Eric Samuelsen’s plays MIASMA, AMERIGO and BORDERLANDS received their world premieres at Plan-B Theatre Company. His translation of Henrik Ibsen’s GHOSTS received a large-scale staged reading as part of the SCRIPT-IN-HAND SERIES. This is his 8th SLAM.
I live in Provo. When I write for SLAM, I drive to Salt Lake, learn who my actors are going to be, and my play title and the other information I’ll use in writing, and then drive back to Provo to write. That forty-five minute drive is immensely important. I like driving, and I use that time to think about the play. Usually, by the time I make it home, I’ve got at least an idea to work with, and sometimes, I have the whole play mapped out in my head; at least a rough draft of it. Of course, over the course of the night, I’ll usually put the play through two or three more drafts, but generally, the drive south is crucial.
MIASMA, which began as THE BUTCHER, THE BEGGAR AND THE BEDTIME BUDDY (SLAM 2004)
My first year [the first year, 2004], I had no idea what to expect. My title was THE BUTCHER, THE BEGGAR AND THE BEDTIME BUDDY, and driving home, the only thing I could come up with was this: three actors to work with; three possible characters in the title. So I came up with a ‘butcher,’ an elderly wealthy rancher; a daughter who kept ‘begging’ him for money for her siblings; and a ‘bed-time buddy,’ his mistress. The play had monologues, was very repetitive — I was told it was a memorization nightmare. But my actors [Stephanie Howell, Tony Larimer, Kay Shean] pulled it off. I was eventually able to expand it to full-length, with a new title: MIASMA, which Plan-B later produced [in 2006].
Rehearsal for Eric Samuelsen's SPOILED CHEESE (SLAM 2005)
The next year , my title was SPOILED CHEESE. My mind went straight to a post-apocalyptic scenario, with an Adam and Eve, now ejected from the Garden, ruefully remembering various cheeses they recall having eaten. The play ended up intriguing but incoherent. Re-reading it today, it’s still intriguing but incoherent. I still have no idea what was going on, but my actors [Jayceen Craven, Colleen Lewis and Kim Weiss] saved the day.
We generally draw SLAM titles from a hat, so I have no one to blame but myself for another food related title the next year : BLOOD PUDDING. With a cast of three women. Driving home, I wondered it might be intriguing to explore the aftermath of a robbery. I thought of three employees at a restaurant, locked in the meat locker; two tough girls, and their older, ineffectual manager. The girls have been robbed many times before, and are mostly concerned that they’ll get paid for this one—one of them, turns out, used to date the robber. One of my actors was Colleen Lewis, a wonderful actor, but hardly anyone’s idea of a mean, ornery tough chick. But she played the role beautifully.
Artwork created by Greg Ragland as the projected background for BEHIND THE BLUE DOOR (SLAM 2007)
I finally got away from food-related titles when I drew BEHIND THE BLUE DOOR the following year . Driving home, I wondered if I could do something Iraq-war related, perhaps something metaphorical. What I ended up with was a knight in shining armor, his fair maiden, and Jesper the Self-Loathing Jester, a part I got to write specifically for my old friend Jason Tatom. The play shifted back and forth from fantasy to nightmare—knights and dragons, to Iraq, and back again. Daisy Blake and Paul Mulder were terrific, as was Jason, who, as Jesper, also got to tell a number of exceptionally tasteless jokes I found on a website that night. It remains one of my favorite SLAM pieces.
BURNING DESIRE (SLAM 2008)
The next season, a major SLAM change — we went from three actors to five. I liked it, personally — liked the opportunity to tell more complex stories. I’m sure it was also easier on the actors; memorization is always a challenge. Anyway, my title was BURNING DESIRE, and we had a set to work with that I also found provocative; really mysterious and gothic. I had a great cast too, Jayne Luke, who I’ve always admired from afar but had never worked with, plus Jay Perry, Tracie Merrill, Nancy McAffee and Nick O’Donnell. I got to create a scenario in which Jayne played a dying older woman, and Tracie played the same woman forty years earlier, in the pivotal moment of her life, when she rejected and kicked out her son, Jay. Jay and his father, her husband (Nick) have pre-deceased her, and wait in an anteroom of the afterlife, while Nancy played an Angel of Death. We were able to move back and forth in time, in a story about regret and loss and forgiveness. I also gave Jay some comic lines to play with, all of which he nailed, of course.
CONTROL_ALT_DELETE (SLAM 2011)
I then got sick, had to take two years off. When I came back, we were back to three actors, and the playwrights had been thrown another curve — we all got the same title. CONTROL_ALT_DELETE. I had been reading MOBY DUCK, a book about bath toys that washed off a cargo ship and were floating all over the world. I thought of environmentalism, about the possibility of going Control_Alt_Delete and basically starting over with our poor beleaguered planet. I liked everything about the play that resulted [performed by Joe Debevc, John Graham and Christy Summerhays] except the ending, which just sort of fizzled out.
GAMING THE DMV (SLAM 2012)
The next year, we got the biggest curveball yet: no title at all. I would have thought that this would be freeing, but it turned out to be anything but. Drove me crazy, not having a direction. But the set — just some benches — gave me something to work with, and I finally thought it might be fun to just do a comedy, set in a DMV. Called it GAMING THE DMV. I liked the play, but afterwards, I realized it wasn’t as funny as it could have been — I kept coming up with jokes I wished I could have thought of in time.
I really love SLAM. It’s terrifying, exhilarating, uncomfortable, exciting. It gets my adrenaline flowing like nothing else. Theatre without a safety net. I can’t wait to see how the Plan-B leadership tortures us this year.
Plan-B Theatre Company’s 10th Anniversary SLAM – where we create, rehearse and perform five 10-minute plays in 24 hours – is Saturday, May 4, 2013 at 8pm. Click here for tickets, video and additional information.