Arts News

Pygmalion Theatre Co: Bringing Life to Women

It may not be of common knowledge that Pygmalion Theatre Company opened in 1995 in Ogden, Utah. Reb Fleming and Nancy Roth had the distinct idea of creating great theatre from “women’s perspectives,” and thus Pygmalion was born (a Greek king who created an ivory statue, Galatea, a maiden who came to life by Aphrodite). Much like the Greek myth, the company strives to bring incredible women to life on the stage.

In 2002, Fleming and Roth moved the company to Salt Lake City, where it resides today as a tenant of the Rose Wagner Center and is currently run by its artistic director, Fran Pruyn.

Today, Pruyn continues Fleming and Roth’s mission of bringing women to the forefront of modern theatre.

“There’s not much written [for the theatre] by women or that have great women’s roles,” said Pruyn. “Most theatre companies are not run by women, it’s nothing more than that … just a fact.” Pruyn noted that this fact is odd since women make up the majority of theatre audiences … well and gay men, she joked.

However, Pygmalion is not “exclusively female.” Many of their productions are written by men, but have strong and interesting roles for women. Also, they bring in male directors, such as Jerry Rapier (Plan-B Theatre Company), and men currently sit on the board.

Pruyn joined Pygmalion in 2004, after Fleming and Roth hired her to direct one of their shows, Beyond Therapy, a comedy written by Christopher Durang, about a woman’s attraction to a bisexual man who has a male lover. One critic said of the production, “[A] talented cast makes most of ‘Beyond Therapy.’”

Talent may just be what keeps Pygmalion a thriving and popular source of great theatre. “What I try to do with the company is get the best talent available,” said Pruyn. “We are remarkably fortunate with the actors, designers, directors we get, but that doesn’t mean everybody’s going to like every choice we make or every show we make.” Pruyn also hires only local talent, “some equity, some not.” “It’s more afforable,” Pruyn admitted. “But also there’s amazing talent here.”

Pygmalion’s 2009-10 season reincarnates two wildly intriguing shows and premieres one “cabaret-style” production. “We [Pygmalion] put on only three shows a year,” said Pruyn. “ It’s a lot of work and about all I can handle.”

Opening the season, in October, is the return of The Passion of Sister Dottie S. Dixon: Second Helpings. The show made it’s debut last season to both outstanding critical and audience acclaim, which prompted Pruyn to bring it back this season for a longer run. Written by Troy Williams and Charles Frost, and performed by Frost, Passion mingles a mother’s LDS beliefs and her adoration for her gay son.

“There have been some alterations made to the original script,” said Pruyn. “We’ve broadened its universalism so it will be a little bit more understandable for people who aren’t LDS.”
Also Pruyn elaborated, “I consider Dottie from a woman’s perspective, you know. When Charles said he channels his mother, I believed it.”

Next, the company puts on a production of Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, by Lanie Robertson. “It’s a cabaret-style” show about one of Billie Holiday’s last gigs in Philadelphia before she died,” Pruyn said.
The role of Billie hasn’t yet been cast, but Pruyn believes it should be a tour-de-force performance. Also, the “piano player” on stage will also be the musical director of the production.

Closing out the season is the return of another Pygmalion hit from 2008, Del Shores’ Sordid Lives, a white-trash comedy of hilarious proportion. The cast of the 2008 production portrayed their characters with humorous fervor and equally distasteful elegance … just as they were written. Though the entire original cast will not return for this season’s production, Pruyn said that Michael Candam will return in the role of Brother Boy. “I would be a little hesitant to do the show without Michael,” she admitted.

As a sneek-peak to the 2010-11 season at PTC, Pruyn said they are currently workshopping an orginal show by Elaine Jarvik of the Deseret News. “It’s a beautiful, beautiful piece of theatre called The Coming Ice Age,” she said. “It’s about being older and that transition, and letting go of life.”

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