Arts News

Plan-B Theatre Co: Celebrating Locally Grown Theatre for 20 Years

In celebration of 20 years of fine, original, award-winning works by local playwrights, Plan-B Theatre Company is offering five ‘free’ anniversary events. And, as in seasons past, Plan-B partners up with the Utah AIDS Foundation to bring you the first of the five events — a free ‘reading’ of Larry Kramer’s ground-breaking play The Normal Heart, Aug. 14. Then, in October is Radio Hour: Marathon, a rebroadcast of the five previous Radio Hours, 2006-2010; in December, in partnership with KUER, there will be a free reading of David Sedaris writings; and, dotted throughout the season, the Script-in-Hand Series, readings of new plays-in-progress by Utah playwrights, will be showcased.

Plan-B’s Artistic Director Jerry Rapier talks about the company’s 20th anniversary productions; the relevance of a 25-year-old AIDS-topic play in today’s society; and the company’s continuing mission to support local artists.

Explain how the ‘reading’ of a play works — is it like a table reading, raw and unrehearsed?

Raw yes, unrehearsed no. A reading can have just as much impact as a full production if presented correctly. The actors will be seated with scripts in their hands. But the show will be lit, with sound. My goal is to execute things in such a way that the audience forgets about those scripts! We will rehearse for four days prior to the reading. And, it’s meant to feel a little more adrenalin-propelled than a full production, much like our reading of The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later…An Epilogue at Kingsbury Hall last fall.

And the actors involved: Kirt Bateman, Matthew Ivan Bennett, Daisy Blake, Joe Debevc, Mark Fossen, John Graham, Doug Fabrizio, Jay Perry and Christy Summerhays, are fantastic.

Give a brief synopsis of The Normal Heart.

It chronicles the rise of the HIV/AIDS crisis in New York City between 1981 and 1984. It was literally written in real time by Larry Kramer as he documented what was happening to himself and his friends before anyone knew what HIV was.

How relevant today is Kramer’s play to its premiere in 1985?

The complacency over HIV/AIDS; the increasingly frustrating access to health care; the difficulty our community sometimes has in truly coming together as a community — all of these make The Normal Heart feel as if were written for us, now, rather than 25 years ago.

This reading is, I guess, a precursor to Plan-B’s 2010-11 season, its 20th season. In what ways does this reading mark the future endeavors of the company?

To launch our 20th anniversary we wanted to do something free to thank those who support us. And we wanted to highlight our community partnerships. Meanwhile, the Utah AIDS Foundation approached us about working with them on an event for their 25th anniversary. Since we have a history of partnership (The Laramie Project, Hedwig and The Angry Inch, Patient A, Facing East, The Tricky Part) it made perfect sense to partner with them on a joint anniversary event. And once I realized The Normal Heart is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year as well — well, the stage was set!

This project speaks to Plan-B’s future in a couple of ways. We will continue to partner with community organizations with each production (we’ve helped 33 non-profits raise funds via our Benefit Performances Program over the last decade). And we will continue to stage at least one production of special interest to the LGBT community each season as part of our mission to “develop and produce unique and socially conscious theatre.”

Any plans to do a reading or full production of The Normal Heart’s sequel The Destiny of Me?

We initially considered a marathon reading of both plays on the same day but we decided that focusing on The Normal Heart was the best way to focus on the work of both Plan-B and UAF and our anniversaries!

As mentioned above, our mission is to develop and produce unique and socially conscious theatre. We’re currently accomplishing that through new plays by Utah playwrights. So, producing The Normal Heart isn’t possible. However, the reading gives us a great opportunity to share a fantastic play that has never been staged in Utah.

Out of the upcoming season’s productions: She Was My Brother, Mesa Verde, Borderlands — which do you think will have the strongest impact on the audience/community, and why?

Wow, that’s a hard question. I would hope they would have equal impact since they each deal with issues germane to our community.

Julie Jensen’s She Was My Brother (Oct. 28-Nov. 7) follows two Victorian anthropologists into their relationship with a two-spirited Zuni leader in this exploration of love, gender identity. The play kicks off Transgender Awareness Month.

Mesa Verde (Feb. 24-Mar. 6), the latest by our resident playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett, explores the relationship between two estranged sisters and their late mother. It’s a play about facing family.

Eric Samuelsen’s Borderlands ( Mar. 31-Apr. 10) explores the process of coming out — just not in the usual sense — within Mormon culture. What does one do with questions within a faith that doesn’t allow for them? It’s a journey into unexpected honesty.

Those who’d like to attend the free reading of The Normal Heart (general admission; cash bar), please rsvp to Jerry Rapier at [email protected] by August 13. Walk-ups will be seated after those who have RSVPd.

You can subscribe to the whole season (including And the Banned Slammed On, Plan-B’s annual fund raiser) at planbtheatre.org — click ‘tickets & giving’ for just $87. Single tickets are $20 to each of the plays and $40 for the fund raiser.

The QSaltLake staff congratulates Jerry and Plan-B on 20 outstanding years!

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