Post #416 is a re-post of the first-ever Plan-B Blog entry: Playwright Mary Dickson on writing EXPOSED

Mary DicksonAs we look ahead to the free Script-In-Hand Series reading of Mary Dickson’s EXPOSED (Sunday, August 9, 2015 at 6pm – click here for free tickets), we thought we’d digitally dial back 415 posts to the very first on the Plan-B Blog, which happens  to be by Mary, written as EXPOSED was about to receive its world premiere in 2007 (this post was also published in the October issue of Catalyst Magazine).

I didn’t intend to write a play. I was writing a book about the human consequences of nuclear testing that blended my personal story as a downwinder with powerful documentation. In the summer of 2005, I was invited to spend a month as a writer-in-residence at the Mesa Refuge in Point Reyes, California to work on the manuscript. One day my book would be included on the bookshelf alongside those of previous residents – Terry Tempest Williams, Gray Brechin, Peter Barnes and so many other environmental writers I admired. I returned home that summer with a 275-page manuscript.

Then, I met L.A. actress/activist Mimi Kennedy, who was in Salt Lake to speak at a political fundraiser. I told her about my thyroid cancer and my work on behalf of downwinders. It turned out she had family members in New Jersey with thyroid problems. That’s when I showed her part of my manuscript that documented how widespread fallout from nuclear testing was. I showed her how areas in New Jersey and across the country were hot spots, how thyroid problems including cancer like mine were common among people who had been exposed to fallout as children. Later that week she left a message, “I read your piece again and it’s just amazing. So much beauty and heart. I wanted to call you and egg you on to write a play. It would stand for all time. I’ll get my friends in L.A. to do a staged reading.”

I’ve had monologues produced, but a play? She had to be kidding. Her friends in L.A.? Sure. I chalked it up to one of those moments of unbridled enthusiasm that leads people to make big plans they never intend to pursue once the burst subsides. But a few weeks later, she called again. “How’s the play coming?” “Oh just fine,” I lied. She had a date for a fundraiser that would include a staged reading. All I had to do was to tell my truth, she said. “Make it personal. Tell your story. Weave in the facts.” That night I started writing a play.

Amazingly, everything kept falling into place. At a dance concert, Pulitzer Prize-nominated playwright Aden Ross told me she wanted to get together and pick my brain for a play she wanted to write about downwinders. I told her about Mimi Kennedy and the play I was writing. “Of course!” she said enthusiastically. “This is your play. I’m so excited you’re doing it.” We started meeting for coffee at a place we called “The Two Anarchists” because neither of us could ever remember its name. Aden became my mentor, a dear friend and a source of boundless encouragement. Whenever I felt like giving up, she pulled me back in. “Writing is easy,” she quoted a writer – another name we couldn’t remember. “You just cut open your veins and bleed.” So I cut open my veins and let the play take shape.

As I wrote, rewrote, massaged, took out scenes and added others, Aden cheered me on. Then, she asked if should could tell Jerry Rapier at Plan-B Theatre about the script. I’ve long admired Jerry for understanding the power of art to tell the stories that shape our lives. When Jerry called to say he was going on a trip and would like to take my script along, I protested, saying it wasn’t finished. Jerry said that didn’t matter, he just wanted to read what I had. So I reluctantly gave him the script. A few days later he left a message on my answering machine. “We must talk post haste.” I called him. “I want to produce your play,” he said.

And so Plan-B’s production of EXPOSED began. In many ways I’ve been working on it all my life. I am one of countless Americans who suffered the consequences of nuclear testing, having been diagnosed with thyroid cancer when I was 29. My older sister died of an autoimmune disease. In the Salt Lake City neighborhood where we grew up, I counted more than 54 people who got sick or died from fallout-related illnesses. From 1951 to 1992 the U.S. government exploded 928 nuclear bombs at the Nevada Test Site. Winds blew the fallout from those bombs across the nation while our government when they assured us, “There is no danger.” We traded our trust for our health and ultimately our lives.

Mark Fossen & Jason Tatom in EXPOSED (2007)Part memoir, part oral history and part journalistic investigation, EXPOSED puts a needed human face on what happened to unsuspecting populations as a result of nearly 1,000 atomic bombs exploded on our own soil. Taking Mimi’s advice to make the script personal, EXPOSED follows two sisters – Mary, a writer, and Ann, a stay-at-home mother (beautifully played by accomplished actresses Joyce Cohen and Teri Cowan respectively). Directed by Jerry Rapier, the play begins in 1985 when Mary has been treated with radiation after her cancer surgery. The play follows the sisters through their struggles with their illnesses, their support for each other, their discovery of the government’s betrayal and the source of their diseases, their fight to expose the truth and their determination not to let the mistakes of the past be repeated.

