Cheryl Ann Cluff (1991+)

Cheryl Ann Cluff & Tobin Atkinson | Photo credit: Rick Pollock

Cheryl Ann Cluff & Tobin Atkinson | Photo credit: Rick Pollock

Tobin Atkinson and I (pictured above in the 1993 Plan-B production of THE TYPISTS AND THE TIGER) met in 1984 while attending Southern Utah University (then Southern Utah State College) and, by 1991, were both living in Salt Lake City. We were each involved in various theatre projects in the Salt Lake community and we often talked about the desire to experiment with various theatrical techniques and ideas. Well, to be fair, it was mostly Tobin talking about experimenting. During one of these discussions Tobin presented the idea of actually mounting some shows and asked if I would like to be a part of this. Thinking it would just be one or two interesting projects, and not a lifetime obsession, I agreed. This would turn out to be one of those key life decisions that, to a large degree, shaped the next 20 years of my life. We decided on the name Plan-B because back in our college days Plan-A was always to move to New York, L.A. or SOMEWHERE ELSE and become professional actors for other companies. We also wanted the name to reflect that we would be presenting nontraditional or alternative theatre.

OUT OF THE FRYING PAN: AN EVENING OF ONE-ACTS (A Need for Brussels Sprouts by Murray Schisgal and Mimosa Pudica by Curt Dempster)
Location: Another Language at ArtSpace

I am embarrassed to say I do not remember much about this show other than we did it. I do remember Tobin wanted me to dye my hair dark brown (my character was Irish) and I wouldn’t.

After this evening of one-acts, we decided we had a pretty good time and continued to mount shows when and where we could, considering the fact that the related costs were coming out of our own pockets.

The next production was MACBETH, with 6 actors playing multiple roles and featuring the first Plan-B set design by Randy Rasmussen. Actors playing multiple roles became a Plan-B tradition.

MACBETH by William Shakespeare
MEASURE FOR MEASURE by William Shakespeare
THE WINTER’S TALE by William Shakespeare
CORIOLANUS by William Shakespeare
Location: Another Language at ArtSpace

Location: Class Room at the University of Utah

Location: The Art Barn

PUSHING THE ENVELOPE: AN EVENING OF ONE-ACTS (Limbo Tales by Israel Horowitz and Stage Directions by Len Jenkin)
Location: The Art Barn

BEGINNINGS I by Tobin Atkinson (World Premiere)
Location: The Art Barn

BEGINNINGS I was a mile marker for Plan-B because staff from the Utah Humanities and Utah Arts Councils saw the show. The Utah Humanities Council hired Plan-B and the cast to perform parts of the show at the Gallivan Center. The Utah Arts Council encourages Plan-B to apply for grants, which lead to the decision to become an incorporated, nonprofit organization the following year.

BEGINNINGS I was also our first puppet/mask production. We continued to produce puppet/mask productions periodically until 2001. This production also marked the beginning of our focus on original scripts by Utah writers.

At this point we decided we wanted Plan-B to continue indefinitely. We filed the necessary paper work to become a 501 (c)(3), and announced a five show season (five shows – what the hell?), with a budget of $10,000. Many of the shows utilized masks and/or puppets and RADIO MACBETH was the first Plan-B radio production.

MODERN JUSTICE by Tobin Atkinson (World Premiere)
LOUDER THAN WORDS by Tobin Atkinson, Angela Evans and Katherine Kingston (World Premiere)
RADIO MACBETH by William Shakespeare
NIGHT OF THE DOLL by Tobin Atkinson (Word Premiere)

Performed five shows at five different locations:
U of U Social Work Auditorium
Rowland Hall Larimer Center
The Art Barn
U of U Quinney Law School classroom
U of U Performing Arts Building classroom

Tobin was the Artistic Director and I was the Managing Director.

Plan-B was becoming known as a sort of a gypsy theatre company, as most of our shows were performed in various, and many times untraditional, locations. This was not an intentional choice, but one made out of necessity.

Producing five shows on such a small budget was quite a challenge (not to mention we were both holding down full-time jobs) so we decided to move to a three-show season – hurray!

