Musings from the cast of MESA VERDE

Christy Summerhays, Teresa Sanderson, April Fossen | Photo Credit: Rick Pollock

Christy Summerhays, Teresa Sanderson, April Fossen | Photo Credit: Rick Pollock


How do I write about an experience that I’ve waited almost 5 years to have? About a part that I feel was written for me? A part that was never ‘mine’, but I’ve always felt ownership of? **sigh* There’s a lot to say about this experience. But most of it is stuff I say to myself and won’t be of interest to anyone else.

It is a rare privilege to be involved with MESA VERDE. It has been from the beginning. When we first read the 10-minute SLAM version of the play, we all knew we were holding something special in our hands. Something that was personal and raw and real. And as the play has grown over these years it has become more so. Strangely, the play has also become more personal and more real for me. I have watched my two daughters get 5 years older and develop singular personalities that are oh so different from each other. They bicker almost all the time now. The younger one is thrilled beyond words when the older one is affectionate toward her. I’ve watched it happen and felt powerless to influence it. Their relationship is theirs, there is nothing I or anyone else can do to make it any different. They will grow into it, and (I hope) it will get better as they become adults. In these years, I have struggled with my own variety of female problems (nothing akin to cancer) and seen how that changed me, how I related to people, how I dealt with life, how terrifying the threat of losing a body part, any body part can be, let alone those body parts. I have also watched from a distance as my oldest brother has battled cancer and seen how a healthy relationship with his own adult children has made the experience not a death march but a daily affirmation of hope and health.

It has also been a rare privilege to be in a rehearsal room with 4 other women. Just women. Truly rare. Amazing women, as well. Women who are open and giving and, really, nothing like the characters in this play. Working together with them on this script has been difficult and fun and exhilarating and exhausting. There’s so much more to this play than meets the eye. More than you find on the first or the 500th reading. I’m still learning about these characters, about these relationships, about the moment to moment interaction. About how they love and dislike and support and deny each other. About their truth and how it changes when they are together. I’m sure I will continue to discover things as we perform. And then, sadly, this journey will end. It has changed me.

I wouldn’t say this play has been easy to work on. It is an emotionally charged piece. We have shared many stories and tears.

But the women I am working with are so accessible. It has been fun and exciting to explore the text together – shape our characters and relationships.

I usually do a lot of background research, and this project was no different. I read a lot about chronic pain, the illnesses and medications that go along with it. Watched some Deadliest Catch, Flying Wild Alaska, and even some Ballroom Dance Competitions.

Oh, and lots and lots of Chopin. I read about Mesa Verde itself, then read Native American stories, which led me to the image and legend of Spider Woman.

Spider Woman decided that men should build kivas. She gave us the 4 directions – North, South, East and West – and the elements. She creates order from chaos.

All that, some life experience, lots of time with the text.

These women. A beautiful set, that we have been lucky to work on from day one, gorgeous lighting, precise sound. Under Cheryl’s direction and with Jen in the technical driver’s seat, I would say we are about ready to open a play!

My first thought when I knew I was going to be doing this play and this part was “Wow…it’s gonna be ALL women…COOL!” Now, let me explain…this isn’t because I have anything against men, in fact I generally get along great with men. I was very close to my father and my brothers, I was a tomboy and playing football with the boys was my idea of a good time. My excitement about working with women came from the desire to become more of one. To learn from the best how it’s done. And when I looked around at this group I knew I was going to learn some cool stuff. And I have.

My second thought was specific to my character, Tamara. How am I going to do this? How am I going to relate to this woman who is so different than I am (or how I perceive myself)? As I have proceeded with my work on the part, I’ve learned what I almost always learn as an actor…the human experience, no matter how it looks from the outside, is essentially the same. We all pretty much want the same stuff, have the same needs…love, connection, validation, to be heard, to have purpose. This play is about two sisters who are trying to get that from each other and from a mother who is no longer living. It is about learning how to look at yourself more honestly, which any attempt at a deep relationship will teach you, if you will let it.

Another thing I’ve enjoyed about this process is remembering that we, as humans, are…well…pretty hilarious. The awkwardness and the fumbling we go through! And to explore it in a theatrical setting, with wonderful actresses and a great director and stage manager? And with a script written by a gifted playwright? Pretty good stuff.

Plan-B Theatre Company presents

the world premiere of MESA VERDE
February 24-March 6, 2011
Studio Theatre at the Rose Wagner
Thurs-Fri at 8pm | Sat at 4pm and 8pm | Sun at 2pm
Tickets $20 here or 801.355.ARTS

MESA VERDE, Matthew Ivan Bennett’s most personal play focuses on the relationship between two estranged sisters (played by April Fossen and Christy Summerhays) and their late mother (played by Teresa Sanderson, who also portrays several other characters) in this complex quest for hope and healing. A play about facing family. Directed by Cheryl Ann Cluff.


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