Editor’s Note: This is the first of a two-part preview of Plan-B’s 21st season. Tomorrow, The Selective Echo previews Aden Ross”Lady Macbeth.’
As in many other years, the onstage female voice will again be prominent in the forthcoming 21st season of Plan-B Theatre. However, the significance that all three world premiere productions – ‘Lady Macbeth,’ ‘The Third Crossing,’ and ‘The Scarlet Letter’ – are penned by Utah women is one that should not be lost upon the audience.
‘There’s been a quite a debate about the lack of the female playwright’s voice on the American stage,’ says Jerry Rapier, Plan-B’s producing director. ‘Certainly that voice is less plentiful in many areas outside of Salt Lake. I would say that here in Utah, given our size relative to much larger theater markets, we probably would rank in the top when it comes to produced works by female playwrights – or by original playwrights overall.’
All three playwrights – Aden Ross, Debora Threedy, and Jenifer Nii – have had work produced by Plan-B with excellent results. Rapier adds it is a coincidence that the entire season’s offerings this year are by women. ‘Each of these plays happened to be ready for staging at this point,’ he adds.
There may be 5,000 or more women playwrights in the United States. While women make up approximately 40 percent of the Dramatists Guild of America’s membership (and there are roughly a little more than 2,200 women members), barely 10 percent of works of all types produced by regional, resident theaters, and off-Broadway houses were written by women.
And, women playwrights have barely gained ground in the last century. A 2009 article in The Dramatist indicated that in the 1908-09 New York stage season, a larger percentage of works (13 percent) by women playwrights was staged than in 2008-2009 (12.8 percent).
Unfortunately, while no one either in or out of the artistic field has been able to offer a solid testable hypothesis about why this is so, some of Plan-B’s most successful works – with all but 22 of its productions in its 20-year history as world premieres – have been penned by women. These include Carol Lynn Pearson’s ‘Facing East,’ which transferred off-Broadway, toured in San Francisco, and is now being adapted for a film. Ross’ 2006 play ‘Amerika’ also was produced in Toronto’s Fringe Festival. Mary Dickson’s ‘Exposed’ toured Utah and Lesléa Newman’s ‘A Letter to Harvey Milk’ toured to Der Lesbisch-schwules Kulturhaus in Frankfurt, Germany.
Already, more than 75 percent of the tickets for Ross’ new play ‘Lady Macbeth,’ which opens next week (see tomorrow’s Selective Echo for a preview), have been sold. This is a consistent phenomenon with Plan-B’s strong original brand of theatrical works that deftly challenges cultural and historical biases and stereotypes and effectively trumps the defects of mainstream elitist approaches to cultural awareness and knowledge.
The formula obviously works. Its string of consecutive sold-out productions has spanned the last five seasons.
Plan-B’s new season builds upon a much broader, deeper theme that has been percolating and evolving over the last few years in its work. This, of course, is the era of telegenic politicians, the Glenn Becks, Sarah Palins, Tea Party activists, and other self-anointed conservative keepers of the long-standing humanities canon who believe they have rightly distilled the meaning and intent of classic literature and the nation’s historical narrative as it has been told for the last two centuries.
However, each of these three plays – whether it’s Shakespeare, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s classic book, or the widely recognized yet hugely incomplete story of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings – leads audiences to reconnect with the larger importance of the literature and history. And, to help us realize that each of us has a more extended cultural obligation going well beyond the mere capacity to ‘name drop’ Shakespeare, Sally Hemings, or Hester Prynne as a way of impressing others with our knowledge of trivia.
In their original works, Ross, Threedy, and Nii transform the disparate or remote elements of these historical and literary artifacts into passionate, contemporarily exciting opportunities that suddenly awaken the audience to the practicality of knowing these stories. And, at a time where obsequious loyalty – whether in the community, political arena, and the workplace – seems to be more valued than an independently confident command of even general knowledge, these works awaken our keenest urges to beef up our cultural and historical literacy.
Plan-B’s socially conscious theater, indeed, enriches our lives especially in the practical realm. These plays open up channels for us to have the ideal conversations emboldening us to stand up for our beliefs and principles and to enrich our capacities for loving our families, raising the members of our younger generations, and improving our communities.