During her investigation, Mary meets and interviews people across the country, including a writer in New York who documented heavy fallout in upstate New York; a doctor in Missouri who linked the high cancer rates in his county with fallout; a former Air Force Colonel who tracked fallout as far as Canada; and downwinders and activists like Preston Truman, Michelle Thomas and Darlene Phillips, and Carole Gallagher who share their stories and expertise. Actors Kirt Bateman and Teresa Sanderson deftly play multiple roles as these characters.

Scenes with the two sisters are juxtaposed with scenes taken from the actual declassified minutes of Atomic Energy Commission meetings, and testimony from government hearings. There’s even a scene with billionaire Howard Hughes, who was determined to “buy nuclear peace.” The play, which uncovers the web of government lies and cover-ups, spans the years through the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, right up to the Bush administration’s push for new nuclear weapons that could lead to renewed nuclear testing including Divine Strake. Actors Jason Tatom and Mark Fossen play Official 1 and Official 2, who represent an assortment of government officials, including Atomic Energy Commissioners and those working within the nuclear industry who deny fallout’s effects. They are, in essence, the everyman of the military-industrial complex.

EXPOSED is more than a retelling of a painful chapter of our nation’s past. It shows how the subject is still relevant today. We have a government that is still lying and covering up the facts about weapons of mass destruction, using fear to carry out a policy that puts Americans at increased risk. And worse, a government that still considers renewed testing a viable option.

EXPOSED is timely for another reason as well. Because of the lag effect (often decades) between fallout exposure and subsequent illness, we are still living with the ongoing suffering from fallout. For downwinders, it’s never over. That why EXPOSED memorializes those who have died. Audience members will be invited to add names of other victims on a mural outside the theatre.

The response to the play has been incredibly heartening. After an early reading, actors started telling their own stories. One said his father had had thyroid cancer and his mother was dying of liver cancer. Another actor showed the scar on her neck from thyroid cancer surgery. The play elicits similar responses to every staged reading – including those on a Nation magazine cruise and at a staged public reading at Playhouse West in Walnut Creek, California. Stories and more stories continue to come forward. Downwinders have been the forgotten casualties of the Cold War, the people deemed expendable by a government that called us “a low use segment of the population.” I wrote EXPOSED to tell our story and to shed light on what a New York Times journalist called the “most prodigiously reckless program of human experimentation in U.S. history.”

As a writer, I know the power of words, and while the pen may be mightier than the sword, the eraser is mightier still. By bringing my very personal story to life and combining it with historical facts, I hope to ensure that our stories will not be erased. EXPOSED both bears witness and serves as a warning. If we have learned anything from four decades of atomic testing, it is that we all live downwind.

EXPOSED received its world premiere at Plan-B Theatre in 2007 and toured Utah in 2008. One of 36 plays nationwide nominated for the American Theatre Critics Association/Steinberg Award for Best New American Play Produced Outside New York, EXPOSED also received City Weekly’s Arty Award for Best Original Play and was named Best Drama by the Deseret News.

Plan-B presents a free Script-In-Hand Series reading of Mary Dickson’s EXPOSED on Sunday, August 9, 2015 at 6pm – click here for free tickets – in partnership with Utah Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (UCAN) to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, to remember the Hibakusha (explosion-affected people) of Japan and all those hurt by nuclear weapons. Five of the six original cast members (Kirt Bateman, Teri Cowan, Mark Fossen, Teresa Sanderson and Jason Tatom) reunite and welcome April Fossen. Directed by Jerry Rapier. Plan-B and UCAN previously collaborated on the Script-In-Hand Series reading of REYKJAVIK by Richard Rhodes in 2013.


