Plan-B Theatre Company isn’t a specifically “gay” or LGBT dramatic organization.
But, the troupe’s producing director, Jerry Rapier, says, “We’re pretty gay.”
That’s not simply because most of the organization is made up of those who are L, G, B or T (Rapier jokes that if the general population is about 10 percent LGBT, Plan-B is the opposite). The company really does make it a conscious point to perform LGBT-themed drama as part of its broader mission to produce “unique and socially conscious” theatre.
“Our interest in doing that is simply to assist in the [LGBT] movement in the way that we can,” Rapier said in a recent interview with QSaltLake.
For 25 years, Plan-B has been the place for alternative (as the name suggests) theatre of one sort of another.
The company started out itself as an alternative, Rapier explains.
Plan-B founders Tobin Atkinson and Cheryl Ann Cluff had been theatre students at Southern Utah State College (now Southern Utah University). Plan “A” was for them to go off to New York City and become famous actors. Plan “B” would be to somehow do the kind of theatre that they seldom if ever saw performed in Salt Lake City.
As things would have it, Plan “B” won out.
“We were very much a bohemian, itinerant company for the first decade,” Rapier says. They performed in many and varied types of spaces, “Very rarely in an actual theatre,” Rapier says.
The focus of the group was on original works by Atkinson himself.
“Then Tobin decided to join the Army at the age of 35,” Rapier says. Atkinson left, and Rapier came on in his place.
That was in the 2000.
A year later, the company had a huge success, and somewhat of a turning point, with its production of The Laramie Project, a play about the murder of gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard in 1998. It was the first time the play was produced by anyone other than the original creators, the Tectonic Theatre Project.
“It was a big gamble the creators of that show took on us,” Rapier says. “We were very small. No one knew who we were.”
But the production was a success, so much so that, says Rapier, “It helped us really focus our mission on socially conscious theatre,” and a bit more specifically, “It solidified our commitment to producing at least one LGBT-focused play each season.”
The company has done that ever since.
“We’re really interested in in plays about queer people, their lives and their issues,” Rapier says. He says the company’s goal is not simply to give volume to LGBT voices, but to even give volume to voices that, even within the LGBT movement itself, are sometimes unheard inside that movement.
Rapier says there are two plays in particular that really received notoriety for not only speaking to the LGBT community, but helping the broader community at large understand how difficult being gay in this particular place can be. They were Facing East and Borderlands.
“Facing East” was written by Carol Lynn Pearson, and shows the story of an LDS mother and father coming to terms with the suicide of their gay son as they come to know their son’s partner. The play was so successful that ran for a time off-Broadway, and toured in San Fransisco.
“It was a huge mile-marker in the development of our company,” Rapier says.
The other play was by Plan-B resident playwright Eric Samuelsen, called Borderlands — “a piece,” says Rapier, “about coming out in many different ways.”
Both plays addressed the influence the LDS church can have on being gay in Utah.
“Those two plays really reverberated in the community at large,” Rapier says.
Rapier says such plays (though he includes all “socially conscious” plays in this, not simply those highlighting LGBT issues) allow people an entry point into aspects of issues that are otherwise closed due to dogma or ideology.
“Theatre gives us the opportunity to take the big idea and make it personal,” he says.
The company’s website puts it this way: “We believe the best way to serve our community is to reflect it onstage — to create conversation, to provide an opportunity for patrons to think a little differently, to consider a point-of-view that may have been previously foreign, to listen in a way they may have not have before.”
That the company has achieved this is perhaps reflected in the many awards and recognitions it has received throughout the years. A by-no-means exhaustive list includes the following:
- Utah Governor’s Organization Leadership in the Arts Award (2015).
- Salt Lake City’s Mayor’s Artist Award for Service to the Arts by an Organization (2015).
- Transgender Education Advocates of Utah’s Organization of the Year (2013).
- Human Rights Campaign’s Equality Award – Organization (2011).
- Transgender Education Advocates of Utah’s Organization of the Year (2010).