Lady Macbeth, which will run from Oct. 27 to Nov. 6, incorporates an impressive roster of Shakespeare characters and references: Lady Macbeth, the court fool, Iago, Portia, Gertrude, Malvolio, Ophelia, and Othello. In Ross’ hand, some characters such as Iago, Ophelia, and Malvolio get customized treatment. Ross is concerned not only about the absurdity of our political discourse but also about how corporatism has rendered government ineffectual.
Aiming for the full weight of contemporary urgency, ‘Lady Macbeth’ becomes an entertaining polemical mashup of Shakespeare and an always full supply of malapropisms, pop culture references, and appropriately timed absurdities. It reminds us that having a broad baseline knowledge about the world – without necessarily being imprisoned or paralyzed by wonky details or Machiavellian machinations – is probably the best attribute to have in making the most judicious choices about how we should progress.
In Threedy’s ‘Third Crossing,’ (March 8-18, 2012) while she examines the relationship between Jefferson and Hemings, Threedy sets the tone for developing a more informed understanding about race in this country. As Ta-Nehisi Coates, a senior editor for The Atlantic, has written:
‘Put bluntly, this is a country too ignorant of itself to grapple with race in any serious way. The very nomenclature — “conversation on race” — betrays the unseriousness of the thing by communicating the sense that race can be boxed from the broader American narrative. It proceeds from the sense that one can intelligently speak of Thomas Jefferson without mentioning Sally Hemings; that one can discuss Andrew Jackson without discussing the black artillerymen who fought with him (and were ultimately betrayed by him) at the Battle of New Orleans; that one can discuss suffrage without Sojourner Truth, Ida B. Wells or Frederick Douglass.’
Threedy, a member of the University of Utah law school faculty, is particularly well suited as a playwright to shift the perspective away from verdicts and conclusive answers to enlightened questions and searches for evidence.
Nii’s adaptation of ‘The Scarlet Letter’ (April 12-22, 2012) shows that Hawthorne’s story, published more than 160 years ago, remains fresh and timeless in the 21st century, all while preserving the period integrity of the author’s original manuscript. Nii pulls to the surface all of the most uncomfortable elements that reveal the more accurate accounts of a deeply embarrassing, violent, and religious stream of national consciousness that rips apart the fairytale version of our school days and reminds us just how religious discord always has been a part of our national psyche.
The season will close May 12 with its ninth annual ‘Slam,’ Plan-B’s annual benefit and playwriting slam competition. Performances for all productions will be held at the Rose Wagner Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Salt Lake City.
Other events include Plan-B’s involvement on Nov. 7 in the global theatrical event, “Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays.’ The performance in the Creer Auditorium of The Salt Lake Art Center is part of the company’s Script-in-Hand series and will feature local radio personality Bill Allred, Equality Utah Executive Director Brandie Balken, Kirt Bateman, Kim Blackett, RadioWest’s Doug Fabrizio, Stephanie Howell, Jay Perry, Teresa Sanderson and Betsy West. Proceeds from the local event will benefit Equality Utah.
Free readings of new plays in progress – the Script-in-Hand Series – will be held once again this season in conjunction with the Meat and Potato Theatre and the Theatre Arts Conservatory. The dates include March 14 and April 18 and in the late summer.
Mindful of making its artistic efforts as widely accessible and affordable as possible, Plan-B has kept ticket prices stable and its budget as austere as possible. However, as with any fully engaged community artistic organization, it will need further financial support to continue its mission of presenting original work by Utah playwrights. And, consistently sold-out productions testify strongly to the deep base of original writing talent being cultivated in Utah.
As a cultural enterprise as wisely predicated on prudent business management as it is in busting conventional aesthetic boundaries of theater, Plan-B has provided the creative outlet for nearly 800 artists in its history. With more than 60 awards under its belt, Plan-B also has been instrumental in raising funds for nearly 40 local nonprofit organizations.
Season subscriptions are $75, which represent significant savings off the single ticket price of $20 and $40 for the playwriting slam benefit. Student tickets are available for individual performances at $10 each.
For more information, see here.
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