Editor’s Note: The Selective Echo presents a two-part wrap-up of the closing events of Plan-B Theatre’s 2011-2012 season. The first part (see May 6) focused on the current season’s productions. The second part presented here is a preview of the ninth annual SLAM, Plan-B’s annual benefit and playwriting slam production that will be held May 12.
In developing original plays that are as socially conscious as they are entertaining, Plan-B Theatre’s creative brand is galvanized by a corps of Utah playwrights, which, in terms of talent and numbers, would be just as impressive in metropolitan areas much larger than Salt Lake City.
With the creative circus of cramming essentially 25 days of full-scale production rehearsals into a single day, Plan-B has loaded its playwriting lineup with a Murderers’ Row of talent for this year’s SLAM production. As part of the company’s annual fundraising benefit, five 10-minute plays are written, produced, and staged all within a 24-hour period.
And, only on the morning of the day before the production will Jerry Rapier, producing director, and Cheryl Ann Cluff, managing director, decide the prompts that will ultimately become five world premieres. The five playwrights — Matthew Ivan Bennett, Elaine Jarvik, Julie Jensen, Jenifer Nii, and Eric Samuelsen — randomly will receive a different title and set piece on the evening of Friday, May 11, and they will have 12 hours to produce a script, generally between 10 and 15 pages, to cover a 10-minute production. The length restriction is strictly enforced, Rapier says, adding that, in the second SLAM event, one play ran 20 minutes with disappointing impact.
This year’s edition will be held Saturday, May 12, at 8 p.m. in the Jeanne Wagner Theatre of the Rose Wagner Center for Performing Arts. The event, as in recent years, is expected to sell out the 500-seat house.
SLAM is not for the untested writer. For example, Bennett and Samuelsen are participating for the eighth time. Jensen, and Nii, are in their fourth events. Jarvik, a former newspaper reporter who delved full force into playwriting 10 years ago and has done quite a few 10-minute plays, is taking her first turn. (PHOTO: Matthew Ivan Bennett’s ‘Control_Alt_Delete,’ SLAM 2011)
In a blog posting at the Plan-B Web site, Jarvik, who always has been good at the art of concision and brevity in writing, encapsulated the fears that likely do become the most urgent creative motivations for all five writers:
‘I am a morning person. Also I am afraid of public humiliation. What if on the night of May 11 and the wee hours of May 12, my mind is blank? What if this is the first year that a SLAM writer turns in a blank page? What if, on the night of May 12, Jerry [Rapier] has to announce that we regret to inform you that this year there are only four plays because this year a writer failed. To. Think. Of. Anything.’
There also is a respectable probability that at least one of the 10-minute impromptu productions the audience sees could be a future full-scale Plan-B offering.
Previous SLAMs have generated such productions. These include Aden Ross’ ‘Love Runs Uphill’ which was retitled ‘Cause and Defect’ and subsequently produced by New York University. This also became ‘Amerika’ which was produced by Plan-B in 2006. Samuelsen’s ‘Miasma,’ also produced in 2006, was a result of SLAM. Others include Cort Brinkerhoff’s Squat, produced by Alive Theatre in Long Beach aboard the Queen Mary, and, most recently, ‘Nuts’ by Julie Jensen, which was retitled ‘The Brown Shoes’ and published in ‘Ten 10-Minute Plays.’ This season’s winter production, ‘Mesa Verde’ by Bennett originated as a short play in Plan-B’s annual slam five years ago. (PHOTO: Eric Samuelsen’s ‘Burning Desire,’ SLAM 2008)
The process is unforgiving and brutal as the schedule indicates. As soon as the playwrights deliver their scripts at 9 a.m. on Saturday, copies are made for the creative team, which has 10 hours to stage the work, beginning at 9:30 a.m. Directors work with a design team and a cast of actors (15 total for the entire event). One hour is given over to a meal and the 24th hour, of course, is the performance. Directors for this year are John Graham, Alexandra Harbold, Kyle Lewis, Kay Shean and Christy Summerhays. Two individuals – Kirt Bateman and Stephanie Howell – have participated in every SLAM.
Last year, all of the playwrights received the same title – ‘Control_Alt_Delete’ – and did surprisingly well in working various metaphors around computer jargon’s ‘three-finger salute.’ Samuelsen did a nice riff echoing the popular ‘Moby Duck’ book by Donovan Hohn. Jensen’s take was a playful, good-spirited jab at theater life, in the form of two anthropomorphic prop benches destined to take on new significance in each production cycle. Nii’s provided a classic, sensitive tale about a young gay man, recently diagnosed with cancer, who leaves his partner with the intent of sparing him the burden of dealing with his serious illness. However, his brother and sister-in-law believe he should not abandon his relationship.
A huge audience pleaser, Bennett’s play was a fast-paced ribald, bawdy romp with lots of physical comedy. He took a simple tale of couple with obvious sexual dysfunctional issues and livened it with a sexual counselor/surrogate going by the name of ‘Dr E. Z,’ references to ‘Dungeons and Dragons,’ and a literal stable of mischievous double entendres.
The benefit goal is less than 20 percent of an incredibly efficient annual budget of less than $200,000, a rather amazing feat for a small theater that manages at least three full runs of shows, consistently with sold-out performances. Rapier also will announce the productions for the 2012-2013 season.
Tickets are available by calling (801) 355-ARTS or by visiting here. They are $25 for reserved seats and a $10 for students. A cash bar also will be available and food will be provided by Cali’s Natural Food.
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