Playwright Jennifer A. Kokai on creating ZOMBIE THOUGHTS

Jennifer A. Kokai has previously written “Bird Brains” for Plan-B’s portion of ROSE EXPOSED: FLIGHT and the monologues “Mitch” and “Janine” for (IN)DIVISIBLE. Jenny is an Assistant Professor at Weber State University, where she teaches playwriting. When I was asked to write a play for Plan-B’s Free Elementary School Tour, I immediately turned to the closest elementary expert: my (now) eleven-year-old son.  But Oliver is not a typical elementary-aged kid. He has the verbal comprehension skills of someone in college. As the child of a theatre professor, he has seen Stoppard’s ARCADIA and Ibsen’s HEDDA GABBLER. He’s a sophisticated yet generous audience member. But when we’ve seen plays aimed at folks his age, he is often troubled by simplistic storylines and banal morals. Kids, he tells me, deal with real problems and these plays rarely offer an opportunity to think through a difficult situation or learn how to function better in real life.   Oliver also has learning and emotional disabilities that have challenged me as a parent: there is nothing more heartbreaking than not being able to give your child what he needs. In kindergarten, Oliver exasperated his teachers with incessant questions, impulse control issues, difficulty relating to other children, and disinterest in assigned work and procedures. We changed schools for first grade, but things got worse. The more his teacher criticized him, the more anxious he became about messing up, and the more he messed up. We changed schools for second and third grade: the pattern continued. Oliver began to talk about harming himself and wanting to die. So, outside of work and school, we hid in the house...

11-year-old playwright Oliver Kokai-Means on creating ZOMBIE THOUGHTS

Oliver Kokai-Means makes his professional playwriting debut with ZOMBIE THOUGHTS, Plan-B’s sixth annual Free Elementary School Tour. As an actor he most recently appeared in FUN HOME at Salt Lake Acting Company. My name is Oliver. I am a kid who likes soccer, who likes sports, and who likes and is really good at reading, and video games, and is not what some people would say normal is. Because I have anxiety. My anxiety has caused problems for me because I don’t like being with people I don’t know, so first days are extra hard for me. It has also caused me problems with teachers who don’t understand, and with making friends. Our play ZOMBIE THOUGHTS is about a pig named Pig and a nine-year-old kid named Sam who has anxiety [I was nine when we started writing the play]. They are in a video game and they go on an adventure with different levels and try to beat them, but they have a hard time and they fail most of the time. They try and work on it and then they finally beat a level and then they have to fight The Machine. They technically beat The Machine but it doesn’t go away because you can’t beat anxiety. The audience gets to make a lot of choices in the play, like they’re the ones playing the video game. I identify with Sam. One of the things that happens in anxiety is you get scared of all this stuff, and some of the stuff that you’re scared of doesn’t even exist. Zombie Thoughts are where you do something but...

Announcing the 2018/19 Script-In-Hand Series

As the only professional theatre company in the United States producing full seasons of new work by local playwrights, we invite you to join us for three public readings of plays-in-progress. Announcing the 2018/19 Script-In-Hand Series! DONNA October 24 by Jenifer Nii A re-imagining of DON QUIXOTE: modern-day women find and face their own windmills – which, it turns out, warrant more than just tilting. SHORT PLAYS FROM THE THEATRE ARTISTS OF COLOR WRITING WORKSHOP at the Edward Lewis Theatre Festival at the City Library (Main Branch) February 10 Plays and playwrights and cast TBA. BALTHAZAR April 3 by Debora Threedy What if Portia’s appearance in court dressed as a man in Shakespeare’s THE MERCHANT OF VENICE was not the first time she’d cross-dressed? An exploration of gender, gender rebels and the nature of desire. Click here for details – tickets (free but required) available September...

Subscribe to our 2018/19 Season!

We invite you to join us for our 28th season of unique and socially conscious theatre created by Utah playwrights! A season exploring how truth finds us and what we do with it once it does. A season about sexuality, race and privilege. A season about us, here, now. Click here to subscribe for only $59. a world premiere by Matthew Greene October 18-28, 2018 November 4, 2018 – United Solo Theatre Festival, New York “I’d been loved. And that changes a person.” A gay Mormon faces excommunication a week after marrying the man of his dreams. A solo play about faith, hope and catharsis. Featuring Austin Archer. Designed by Keven Myhre (set), Jerry Rapier (costumes), Matt Taylor (costumes). Stage managed by Jennifer Freed, Morag Shepherd. Directed by Jerry Rapier. From the author of ADAM & STEVE AND THE EMPTY SEA, featuring the author of JUMP a world premiere by Elaine Jarvik February 21-March 3, 2019 “I guarantee you there will come a time when your name won’t ring a bell among the living.” The original worst-ever (and possibly first gay) President James Buchanan and actor-assassin John Wilkes Booth defend their (in)actions before a live studio audience. A dark comedy about race, privilege, sexuality and legacy. Featuring Aaron Adams, Jason Bowcutt, Anne Brings, Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin. Designed by Cheryl Cluff (sound), Thomas George (set), David Rees (lighting), Arika Schockmel (props). Stage managed by Jennifer Freed. Directed by Cheryl Cluff. From the author of RIVER.SWAMP.CAVE.MOUNTAIN., BASED ON A TRUE STORY & MARRY CHRISTMAS a world premiere by playwrights TBA March 28-April 7, 2019 “You won’t be satisfied, you never are.” An evening...

Playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett on RADIO HOUR EPISODE 12: STAND

RADIO HOUR EPISODE 12: STAND by Matthew Ivan Bennett receives its world premiere in a co-production with KUER’S RadioWest on April 26, 2018 featuring Shane Mozaffari, Jay Perry and Isabella Reeder, with original music by Dave Evanoff, eFoley by Joe Killian and direction and sound design by Cheryl Cluff. Click here on Monday, April 23 at 9am to listen to Matt on RadioWest discuss the history, idea and literature of dystopia; then again on Thursday, April 26 at 9am to listen to STAND live. When I tell people what my new play is about – “Oh, it’s a dystopian spy thriller set in the mid-21st century in which the alt-right has taken over” – they usually shiver. Granted, I haven’t tried out my one-liner on someone who identifies as alt-right. But, really, the play is less about politics and more about moral choices. At the center of RADIO HOUR EPISODE 12: STAND is Agent Alicia Mora, a thoroughly rational person who decides – at least initially – to work for a flawed regime instead of a flawed rebellion. The harrowing unspoken question for her is, “Which side is doing the least harm overall?” Of course, all of our choices in life, and especially in drama, are constrained. Rarely are we afforded the chance to coolly decide what will hurt everyone less and then do that. The decision gets complicated by other questions. The question of personal comfort. The question of belonging. The question of how you’ll feed your children. The question of rightness. The question of an imagined ultimate outcome for your tribe. Or, for Agent Mora, the questions of...

Playwright Elaine Jarvik on AN EVENING WITH TWO AWFUL MEN #GiveOUTDay

Playwright Elaine Jarvik premiered MARRY CHRISTMAS, a celebration of the one-year anniversary of same-sex marriage in Utah, at Plan-B in 2014. Her latest, AN EVENING WITH TWO AWFUL MEN, premieres as part of our 2018/19 season. Click here to make your #GiveOUTDay donation today. “How would you like to write a play about our first gay president?” Plan-B Theatre’s Jerry Rapier asked me in the summer of 2016. And so I began researching the life of a man I knew little about, one of those presidents who fall somewhere in the vague middle, one of those indistinguishable men with a high collar and a grim mouth. And what I discovered, of course, is that there is always more to the story. James Buchanan was the only president to live out his White House tenure as a bachelor. So there were rumors then and there are assumptions today. But the facts are slim: his best friend was Sen. William King of Alabama, who was also a bachelor, and they lived in the same rooming house in Washington; some said then that King was Buchanan’s “better half;” they were referred to as “Miss Nancy” and “Miss Fancy.” And, finally, Buchanan once wrote a letter to a friend in which he bemoaned the fact that Sen. King had been appointed minister to France: “I am now ‘solitary and alone,’ having no companion in the house with me,” he wrote. “I have gone a-wooing to several gentlemen, but have not succeeded with any one of them.” And that’s pretty much it: some innuendoes and a few letters, which we filter through our 21st century understanding...

Actor Robert Scott Smith on #GiveOUTDay

Robert Scott Smith has played gay characters for Plan-B in BASH: LATTERDAY PLAYS, MARRY CHRISTMAS and, most recently, THE ICE FRONT. Click here to make your #GiveOUTDay donation today. One of my jobs as an actor is to create a believable character under imaginary circumstances. There is no requirement that I have to have experienced, in real-life, that character’s particular given circumstances. Now, I could choose to be Daniel Day-Lewis and immerse myself into the role by becoming a carpenter or I could just use my imagination. This same imagination that I have to use all the time when it comes to playing straight. I’ve gotten so good at it that many people say to me, ‘you sure you aren’t straight?’, to which my internal response is, ‘I think that’s supposed to be a compliment.’ Over my 17 years as a professional actor I have only played six LGBTQ+ identified characters, three of them at Plan-B. One of those was actually closeted and played right into the trope that closeted gay men often gay bash. LGBTQ+ characters have come a long way since that role and one such role was Anders in THE ICE FRONT by Eric Samuelsen, produced this season by Plan-B. During the rehearsal process I was speaking with our director, Jerry Rapier, about the relief I felt as an actor that I could just play this role without having to play into the narrative, ‘Are you sure you aren’t straight?’ I’ve spent my entire life always having to look over my shoulder, following an instinct to protect myself, to act straight. It’s a constant. In this...

