“Plan-B produces full seasons of new plays by local playwrights. No one else in the country does that!”
Gary Garrison, Executive Director, Creative Affairs, Dramatists Guild of America

Founded in 2008 and funded in part by the Dramatists Guild Fund and the B.W. Bastian Foundation, The Lab is an incubator for new plays, an opportunity for each of the thirteen member playwrights (Austin Archer, Matthew Ivan Bennett, Carleton Bluford, Rachel BublitzElaine Jarvik, Julie Jensen, Jenny Kokai, Melissa Leilani Larson, Jenifer Nii, Eric Samuelsen, Morag Shepherd, Rob Tennant and Debora Threedy) to share whatever script they wish, at whatever stage they wish, in a private table reading for the group.

The ultimate goal is two-fold: (1) to continually contribute to the field nationally by strengthening a local community of playwrights and (2) to populate future seasons as often as possible with their work. The Lab is truly an innovative artist community. All 13 member playwrights been produced by Plan-B.

The Lab makes it possible for us to build relationships with playwrights rather than plays. Read more from the playwrights in this Utah Theatre Bloggers Association feature, in the anthologies Plan-B has published and on the Plan-B Blog. Special thanks to dramaturgs Martine Kei Green-Rogers, Janine Sobeck Knighton, Greg Hatch and Sydney Cheek-O’Donnell for their guidance and insight.

Click here for the full history of plays read in The Lab and history of first productions.


Jenny Kokai on her play THE ART OF FLOATING

So some parts of this play are very true, some parts are very false, and some parts lie somewhere in between. Most of the things I won’t confess to, but here are a couple. The first is that I think everybody is still trying to figure stuff out, whether you’re 75 or 21. We think we’re supposed to get old and wise but I don’t think that ever happens.

Matthew Ivan Bennett on RADIO HOUR EPISODE 11: YULETIDE

I’m so, so grateful that I get to do as much theatre as I do. RADIO HOUR EPISODE 11: YULETIDE feels like an early Christmas present — one that I really, really “need.” Writing for radio is especially rewarding because . . . something about it connects me to that little kid who hid in the coat closet with a microphone. There’s a more intimate overlap, I think, between playing make-believe and grown-up, big-people theatre than we thespians like to admit.

Matthew Ivan Bennett on his play WHAT WE HAD TO

See, the Stasi thrived through a network of paid or blackmailed informants. “They” were largely made up of regular men and women. “They” were not always in uniforms. “They” were your brothers, mothers, co-workers, college professors, and favorite uncles. “They” were like you, and “They” were not necessarily after an obvious out-group. And, as I explore in my play, “They” might have been as afraid of their bosses as anyone else.

Playwright Eric Samuelsen on creating THE KREUTZER SONATA for the 2015/16 Season

THE KREUTZER SONATA by Eric Samuelsen receives its world premiere in a co-production with NOVA Chamber Music Series October 18-November 9 featuring violinist Kathryn Eberle, pianist Jason Hardink and actor Robert Scott Smith, directed by Jerry Rapier. When Jerry Rapier asked me to read Tolstoy’s novella “The Kreutzer Sonata,” my first reaction to it was a strange one. I thought; what a sad guy. The story’s protagonist and narrator, Pozdnyshev reveals himself as narcissistic, arrogant, sexist and, ultimately, violent. Also, unattractively self-pitying. But he’s also astute (and cynical) in his ruthless deconstruction of the patriarchal culture in which he was raised, and its destructiveness. His marriage is – as he well knows – a hideous farce, lacking the most rudimentary interpersonal connection, or even, most of the time, compassion or kindness. But he’s also capable of mourning, of sorrowful contemplation of the institutional prison in which both he and his wife are incarcerated. He knows himself, and he knows her, well enough to know that they should never have married. What he can’t do is escape. What it reminded me of was August Strindberg’s “Inferno,” a novel written just seven years after Tolstoy wrote Kreutzer. Strindberg’s excoriating account of the horror show of his marriage to Frida Uhl, and his subsequent descent into madness has a similar flaying honesty, though Strindberg’s novel also suggests the possibility of redemption through Swedenborgian spirituality. But Pozdnyshev allows himself no similar escape. His paranoia and the grotesque fantasies with which he indulges and nurtures his neuroses can find no release, no ultimate resolution. What Nora, in Ibsen’s A DOLL HOUSE, calls ‘the greatest...

Playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett on creating RADIO HOUR EPISODE 10: OTHERWHERE for the 2015/16 Season

RADIO HOUR EPISODE 10: OTHERWHERE by Matthew Ivan Bennett receives its world premiere in a co-production with KUER’S RadioWest on October 30, 2015 featuring Doug Fabrizio and Jay Perry, with original music by Dave Evanoff, directed by Cheryl Cluff. This is the only thing that will be written about this year’s 10th anniversary episode of RADIO HOUR—we’re hoping for a WAR OF THE WORLDS moment, so we have to tell you somewhere, at least once, that it’s not real. During my undergrad days, a favorite late-night pastime of mine was listening to AM radio talk shows. Particularly, I liked listening to Coast-to-Coast AM, with fringe topics ranging from UFOs to dreams to free energy devices. Actually, the title of my first play came from Coast-to-Coast AM, when host Art Bell asked everyone to “send white light to Terrence.” He meant Terrence McKenna, the psychedelic researcher. I didn’t write a play about him, but I jotted down WHITE LIGHT OF TERRENCE and that sparked the idea for a play about a young man who has visions. The entertainment value of Coast-to-Coast is that, even if you don’t believe a word some guest is saying, it’s obvious that he believes it. And that’s very scary to contemplate sometimes. For instance, one of my all-time favorite shows was when Art Bell opened a line specifically for the Anti-Christ. He got several of them—and some of them sounded…well, convincing. They may have merely been good actors, or people with personality disorders, but they seemed to believe themselves. When Jerry and Cheryl approached me with the idea of writing a fictional guest for Doug Fabrizio’s...

Playwright Rob Tennant on creating BOOKSMART for the 2015/16 Season

BOOKSMART receives its world premiere December 3-13, 2015 in partnership with The David Ross Fetzer Foundation for Emerging Artists, featuring Tyson Baker, Anne Brings, Joe Crinch, April Fossen and Sarah Young, directed by Jerry Rapier. It took me a lot longer than most people to get a “real” job. Starting in high school, and continuing throughout my 20s into my early 30s, I worked in the service industry. A little retail, but mostly food service. I was a busboy, a waiter, and a restaurant manager. The work was lucrative enough and it fit into my lifestyle of squandering my youth on late nights and a lot of hanging out. It was fun. It was also awful. Customer service is a constant assault on human dignity. I complained about it. A lot. I complained about the hours. I complained about the pay. I complained about what I perceived as a lack of influence on operations of the business itself. I complained about all kinds of things, but I never actually did anything about any of them. At least nothing productive. I didn’t have the resources. I didn’t have any support. I didn’t even know where to start, and all of that frustration was further demoralizing. So now, I’ve been given the chance to finally do something about it: I’m having actors complain for me, on stage, to a paying audience. Progress! Seriously though, these are serious issues. The concept of work in the U.S. is changing, but the need for people to receive just compensation for meaningful work has not changed. The minimum wage has less buying power than ever,...

Playwright Elaine Jarvik on creating BASED ON A TRUE STORY for the 2015/16 Season

BASED ON A TRUE STORY by Elaine Jarvik receives its world premiere February 25-March 6, 2016 featuring Colleen Baum, Jason Bowcutt, Mark Fossen and Nell Gwynn, directed by Cheryl Cluff.  The tiny seed for this play was a photo that my friend Andra Harbold sent me several years ago of a woman wearing aviator goggles. Write a play, she said. And so I began to think about the woman. Where was she going? And why? And the more I thought about her, the more I wondered why she wasconsumed by so many doubts. And I wondered what she looked to for comfort. By then, of course, I was talking about myself. I wondered what would happen if a worried person could travel to the future to see how her life turned out. I wondered why I can sit every Sunday in the church I attend and never be convinced of the big story everyone else believes. So this play is a journey about time and faith, a play where I’m trying to work those questions out. I’ve been fascinated with the notion of time travel ever since reading Robert Silverberg’s “Up the Line” several decades ago. His journeys were to the past, as most time travel fiction is. But I preferred thinking about what would happen if you ended up in the future, caught in a time that wasn’t your own, a refugee of sorts. Of course we’re all trapped in the time we live in, and I wanted to explore that too. I’m excited to see this play come to life under the imaginative direction of Cheryl Cluff. And I’m...

