After college in Cedar City, Cheryl Cluff, Kris Johnson, Jeanie Homer and I were living in the Avenues in rented houses, working our first jobs and having a pretty great time in general. Really we were the working poor, but we had each other and we all had diplomas that made us feel very smart even though we knew very little about anything. I lucked out and met Cory Thorell one night on the patio at The Sun. He gave me a great reference and I got on at Pioneer Theatre. This really filled in the hole in my backstage diploma and gave me access to tools and stuff. More importantly, it taught me what professional theatre should look like. I think they influence my designs still.
Cheryl Cluff and Tobin Atkinson had started producing in the early 1990s and between Tobin and his father Skip, they had the scenery covered, at least early on. I still have some of their flats in the barn in my back yard. I did do a set design for MACBETH (1992), not much really, just a few platforms and a ramp or something. Interestingly when I look back at the first shows, it’s like, even from the start, to see a Plan-B show you had to bring your imagination and come prepared to use it.
The first time we did THE ALIENATION EFFEKT (1997) was in this weird upstairs attic at the even weirder Aardvark’s Cabaret, and again no exit signs. The show was great and I loved the face paint. I wish we still used it every once in a while. I think being the homeless theatre company was kind of a good thing. First, it made us seem a bit guerilla, much cooler than we probably were. It also forced the audience to expect the unexpected and to find a way to accept and enjoy it.
Tobin left and we moved into and renovated what I refer to as the No Hope Center. The New Hope was a refugee center in an old LSD stake house north of the fair park. It was so exciting, no more homeless theatre. We painted the auditorium, installed lights and sound, cleaned the floors and the restrooms. No exit lights that I remember, but who cares. Some shows there where pretty great. THE PBTC RADIO SHOW (1997) had no live broadcast. Jennifer Freed got suckered into stage managing right after that, Hurray! Turns out we where not quite refugee enough for the New Hope Center and we found ourselves back on the streets again. Drat.
Somewhere in here I tried to abandon Cheryl. I ran off to the Northwest, fortunately this didn’t last long. I got an offer to help re-open Kingsbury Hall so I came back. I like to think of this as my great world-grabs-you-by-the-neck-and-forces-you-in-the-right-direction moment. My house plants died in a Ryder truck in Pocatello on the way home but I ended up with a great job that kept me in town and gave me access to recycled stuff. Not to mention the whole real career in the arts thing. Don’t get me wrong, Plan-B is fun and all but it doesn’t pay all my bills.
Tobin came back and the next thing we know we are not homeless but basement dwellers at SLAC. I call these years The Pole Years because the space we used has this big, stupid pole in the middle of the acting area supporting a very low ceiling. Looking back now it seems like we were once again very excited and having a very good time. In truth, things where very rough and we were lucky that we were too young and dumb to know it.
Tobin left, again, but this time it kinda felt for real, because you can’t just leave the Army when you want to. Things looked really bad for a while rotating AD’s. Fortunately for us Cheryl found a total stranger in who’s hand we could dump the whole thing. They cooked up the best idea yet, Jerry Rapier found real funding, (wow, that’s a change), we built real scenery and painted our first ground cloth. We did a great run of THE LARAMIE PROJECT, a bit too great maybe, drat, we were homeless again.
Around this time the dance groups in town had managed to pull off the Rose Wagner and David Barber took pity on us I guess, cause next thing you know, we are not homeless anymore, in fact, we were wanted at the Rose. It was kinda weird and we didn’t know how to react, so everyone was on their best behavior as we had lost our last two spaces.
We thought we had it good before, wow, things were really great now. A working theatre with a high ceiling, clean restrooms and best of all exit lights, we were so lucky. The shows really start to improve now, great scripts, real adult actors, money for scenery, a nice room to do it all in. We thought LARAMIE was great but then we did HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH, not once but twice and with toilet paper cannons that only worked so-so but when they did…you just had to see it to understand.
At this point I felt we had done it all. What more could there be? Surprise, surprise, how about the Toronto Fringe Festival and opening a show in New York and San Francisco.
AMERIKA (2006)…we had funding for a great set for the Salt Lake run and then the trip to Toronto. Cory and I landed first with the set and a ton of excitement. We got our room and went out into the city. At a coffee shop we found our posters on the walls and our show listed in the Eye Weekly. Jerry and the cast stayed at a B and B off in the suburbs and Cory and I had a room in a hotel under renovation right of the top of the lavender way, you might say. The show was great there too. The set completely different but that just managed to bring out another different show. Jennifer Freed came back to Utah with a new leather top and I came back needing a penicillin shot.
FACING EAST…Jerry has this friend named Bruce who had been incredibly supportive of Plan-B in the past but got behind this show in a big way. Drop your summer plans, we are going to the coasts, yes plural! Now I don’t have a lot of dreams in my life time, Machu Picchu and Tibet maybe, but open a show in New York, and San Francisco, well duh, that was Plan-A. We did Plan-B and ended up doing Plan-A. We landed and Jerry had a limo with champagne for the drive in. The theatre in New York (Atlantic Stage 2) was so nice and the the one in San Francisco (Theatre Rhinoceros) had loads of personality, you might say. It has been really fun to do the variety of shows with Plan-B; but it has been really great to do the significant work like ANIMAL FARM (2004), HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH (2003 and 2005), PATIENT A (2005) and RADIO HOUR: FRANKENTEIN (2008).
EXPOSED (2007), BLOCK 8 (2009), AMERIGO (2010), WALLACE (2010) and MIASMA (2006) – great shows and the sets were almost completely recycled. This should not be understated – we always have and promise to continue to use and reuse everything we are fortunate enough to beg borrow or steal from anyone. To everyone who has given, lent or let us use your garbage over the years, thanks so much!
As if this little hobby hadn’t given me enough, I got my biggest wish yet this past season. Plan-B at Kingsbury Hall, Not only that, but how about an EPILOGUE for THE LARAMIE PROJECT. Oh better yet, How about the world premiere, with Moises and Jed. Wow, so spoiled, so fun, so lucky…what could be next?