Editor’s Note: Since 1991, Plan-B Theatre has enjoyed a continuously growing presence on the city’s performing arts scene. Operating under a small professional theatre agreement with Actors’ Equity Association, the company has developed a reputation for original productions and premieres of plays that encompass a diverse range of issues hitting directly at the heart of social conscience, contemporary political thought, and cultural pluralism. It has explored every medium, from farce and puppetry, to radio plays and mask pieces, to dumbshows and independent adaptations of classical literature and, most importantly, to plays that transcend state and national borders with fundamental themes of social consciousness. Incorporated as a non-profit in 1995, the company has offered full seasons of performances continuously since 1996.
The company’s visibility in the theatrical world has grown substantially in the last couple of years. In 2005, the world premiere of Leslea Newman’s A Letter to Harvey Milk was presented to Der Lesbisch-schwules Kulturhaus in Frankfurt, Germany. The world premiere of Aden Ross’ AMERIKA traveled to the 2006 Toronto Fringe Festival. And, in 2007, Plan-B became the first Utah-based theatre company in history to transfer one of its own productions off-Broadway – the world premiere of Carol Lynn Pearson’s Facing East – which also was presented in San Francisco. The production will be taken in 2009 to the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival.
Photos feature Teri Cowan and Colleen Lewis in The Alienation Effekt and the cast and crew of Facing East outside their off-Broadway home.
Now the resident company of the downtown Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center and a consistent winner of local media awards, Plan-B also received Equality Utah’s Allies For Equality Award this year.
The 2007-08 season opens Oct. 19 with the world premiere of Exposed, an original play by Utahn Mary Dickson exploring the human consequences of the state’s experience with being downwind of nuclear bombs the U.S. government tested in the Nevada desert from the 1950s to the 1990s. The run concludes Nov. 4. Other productions for the season include: Gutenberg! The Musical! (Nov. 16 – Dec. 30); The End of the Horizon (March 14 – 30), and The Tricky Part (works of local and regional playwrights) (May 30 – June 15). Other season highlights include Plan-B’s Radio Hour, a Halloween-themed program of original plays, to be broadcast Oct. 31 on KUER-FM’s RadioWest show; Slam (where five 10-minute plays are created in 23 hours and are presented in the last hour) on May 17, and the annual fundraiser, And The Banned Played On, which will be held July 21.
As the company prepares for its new season, Producing Director Jerry Rapier has been invited to do a Q&A with The Selective Echo.
SE: Throughout its history, Plan-B Theatre has exemplified the ideal of theater as a community process but it also is increasingly evident that the company’s original shows and productions resonate well beyond the state’s borders. What is the significance of this in the larger theatrical world?
JR: We focus on staging compelling stories and other opportunities tend to follow. We’re doing what we can to emphasize the power of regional stories and local voices. Doing so has really helped us find our voice as a company. Theatre doesn’t have to originate in New York to be compelling.
SE: What was the turning point in the company’s history that solidified Plan-B’s place in the city’s artistic community as an indispensable outlet for the performing arts?
JR: Without question it was our production of The Laramie Project in 2001. We were the first company in the world licensed to produce the play, which was an honor. We weren’t really prepared for the power of the play. It was an experience that transcended attending the theatre – it was communal; it was personal. As Utahns, it was our story in so many ways. The Laramie experience gave us perspective.
SE: How has the company’s mission evolved since its founding in the early 1990s? What lessons seemed to have been most instructive for the company’s growth and maturity?
JR: Our mission has expanded to include – really focus – on social issues. And the greatest lessons learned seem so basic, but I really believe three things keep us alive and vital: (1) making mission-based decisions on all levels; (2) paying attention to who our audience really is; and (3) maintaining a collaborative, ensemble-focused work environment.
SE: As the city continues to wrestle with the challenge of bridging the religious divide, in what ways does Plan-B help to navigate and negotiate this tricky realm?
JR: We do what we do without apology, but also with a tremendous amount of respect. I firmly believe that is what allows us to create theatre that creates conversation. At the end of an evening at Plan-B we want the audience’s experience to be beginning – our hope is that they’ve got something to talk about – conversation.
SE: In selecting original work for production, what elements and traits become most evident for a new play to be premiered by Plan B?
JR: First and foremost, the work has to fit our mission. And it has to elicit a gut reaction from myself and Cheryl Ann Cluff, the managing director. And it has to have resonance for us – here, now – as Utahns.
SE: What surprising insight might one find in terms of the audiences being reached by Plan-B’s productions?
JR: It’s no secret that ours is a liberal audience. But Plan-B is one of the few places in Utah you’ll find a teenager with spacers in his ears next to a Mormon grandma at a Sunday matinee.
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