Cooper Howell is an aspiring director and choreographer in his junior year at Utah Valley University.
I’m not sure what I did exactly to deserve this. The stars aligned and some very giving people (namely Jerry Rapier) gave me the go-ahead to intern with Plan-B Theatre Company on HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH. My responsibilities were assistant director and choreographing a few moments during some of the musical numbers.
Hedwig tells of Hansel, an East German “slip of a girlyboy” who loves philosophy and rock music and is stuck in East Berlin until he meets Luther Robinson, a U.S. soldier. Luther falls in love with Hansel and the two decide to marry. This plan will allow Hansel to leave communist East Germany for the capitalist West. However, in order to be married, the couple must consist of a man and a woman. Hansel’s mother, Hedwig, gives her child her name and passport and finds a doctor to perform a sex change. The operation is botched, however, and her surgically constructed vagina heals closed, leaving Hansel – now Hedwig – with a dysfunctional one-inch mound of flesh between her legs, “with a scar running down it like a sideways grimace on an eyeless face.” As told in its cabaret, rock-and-roll form, this show genuinely rocks!
This is the third time Plan-B Theatre Company has staged this show so a lot of the pieces just fell into place. Aaron Swenson gives his third performance as Hedwig after originally doing it in 2003 and 2005. Dave Evanoff came back as the musical director and keyboardist/guitarist in The Angry Inch band as well as Van Christensen the drummer. Same stage manager (the incredibly professional and lovely Jennifer Freed), same Projections Designer (Greg Ragland) and same Set Designer (Randy Rasmussen). Because this is Plan-B’s third HEDWIG, some of the “creating” and “discovering” process of a production were not available for me to observe. Everything seemed to fit like a puzzle. The new elements of the show were the space it was being performed in (The Egyptian Theatre in Park City), Latoya Rhodes as Yitzhak, Hedwig’s drag queen/king husband and back-up singer, Camden Chamberlain on guitar, Adam Overacker on bass, Jesse Portillo as the Lighting Designer and Aaron Swenson also assuming duties as Costume Designer.
But I do not feel like I was denied anything in a the creative process of theatre. I learned so much. Jerry at one point leaned over and asked me if I was “bored to tears” watching them rehearse. I can truthfully say that nothing about this production can possibly be boring.
One of the things that I learned is that some people’s overall natural awesomeness cannot be coached but must be used. Whether Aaron Swenson realizes it or chooses to admit it, he has a following. Everyone I talked to about this show said almost immediately “Please tell me Aaron is doing it again?” or “I’ll only come if Aaron does it again.”
And there is a reason. He is amongst the most talented people I’ve ever met. His singing voice is very unique and very high in the tenor range. He is a gifted mover. He totally understands stage presence and uses it to his advantage to further the story of his character (how do you teach that?). And let’s not forget that he makes a very beautiful looking woman as well as a man. Jerry would just hint at suggestions and Aaron would take full advantage of them.
Let’s not forget Miss Latoya Rhodes who stepped into the role of Yitzhak and in two and a half weeks of rehearsal fleshed out a very believable and well-rounded character of her own. Not to mention learning all of the music before the rehearsals even started. Her dedication was key.
It was so interesting being able to learn from Jerry. I didn’t just get to learn from his directing skills but I was able to learn about all sorts of different types of theatre management as well. He is the Producing Director of Plan-B Theater Company. He surrounds himself with experts who don’t need to be babied or pushed to do their jobs. His confidence as a director is very apparent and easy to see. He really knows his craft; its history and also its effect and influence. I also got to watch Jerry do PR and advertise the show through the “Radio From Hell” show on x-96 and also KPCW in Park City.
The thing I learned from Jerry the most however is trust. He truly trusts the team that he surrounds himself with. A lot of directors love to micromanage every aspect of their productions but he really puts his faith behinds the people on his team. Even when he allowed me the opportunity to choreograph a few moments in some musical numbers he stood behind what we came up with. He even offered suggestions. It was very inspiring and encouraging.
I really feel like an intenship should have been harder (Ha! Ha!) I mean I had a blast. I learned so many things about the qualities of theatre. I was expecting that I was just going to sit in a corner and take notes. And I did take a lot of notes. But I was allowed to be involved. But mostly I just enjoyed the ride.