The Downwinders of Utah

The online launch of this interactive geospatial timeline coincides with the staged reading of Mary Dickson’s EXPOSED this Sunday Beginning in 1951, the era of nuclear weapons testing was a time of tremendous change at both national and local levels. In the name of national security, a variety of thermonuclear weapons were tested in a remote area of the Nevada desert known as the Nevada Test Site. Fallout and radiation from these tests have affected communities across the nation, in many cases resulting in the loss of property, health and life. The Downwinders of Utah project presents an in-depth study of the nuclear detonations, radioactive fallout and events, which resulted in devastating effects for Utah’s Downwinder population. Through the creation of an interactive timeline, detailed information on nuclear detonations from the Nevada Test Site and fallout statistics for all Utah counties are presented through cartographic maps, animated reconstruction models, interactive motion charts and a variety of graphics related to testing methods, cloud heights and dispersal patterns. In addition to these components, this project includes historic photographs of nuclear detonations, archived newspaper articles depicting impacts and government deception imparted to residents as well as anecdotal oral histories of the era from a few of Utah’s surviving Downwinder. Click here to view the project online. For additional information regarding this project, please email Justin Sorensen, GIS Specialist, J. Willard Marriott Library or Caitlyn Tubbs, Data Visualization Specialist, J.Willard Marriott Library. Additional materials and interactive components will be added to this project as they become available. Click here and scroll down to reserve your free tickets to the Script-In-Hand Series staged reading of Mary Dickson’s EXPOSED this Sunday, August... read more

Post #416 is a re-post of the first-ever Plan-B Blog entry: Playwright Mary Dickson on writing EXPOSED

As we look ahead to the free Script-In-Hand Series reading of Mary Dickson’s EXPOSED (Sunday, August 9, 2015 at 6pm – click here for free tickets), we thought we’d digitally dial back 415 posts to the very first on the Plan-B Blog, which happens  to be by Mary, written as EXPOSED was about to receive its world premiere in 2007 (this post was also published in the October issue of Catalyst Magazine). I didn’t intend to write a play. I was writing a book about the human consequences of nuclear testing that blended my personal story as a downwinder with powerful documentation. In the summer of 2005, I was invited to spend a month as a writer-in-residence at the Mesa Refuge in Point Reyes, California to work on the manuscript. One day my book would be included on the bookshelf alongside those of previous residents – Terry Tempest Williams, Gray Brechin, Peter Barnes and so many other environmental writers I admired. I returned home that summer with a 275-page manuscript. Then, I met L.A. actress/activist Mimi Kennedy, who was in Salt Lake to speak at a political fundraiser. I told her about my thyroid cancer and my work on behalf of downwinders. It turned out she had family members in New Jersey with thyroid problems. That’s when I showed her part of my manuscript that documented how widespread fallout from nuclear testing was. I showed her how areas in New Jersey and across the country were hot spots, how thyroid problems including cancer like mine were common among people who had been exposed to fallout as children. Later that... read more

What We’re Doing This Summer (aka Three Press Releases, One Blog Post)

Jenifer Nii’s RUFF! receives its world premiere with six free public performances as part of the inaugural Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival August 6-8, 2015 Noon and 1:30pm (no performances August 9) Running time: 35 minutes Admission: Free tickets available at the door beginning at 11am on performance days Location: Sprague Branch, City Library, 2131 S. Highland Drive (downstairs) RUFF!, created specifically for grades K-3 (but accessible to children of all ages!), is a metaphorical “tail” of two shelter dogs. Axel (a shelter regular played by Tyson Baker) and Buddy (a shelter novice played by Latoya Rhodes). Together they discover what’s possible when dogs and their people learn to see past stereotypes and summon the courage to be the best they can be. Directed by Jerry Rapier. Intermountain Therapy Animals will have therapy dogs present at each performance. The use of therapy dogs, trained to interact with all humans calmly and equally, is to ensure that each human-canine interaction is a positive one. Read more from playwright Jenifer Nii in the July issue of Catalyst Magazine. RUFF! will then tour as Plan-B’s Free Elementary School Tour to more than 10,000 elementary students from Weber to Juab County, funded in part by Community Foundation of Utah, Salt Lake City Arts Council and an Art Works grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Mary Dickson’s EXPOSED receives a Script-In-Hand Series reading in partnership with Utah Coalition to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (UCAN) Sunday, August 9, 2015 at 6pm Running time: 90 minutes Admission: Free, click here for tickets Location: Jeanne Wagner Theatre at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W 300 S EXPOSED places a... read more

