FRANKENSTEIN. BLOCK 8 was our first production directly funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. I had to step in for the final week when one of the actors lung collapsed. Then came DI ESPERIENZA, the only run-of-show in my 10 years with Plan-B I haven’t been present for (family emergency). We also had the opportunity to reunite the cast of Mary Dickson’s EXPOSED and spent two weeks touring Utah. SLAM and BANNED were combined into one event, AND THE BANNED SLAMMED ON, to keep things fresh. And Plan-B/Meat & Potato started a joint venture, THE LAB, with eight local playwrights.
THE LARAMIE PROJECT: TEN YEARS LATER…AN EPILOGUE by Moises Kaufman, Leigh Fondakowski, Andy Paris and Stephen Belber – world preview
RADIO HOUR: ALICE by Matthew Ivan Bennett – world premiere
WALLACE by Jenifer Nii & Debora Threedy – world premiere
AMERIGO by Eric Samuelsen – world premiere
AND THE BANNED SLAMMED ON
SCRIPT-IN-HAND SERIES returns
This season brought another reunion opportunity – the cast of THE LARAMIE PROJECT. Kingsbury Hall presented us in a staged reading of THE LARAMIE PROJECT: TEN YEARS LATER…AN EPILOGUE. It was a worldwide event scheduled October 12 but through a series of events, our event took place on October 9, the first in the world. That was followed by our fifth and final RADIO HOUR. This time it was Matthew Ivan Bennett’s adaptation of ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND. That was followed by WALLACE by Jenifer Nii & Debora Threedy, a theatrical experiment in weaving two independently written solo plays into an evening of theatre. Then Eric Samuelsen’s AMERIGO, an experiment in form for him as well. Then our second AND THE BANNED SLAMMED ON (or 7th SLAM or 8th AND THE BANNED PLAYED ON – however you see it). THE LAB expanded, adding four directors to the eight playwrights. The SCRIPT-IN-HAND SERIES in a simplified form returned to showcase readings of their work.
On top of all that we’ve won:
– 35 City Weekly Slammy/Arty Awards (2000-present)
– 13 Q Salt Lake Fabby Awards (2005-present)
– Equality Utah – Allies for Equality Award (2007)
– Salt Lake City – Mayor’s Artist Award (2008)
– Utah Broadcasters Association – Gold Award (2009)
– TEA of Utah – Organization of the Year Award (2010)
Although this is a lengthy post, it’s not a whole lotta detail when considering it spans the second decade in the life of Plan-B Theatre Company. Some things just can’t be put into words.
I really feel like we’ve also built a theatrical family. I was gonna make a list of everyone but undoubtedly I’d forget someone since, in the course of two decades, it numbers in the hundreds. You all know who you are. So thank you to every actor, designer, director, techie, playwright, donor and patron that has been on this 20-year ride with us!
I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to do what I love for a living. And I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years bring as we continue to develop and produce unique and socially conscious theatre created by Utah playwrights.