HARD TIMES FOR THESE TIMES adapted from Charles Dickens by Tobin Atkinson (World Premiere)
Location: Bibliotect

ALIENATION EFFEKT by Tobin Atkinson (World Premiere)
Location: The Aardvark

BEGINNINGS II by Tobin Atkinson (World Premiere)
Location: The Aardvark

THE ALIENATION EFFEKT was another mile marker; critically acclaimed with sold out performances. It was also the first show that addressed LGBT issues.

Tobin left Salt Lake City and Plan-B at the end of the season. The Aardvark on 400 South, an old Victorian house with a funky, slightly creepy upstairs theatre, closed a few years later and the building was eventually torn down to make way for a Wendy’s.

I recruited Tracy Michael Hall, then associated with Youth Theatre at the U, to help run the company. I stepped into the Artistic Director position, with Tracy acting as Managing Director.

Partway through this season we found a temporary home at the New Hope Multipurpose Immigrant Center in Rose Park which was rumored to have been used to make porn films in the 80s.

AN ANCIENT HOUSE by Nathan Briggs (World Premiere – photo below)
Location: Biblotect
FAHRENHEIT 451 by Ray Bradbury
HIPPOLYTUS adapted from Euripides by Spence Porter
Location: New Hope Multipurpose Immigrant Center

FAHRENHEIT 451 was our next critically acclaimed, sold out production. HIPPOLYTUS was the first Plan-B show Jennifer Freed stage managed.

THE PBTC RADIO SHOW by Tobin Atkinson and Mark Cantor (World Premiere)
MASADA by Arthur Milner

Tobin Atkinson moved back to Salt Lake City and resumed his Artist Director responsibilities, and Tracy Michael Hall decided to leave Utah. I stepped back into my familiar role as Managing Director.

The New Hope became unavailable to Plan-B at the end of this season, so Tobin and I put the word out that we were in need of another space. The staff at Salt Lake Acting Company graciously invited us to rent The Downstairs Theatre in their basement.

POE 2000 adapted from Edgar Allan Poe by Tobin Atkinson (World Premiere – photo below)
A PLACE IN THE SKY by Tobin Atkinson (World Premiere)
A VIOLENT ATTRACTION by Sally Kenyon (World Premiere)
Location: The Downstairs Theatre

A PLACE IN THE SKY won the first of our 35 (as of 2010) City Weekly Slammy/Arty Awards. At the end of the season, Tobin announced he was leaving Utah once more, this time to join the army. I approached Morgan Ludlow to help me run the company. We created the 2000-01 season and Morgan suggested asking Jerry Rapier to direct.

Morgan was involved for about two months when he decided to move to San Francisco. This was getting ridiculous. I seriously nearly threw in the towel but felt really bad about all those years of work going down the drain. Morgan suggested I talk to Jerry. He thought Jerry might like to help. I did not know Jerry at all. What the hell – I decided to give it ONE. LAST. SHOT. Which leads us to the next decade.

Many artists contributed significantly at some point in the first decade. They each deserve some recognition: actors, designers, directors, techie types, builders and seamstresses. In particular, the following people truly helped build the company:

Skip and Kathy Atkinson
Enid Atkinson
Angela Evans
Katherine Kingston
Noe McKenna
Gary Shea
Cory Thorell

And finally, Randy Rasmussen and Jennifer Freed.

As mentioned above, the first set Randy designed for Plan-B was for MACBETH, our second production. He then designed THE ALIENATION EFFEKT and has designed nearly every set for Plan-B since 1998. He is now our Technical Director and Resident Set Designer. He has become a master at creating amazing, simple, effective sets with very little money.

As mentioned above, Jennifer stage managed HIPPOLYTUS in 1998 and has stage managed nearly every show since then. She is now our Resident Stage Manager. She ensures our rehearsal process runs efficiently, smoothly, keeps us all on our toes and is key to putting all of the technical elements of each production together. As anyone in the theatre knows, stage managers are one of the least publicly recognized members of a theatrical team. The reviews never recognize her efforts, but she has A LOT to do with the success of every production.

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