Teresa Sanderson's Most Memorable Plan-B Role

Teresa Sanderson has appeared in Plan-B’s Script-In-Hand Series, a slew of SLAMs, all but one RADIO HOUR, STAGE DIRECTIONS, ANIMAL FARM, TRAGEDY: A TRAGEDY, THE ALIENATION EFFEKT, EXPOSED, DI ESPERIENZA and MESA VERDE. Pick my most memorable Plan-B role? I’m not sure how to do that. Each one has been a rich and rewarding experience. It is sort of like picking a favorite child. My history with Plan-B is long. I have made life long friends, and feel lucky to be part of the Plan-B family. There’s ANIMAL FARM (my kids’ favorite) and TRAGEDY: A TRAGEDY (my husband’s favorite). I guess if I have to pick, I am going to have to say Mary Dickson’s EXPOSED, about the impact of nuclear testing on our state and our nation. To be part of telling Mary’s personal story, thousands of people’s story, as it turns out, was a great honor. It is a huge responsibility to play real people on stage. In EXPOSED I was excited and intimidated all at the same time. I knew that all of the characters that I played were going to see the show at one point or another. Now I can really relate to the fact the we were an easy target. Patriotic people who are used to following what our leaders said. I am a very patriotic person, brought up to respect authority. Both of my parents were public servants. My father an authority figure. I did what he said and never ask why. Our government told us we would be safe, and we believed them. I can imagine myself on test days sitting... read more

PREPARING FOR THE UTAH TOUR OF EXPOSED

KIRT BATEMAN, ACTOR I’m honored to be part of EXPOSED. But it means more to me now that it did last year. I am – as this tour commences -losing my mother-in-law to cancer caused by exposure from our government’s mighty show of nuclear strength. Another light going out…this one too close to home. As one government official put it so many years ago when justifying the tests: “[these people] are a low-use segment of the population.” Well, that’s my partner’s mother, my friend’s father, our playwright’s sister, and YOU he’s referring to. JOYCE COHEN, ACTOR I am so pleased to have an opportunity to present this play again. It’s my fervent wish that it will continue to be seen and heard and, schedule permitting, that I may continue to be a part of it. It is so important that the power of this play be experienced. TERI COWAN, ACTOR My delusional self was thinking that picking up EXPOSED was kind of going to be a breeze. However, now that I’ve spent some time back in the script, I’m remembering all the non-verbals, the action worked around a prop and the body language that spoke volumes. Wondering how we’ll re-create all of that in a “reading” performance. Thankfully, I trust our director to remedy those issues. MARY DICKSON, PLAYWRIGHT I can’t believe it’s been a year since the premiere of EXPOSED! It’s thrilling to be able to take it around the state with the original cast and bring this important story to new audiences. It’s our story as Utahns and as Americans. Plus, I can’t wait to spend time... read more

Actress Teresa Sanderson Reflects On Opening Week of EXPOSED

Well here we go, we survived hell week and the show is open. That is always a feat, but for this show it was surreal. We did the show for Mary’s family on Wednesday night. After the performance Julie, (Mary and Ann’s sister) thanked us for giving her her sister nack for an hour and a half. I cried, we all cried. The next night (our preview) the house was sold out and full of the folks from Heal Utah – the energy was intense. Actors love that energy we get from an audience but I don’t think I’ve ever had it coming at me like that before. The show went well and I think we all felt like we were ready to open. Good thing because we are opening and Jerry informs us that the run is almost sold out and we will be adding performances. So finally it’s here…opening night. Now mind you Kirt and I know that some of the people we play will be seeing the play, I had already met Carole Gallagher at the Gallery opening the Friday before, she was lovely and I tried to relax. But opening night (after the show, thanks God) they were suddenly All there it was crazy. I had an idea that Michelle Thomas was there because there was a jazzy wheelchair in the lobby as we made out entrance and, oh yeah, I was sitting two chairs away from here the entire play. Tried hard not to think about that too. Then walking across the street to the after-show party Jerry introduced me to Darlene Phillips. I... read more

Actor Mark Fossen On Opening a Show One Day/Beginning Rehearsal for Another Show The Next Day

In many ways, EXPOSED and RADIO HOUR: LAVENDER & EXILE could not be more different: one is a shattering work on the horrors of nuclear testing, the other is a collection of ghost stories, fake ads, and silly jingles. It’s certainly a shift to go from Opening Night of a truly important political statement to beginning rehearsals of pure fun within a space of about 14 hours. In addition, I’ve gone from a world of acting with which I’m familiar to the life of a Foley Artist, confronted by a table full of bits, bobs and bobbins all supposed to create audio illusions. Radio theatre is very technical, which means the rehearsal process is very different. Teri described “Hell Week” last week, and while you ramp up to that in theatre, that’s where you start off in radio. As far apart as these experiences seem to be, it’s what ties them together that keeps my energy up through this weekend when I’ll be spending most of my waking hours either rehearsing or performing. Though wildly different, both EXPOSED and RADIO HOUR: LAVENDER & EXILE are local stories being told by local playwrights, and that couldn’t make me happier. It’s too easy to think that theatre happens elsewhere, and we simply import and consume it. It’s energizing to create new works of art and that doesn’t need to be restricted to actors in coastal locales. There’s no doubt that this crossover is going to be tiring, but the rewards of making new theatre that no one’s ever seen or heard before make up for it. I can always sleep in... read more