- Equality Utah’s Allies for Equality Award – Organization (2007).
- 20 QSaltLake Fabby Awards (2005–present), including ‘Best Local Theatre Company’ all 11 years the award has existed.
- 49 City Weekly Slammy/Arty Awards (2000–present), including ‘Best Local Theatre Production’ 13 of the past 14 seasons.
While it sounds evident Rapier is proud of Plan-B’s fulfillment of the “socially conscious” portion of its mission, to celebrate its 25th year the company is honing in on the other part of its mission — to produce “unique” works.
“We wanted to shake ourselves out of our comfort zone a little bit,” Rapier says.
This year, the company is producing its first-ever original musical, which also happens to be this year’s LGBT-themed production as well. The play is called Kingdom of Heaven.
“It focuses on a Mormon housewife who discovers drag, and finds that she feels a lot more comfortable with who she is as an individual the more involved she gets performing as a drag king,” Rapier says.
That however, is Plan-B’s season finale, running March 31-April 10, 2016.
Plan B’s 2015-1016 season:
THE KREUTZER SONATA
by Eric Samuelsen
Oct. 18-Nov. 9, 2015
This play is about a man who is driven mad by Beethoven’s music and the idea that his musician wife is having an affair with another musician she plays with. Whenever he hears Beethoven’s music, all he can think of is the two of them together, and he eventually murders them both.
The play is accompanied by a live performance of Beethoven’s music by Utah Symphony musicians Kathryn Eberle (violin) and Jason Hardink (piano).
“It’s not for theatrical purists, and it’s not for classical music purists,” Rapier says. “We’re creating something that is its own thing. The piece gives these two highly regarded, very proper musicians a chance to let loose a little bit.”
RADIO HOUR EPISODE 10: OTHERWHERE
Matthew Ivan Bennett
Oct. 30, 2015
This is the 10th collaboration between Plan-B and KUER’s Radio West with Doug Fabrizio. The program has become a Halloween tradition, and for the 10th anniversary the production is moving back into the studio for a live broadcast 11 a.m. on KUER (with a recorded rebroadcast at 7 p.m.). In order to keep a spooky surprise, “We’re not promoting it like a regular show,” Rapier says. “Our hope is to get at least one listener to completely lose their shit!”
by Rob Tennant
Dec. 3-13, 2015
On the surface, this world premiere is about the hell of working retail during the holidays. Underneath, it’s about the effects of big-box retailers not only on those whom they serve, but on those who work for them: underemployment, income inequality, job insecurity and crushing debt.
It tells the story of Casey, a bookstore clerk who has had it with his job, holiday crowds and rude customers—and makes a momentous decision in response.
“It’s very funny; it’s very dark,” says Rapier. “It wouldn’t be as dark in May as it is in December. But for a holiday show, it’s a little dark. There will be no cast members joining hands and singing Christmas carols in this one.”
BASED ON A TRUE STORY
by Elaine Jarvik
Feb. 25-March 6, 2016
The play is about a woman who literally gets lost in time: Megan is a refugee who may never get back to her husband and normal life, and she bemoans her bad fortune. But the story of fellow refugee Chuck is even more complicated and intriguing than her own.
“Based on a True Story” examines relationships and choices, and the ways our narratives affect the way we view ourselves.
“It really asks the question, ‘How true are the stories we tell ourselves?’” Rapier says.
KINGDOM OF HEAVEN
Book and Lyrics by Jenifer Nii, Music and Lyrics by David Evanoff
March 31-April 10, 2016
When a Mormon housewife finds her true calling as a drag king, what will be the impact on her marriage, family, friendships, and her faith? In an exploration of a conversation that is growing nationwide, the play examines what happens when how a woman is supposed to function, and how she wants to function, are not the same thing in a religious context.
“It’s very universal in its approach to what it means to be a woman who doesn’t fit into the faith that she loves,” Rapier says.
For more information about Plan-B Theatre Company, or to purchase tickets for individual plays or for the entire season, go to www.planbtheatre.org.