Playwright Matthew Greene on GOOD STANDING #GiveOUTDay

Playwright Matthew Greene premiered his play ADAM & STEVE AND THE EMPTY SEA at Plan-B in 2013; it then played the New York International Fringe Festival. His latest, GOOD STANDING, opens our 2018/19 season and will also play the United Solo theatre festival in New York. Click here to make your #GiveOUTDay donation today. It’s possible that if I hadn’t spent so many years in the proverbial closet I never would’ve become a writer. It’s the oldest story in the book, isn’t it? Creativity born out of private pain. I spent my days playing the perfect Mormon, slipping that ill-fitting costume on over the self I’d learned to loathe and trying my best to walk a path that was, frankly, killing me. My solace in those dark days was the pen and the page. In the fictional worlds I crafted, nothing could stop me from exploring the tantalizing gray areas and questioning tenets of belief that were supposed to be taken as gospel. I was an undergrad at Brigham Young University (that’s right, Mormon Mecca) when Proposition 8 rocked California and, in turn, the world. Desperate to make sense of the divisive and disturbing rhetoric I heard every day, I wrote a play called ADAM & STEVE AND THE EMPTY SEA, exploring what the gay marriage debate did to two friends, one openly gay and the other openly Mormon. After nearly getting me kicked out of school, the play received its world premiere at Plan-B Theatre in 2013. People were quick to identify Adam, the devout church member, as my onstage stand-in, but who, they all seemed to ask...

Tami Marquardt on #GiveOUTDay

Tami Marquardt is the vice president of Plan-B’s Board of Trustees. She and her wife Jane have been involved with Plan-B since 2001 and are the largest private contributors to the company via their Peace & Possibility Project. Click here to make your #GiveOUTDay gift today. Pushing boundaries – daring and bold – is how I viewed Plan-B Theatre back in 2001 when they brought THE LARAMIE PROJECT to the stage in Salt Lake City. Jane and I had recently been blessed in our Union by our Unitarian minister in a time when sodomy was still on the books and same-sex marriage was a little more than an unspoken fantasy. We were so intent on being recognized as a couple that I changed my surname to Marquardt in an attempt to be say to the world:  “We are a couple.  We mean it, we mean it, we really really mean it!” So you might imagine how my heart leapt up when we were sitting in the audience on opening night of THE LARAMIE PROJECT and,  just before the show, Jerry Rapier announced that Jane & Tami Marquardt were funders of the play.  The gasp in the audience was from me!  I was so moved by our first out-loud-and-proud public recognition as a married couple that I literally had tears in my eyes. It is a timeless time spot that I will always remember and I have been a dedicated Plan-B Groupie ever since.  Jane and I are devoted contributors to Plan-B.  I truly love this little theatre company – still daring, bold and pushing boundaries....

Managing Director and resident sound designer Cheryl Cluff interviews her husband Todd Riesen about his failed parachute on his first sky dive, which has nothing and everything to do with JUMP

As Managing Director Cheryl Cluff and Artistic Director Jerry Rapier were sweeping and mopping the theatre on Wednesday afternoon, Cheryl casually asked, “Have I ever told you about Todd’s failed parachute?” [Long pause.]  Todd is Cheryl’s husband, the answer was no, Jerry asked her to talk to Todd about sharing it on our blog and the story is below. It has nothing and everything to do with the world premiere of Austin Archer’s JUMP, premiering April 5-15 in a co-pro with Flying Bobcat Theatrical Laboratory. Cheryl: How old were you when you had this experience? Todd: I was in my 20s. Cheryl: Was this after or before I met you? Todd: I think it was right before we met. Cheryl: So it was 1987-ish. Todd: Probably. Cheryl: Was this your first sky diving experience? Todd: Yes. Cheryl: Was this your ONLY sky diving experience? Todd: No. Cheryl: Oh, you went again after that? Todd: Yeah a couple times. I think three times, or four. This was my first time. I went by myself. it was a spur of the moment decision. Cheryl: You suddenly decided to do it. Did you tell anyone you were going to do it? Todd: No. Cheryl: So you did the training and everything, and it was not a tandem jump, it was a solo jump, right? Todd: Yes. Cheryl: How did you feel when you were sitting the airplane getting ready to jump? Todd: Very nervous. I was sitting right on the floor right next to the door of the airplane. The door swung up – Cheryl: It rolled up? Todd: It didn’t roll...

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