Actress Teri Cowan Talks About Tech Week of EXPOSED

Lucky me, I get to blog about the week of Hell…er, tech! This is the week where suddenly the scenes that were coming along quite nicely when you performed them on a floor with a tape outlining the set, become somewhat maddening when a mere 8-inch-rise step throws you completely off your game. Who knew how many seconds would be added to an entrance when you actually have to go AROUND a set piece, a curtain, or a (you fill in the blank). Yes, this does happen every single production you’re in and yes, in your actor brain you think you’re completely prepared for the little something thrown in the mix that can’t possibly hamper your flawless performance. Then suddenly that line you’ve never missed, EVER, completely escapes you because now, you must utter it standing on a platform rather than on a taped floor. I know. Ridiculous. Next, throw in lights (or lack of), sound, projections, costumes etc. and suddenly everything you think you had a handle on goes out the window. I’d love to say this awakening comes with absolutely no personal stress or tension, but I’d be lying. Sometimes these days can be very ugly but fortunately in the case of EXPOSED whatever minor psychodrama we’ve encountered has been nipped in the bud quickly and with good grace. Finally, as we approach opening week, we’re in a place where we can rediscover the piece with all of these layers added into the whole. Hopefully the thing is so soundly in our bones that all the technical aspects become an enhancement. On a personal level Mary’s piece... read more

Actor Kirt Bateman Rambles About Shifting Gears from EXPOSED to GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL!

I don’t blog. I don’t write. Let’s face it, I can barely speak. But here goes: It’s been an exhausting and terrifying three weeks since the opening of EXPOSED. The Monday after we opened Mary’s play about the appalling plight of Downwinders we started rehearsals for GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL! about the desperate plight of Johann Gutenberg (well, at least as envisioned by two musical theatre geeks, Bud and Doug). The similarities in the material are astounding. Both are called “theatre.” That’s about it. EXPOSED was vital. GUTENBERG is ridiculous fun. Going from rehearsals of GUTENBERG to performances of EXPOSED in the same day felt like what I imagine it would feel like to quarterback a championship football game (yeah, like I know what THAT feels like) and do a synchronized water ballet (that, I do know how to do) all at the same time. Throw in a day-job and you have the recipe for an extremely tired, fat, bald man in his 30s wondering what the hell he was thinking when he agreed to this schedule. Well, I’ll tell you what I was thinking: these were two amazing shows – for different reasons, of course – for an amazing company, with amazing casts, and I would be the biggest fool not to do everything in my power to work it out! So, I did. Between rehearsals for G and performances of E it would take me nearly one-and-a-half hours to transition. Part of my transition ritual (I’m a fairly ritualistic actor and also one of those superstitious actors that you always read about and laugh at, because… um…how ridiculous!)... read more

Actor Jason Tatom Chats About Rehearsing EXPOSED

A blog, huh? Well, welcome to my first ever blog. Now I’m culturally caught up to what, ’96, ’97? Before you know it I’ll be saying things like “Dawg,” or “Awiiight,” or “Oh, snap!” Or even, God forbid, “Fo Shizzle,” while yearning to get a mobile phone that’s roughly the size of a Yugo. Well, I should probably get started, so here I go…and, BLOG! We are just finishing up what I like to call “Frustration Week.” The first week is when you kind of get your feet wet with the initial parts of the process: meeting actors and technicians you may never have worked with before, read throughs, costume fittings, and (hopefully) rough blocking the whole show. And since we all did our best to be reasonably familiar with our lines, if not actually fully off book going into rehearsals, it was essentially easy-peasy-lemon-squeazy. Then, we move into the second week, the aforementioned “Frustration Week.” This is the week where you might be feeling a little cocky (and when I say “you,” gentle reader, rest assured that I mean “me”) and be certain that you know your lines. But “knowing” your lines is some how mystically tied to being in actual, physical contact with the script itself. Somehow, the simple act of putting the script down and losing that tactile connection with it, renders one (and yes, I do mean me) a virtual amnesiac. Don’t get me wrong, you know your words, your intentions, and your blocking, just not necessarily all at the same time. putting two or more of these things together can be tempting fate. And... read more
The Downwinders of Utah
What We’re Doing This Summer (aka Three Press Releases, One Blog Post)

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