My first experience with Plan-B was walking in blindfolded…literally. I knew OF them, sort of knew Jerry through theatre circles but had never seen a Plan-B production. They were producing a new Aden Ross piece which really interested me as I had had the privilege of doing readings of a couple of her other plays and I was a big fan.
AMERIKA turned out to be a remarkable experience. I learned how completely devoted the creative team was to producing good theatre. We worked on a set that was a box some 6 feet off of the ground. It was a thought-provoking piece concerning capitalism, religion and philosophy that we talked to death amongst the cast, director and playwright. Aden was open to any and all ideas. And once we opened, the audience had plenty to say as well.
That summer we were incredibly lucky to take AMERIKA to Toronto for the Fringe Festival. Yes, it was great representing SLC theatre in Canada but it was also just a flat out fabulous time. If Jerry ever tires of theatre he has a promising career as a travel agent.
Next up: Tobin Atkinson’s THE ALIENATION EFFEKT. I had worked with Tobin at SLAC as an actor but now I was in HIS play with HIM directing. I’m not sure how I missed the fact that we would be in white face make-up but the entire show was a Brechtian, political, Stephen Foster music-filled, socially relevant spectacle where I played eight different roles…only one of which was female. I was fairly certain we would never pull it off, but in the end it worked and the subject matter felt timeless.
I had done several workshop readings of Mary Dickson’s EXPOSED. At the last one, for an invited audience, my friend Joyce Cohen turned to me and said, ‘This feels important – we need to do it.’ Thus began an emotional experience that walked us through the ‘duck and cover’ era and its horrendous aftermath. Playing Mary’s real life sister Ann who had passed away from lupus was an honor. We were all struggling with the difficulty of the subject matter but it in no way touched what Mary had to go through in rehearsals, re-living these moments from her life. The final dress rehearsal we performed privately for her family, including Ann’s children and husband, none of whom had read the play, was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done on stage. It felt cathartic and completely rewarding, but emotionally draining.
Again, this piece moved audiences nightly and lent itself to many emotional talkbacks. We toured the show through Utah and at each stop met new folks whose lives had been touched by the nuclear issue.
Finally, that damn SLAM. Jerry had offered me a role in this yearly extravaganza but just the thought of it made me curl up in a ball. Every year he would nicely say, ‘So, what do you think?’ and I would run screaming from the room. I still can’t think of one thing that is appealing about learning a role in a few hours then appearing on stage in front of what feels like five bazillion people. It’s just flat out insanity. However, one day after reading Eleanor Roosevelt’s quote: ‘We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot.’ I knew I had to try it. That was three SLAMs ago and I’m still alive to tell about it. Barely.
It is an awesome experience to be able to be the first actor to ever bring a character to the stage. To work nightly with the playwright is a privilege, a luxury and a rare opportunity. The original works Plan-B produces allows us to do just that and I look forward to doing it again in the spring with Eric Samuelsen’s BORDERLANDS.
I am by nature cautious and conservative. The folks at Plan-B are anything but. Jerry, Cheryl and the rest of that fabulous company are completely fearless so working there always takes me out of my comfort zone. It may give me a bit of a stomach ache but I find myself drawn back again and again by their professionalism, their generosity of spirit and the fact that they champion local, relevant, quality work. And I just happen to be crazy in love with all of them.
PS – And Jerry, thank you for making me learn how to text.