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 Associate 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...

Playwright Elaine Jarvik on creating RIVER.SWAMP.CAVE.MOUNTAIN., this year’s Free Elementary School Tour

Elaine Jarvik’s plays BASED ON A TRUE STORY and MARRY CHRISTMAS premiered at Plan-B. Her other plays include DEAD RIGHT (Humana Festival of New Plays) TWO STORIES and [a man enters], Salt Lake Acting Company; THE COMING ICE AGE, PYGmalion Theatre Company; and NOT QUITE RIGHT, Teatro Paraguas. Elaine’s latest play, RIVER.SWAMP.CAVE.MOUNTAIN., created specifically for K-3, will tour as our fifth annual Free Elementary School Tour this fall. Click here for details on bringing RSCM to your school and for details on the October 14 performance as part of RDT’s Ring Around the Rose Series, as well as free performances at six Salt Lake City Library branches as well as three libraries in Davis County: Centerville, Davis County Central and Roy (presented by Davis Arts Council).   Five-year-old JJ (who has lots of questions) and eight-year-old Izzy (a know-it-all who doesn’t know it all) are siblings who have recently lost their grandmother. They embark on a funny and touching hero’s journey to try to make sense of loss, grief, death and life. Featuring Ashley Maria Ramos and Benjamin Young. Designed by Aaron Swenson. Directed by Cheryl Cluff. I volunteer at The Sharing Place, a support group for children who are grieving the death of someone close to them. Perhaps that makes it sound like I’m the kind of person who can walk into a funeral home and not get weak in the knees. But, in fact, I am still at some level a grown-up version of the child who could barely walk past the Funk and Wagnall’s encyclopedias on our hallway bookshelf because one of the “B” entries was “blood.” I grew up...

9-year-old Presley Josephine Caywood reviews THE EDIBLE COMPLEX

Presley Josephine Caywood is a fourth grader at Wasatch Elementary. She attended a dress rehearsal of THE EDIBLE COMPLEX by Melissa Leilani Larson this week – below is her review. So, my mom told me that we were going to go see show called THE EDIBLE COMPLEX. She told me what the show was about and I was really excited. We were recently talking about food and the food groups. I was comparing myself to some other kids in school. Was I skinny enough? Was I healthy enough? Seeing THE EDIBLE COMPLEX made me feel a lot better about myself. I was expecting the actors in the show to talk about the food groups and what you are supposed to eat, but it was totally different because it talked about not comparing yourself to others. The play also talked about foods like cheese burgers and tacos. I also noticed that being happy is healthy. When the main character did unhealthy things (like not eat) she wasn’t very happy with herself or her life. The director [Cheryl Cluff] did a fine job. I like that they decided to use a small space for the stage. The staging looked very realistic but you could also tell when Anna (the main character [Anne Louise Brings]) was changing environments by how she moved around the set. The costumes [designed by Aaron Swenson] were really cool. I also liked the diversity in the actors. Inserted Mom comment: “I raised my eyebrows at her when I read that last sentence. Presley responded quickly with a sassy, ‘What? You didn’t think I would notice that?'” The actor...

Ten Foods I Like An Awful Lot: Melissa Leilani Larson’s THE EDIBLE COMPLEX opens October 8

Melissa Leilani Larson returns to Plan-B with THE EDIBLE COMPLEX following PILOT PROGRAM in 2015. Other recent productions include PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (BYU), MARTYRS’ CROSSING (Edinburgh Fringe), LITTLE HAPPY SECRETS (SLAC’s Fearless Fringe). Current projects: JANE AND EMMA (Clearstone Productions), EAST OF THE SUN (workshop, Nautilus Music Theatre), SWEETHEART COME (2016 O’Neill National Playwrights Conference semi-finalist). Film: FREETOWN (2015 Ghana Movie Award, Best Screenplay). Dramatists Guild ambassador for Utah, MFA from Iowa Playwrights Workshop. THE EDIBLE COMPLEX, created specifically for grades 4-6, opens October 8 with a public performance as part of Repertory Dance Theatre’s RING AROUND THE ROSE Series before touring to more than 40 elementary schools in 6 counties as Plan-B’s 4th annual Free Elementary School Tour (presented in Davis County by Davis Arts Council and in Wayne County by the Entrada Institute). THE EDIBLE COMPLEX  includes ten foods as characters that Mel likes an awful lot. Yes, the Food acts too. She we asked her to tell us why!  1. The Grilled Cheese Sandwich is the first food to make an appearance in THE EDIBLE COMPLEX, and for good reason. It’s one of the first things I learned to cook for myself when I was a kid, and it’s still very much a favorite. So simple to make, and yet incredibly satisfying. And—like the Grilled Cheese in the play says herself—so good with a tall, cold glass of chocolate milk. 2. Sometimes I trick myself into being healthful. Sometimes friends help. A good friend who is a great cook often invites me to join him and his family for dinner. One thing he makes that I never tire of: Turkey Tacos. Supposedly...

Announcing the 2016/17 Season

The 2016/17 season explores what it means to speak the truth, featuring world premieres by four Utah playwrights. Subscriptions are $53 and include ONE BIG UNION by Debora Threedy, VIRTUE by Tim Slover and NOT ONE DROP by Morag Shepherd. THE EDIBLE COMPLEX by Melissa Leilani Larson is available as an add-on for $6. Click here to subscribe. ONE BIG UNION | a world premiere by Debora Threedy |  November 10-20, 2016 Joe Hill was executed in 1915 by the state of Utah for a murder he may or may not have committed. Considered a martyr by organized labor, Joe Hill’s songs envisioned gender and racial equality and criticized the gross income disparities of his time. Joe Hill remains an enigmatic folk hero but beyond the mythology lies a larger story of protest through music, more relevant than ever a century after his death. From the author of THE END OF THE HORIZON, WALLACE and THE THIRD CROSSING. A play with music featuring Daniel Beecher, Carleton Bluford, Roger Dunbar, April Fossen, Tracie Merrill and Jay Perry. Musically directed by David Evanoff, choreographed by Stephanie Howell, directed by Jason Bowcutt.   VIRTUE | a world premiere by Tim Slover | February 16-26, 2017 Poet, composer, writer, herbologist, midwife and Christian mystic, Abbess Hildegard would have been a revolutionary now as well as in the Twelfth Century when she lived. Her vigorous, otherworldly life raises profound questions: In a battle between spiritual conviction and institutional rules, which should win? What counts for more: theology or experience? And especially, who may we love? A play with music featuring Jay Perry, Shane Rogers, Emilie Eileen Starr and...

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