Playwright Jenifer Nii on creating KINGDOM OF HEAVEN for the 2015/16 Season

KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, with book & lyrics by Jenifer Nii and music & lyrics by Dave Evanoff, receives it world premiere March 31-April 10, 2016. Subscribe to the full season for only $70! Social media is a dangerous thing, and one never knows when the right/wrong people are watching. KINGDOM OF HEAVEN is proof. In a moment of impulsiveness, after evening spent binge-watching a reality television show about drag queens, I posted on my Facebook page something to the effect that “I wanna write a musical.” There was something so joyful about the television show, something surprisingly captivating about its courageous, stunningly creative contestants; something incredibly inspiring about their stories of discovery, determination, pain, and strength. It made me happy, this show. I loved the spectacle, marveled at the way those men transformed themselves into such a heightened state of femininity, and was fascinated how that process helped fulfill the contestants in such personal, individual ways. It had a triumphant, celebratory, inclusive feel to it, which was so refreshing and invigorating and nearly the opposite of what I’d been seeing in the community I live in. Gender issues are still very hot to the touch here, the heartland of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In the last few years, women (and men) have been disciplined in an unprecedentedly-public arena for questioning their roles, for organizing to challenge everything from dress codes to women’s participation in leadership and religious rites. In January 2015, high-ranking leaders of the Church gave a rare press conference on gender identity. Elder Dallin H. Oaks acknowledged the Church is now striving to address the pantheon of...

Playwright Jenifer Nii on RUFF! (2014/15 Season, Add-On #2)

Jenifer Nii’s plays WALLACE (co-written with Debora Threedy), THE SCARLET LETTER and SUFFRAGE have premiered at Plan-B, the latter two garnering back-to-back nominations for the American Theatre Critics Association/Steinberg Award for Best New American Play Produced Outside New York. She spent a decade as a newspaper reporter after her university aspirations to be a concert pianist were thwarted by a pinky finger that snapped three times during a single Schumann sonata. She now trains dogs and writes plays, proudly calling Plan-B her creative home. When Jerry Rapier commissioned me as one of the five playwrights to create work for Plan-B’s Free Elementary School Tour, I wondered what kind of nuttiness had possessed him. I am childless, terrified of children, and I believe equally terrifying to them. I’m the dog lady! What story could I possibly tell that would be of interest to tiny humans? “Dogs, silly,” said Jerry. “You’re a playwright who’s obsessed with dogs. So write. Tell a story. Say it with dogs.” It turns out that writing plays and training dogs are similar processes. They both require discipline, openness, patience and perseverance. They both require me to face fear, do my homework, step out into the unknown, and believe. Training dogs requires creativity, to be able to look at a situation and see possibility, and then make the possibility a reality. In so many ways that’s exactly what writing is for me: overcoming doubt, allowing myself the freedom to act on an idea, and then willing myself to keep trying. I have seen firsthand the special connection between animals and children. I see it again and again, almost...

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...

Playwright Elaine Jarvik on MARRY CHRISTMAS (2014/15 Season, Add-On #1)

Elaine Jarvik has previously written for Plan-B’s SLAM and Script-In-Hand Series. Her play MARRY CHRISTMAS runs December 20-23 as a fundraiser for Restore Our Humanity.  This blog post also appears in the current issue of QSaltLake. MARRY CHRISTMAS is a simple boy-meets-boy (and girl-meets-girl) story. You know the kind: Two people fall in love and get married and then the Attorney General asks the Supreme Court to intervene. As conceived by Plan-B’s Jerry Rapier, the play is a look back at the 17 days last winter when gay marriage was legal in Utah. Because I used to be a newspaper reporter and am now a playwright, Jerry asked me to interview couples who got married during those two and a half weeks and then to write a play based on those stories, from the giddy beginnings on December 20 to the cliff-hanger ending that still hasn’t been resolved. I’ve loved talking to these couples. Take, for example, Shelly Eyre and Cheryl Haws, who’ve been together for nine years, got a marriage license in Provo on December 26, and suddenly discovered that a picture of them kissing was on the national news. “Most of our friends have never seen us kissing,” says Shelly. “We look like Relief Society ladies. What I always say is, I don’t know why people are so upset about our lifestyle; my life doesn’t even have a style. My lifestyle is more like yours.” MARRY CHRISTMAS could have a cast of thousands, because every one of the couples that married last winter has a story worth telling. We hope the ones we’ve picked will give the...

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