Utah 2018/19 Season In Review by Melissa Leilani Larson
It may be surprising to some how much support there is for new work in Utah. Down south, the Utah Shakespeare Festival has made a series of staged readings part of its annual repertoire. Several university theatre departments across the state offer courses in new play development. In Utah’s capital, Pioneer Theatre Company (PTC) offers a series of new play readings as a supplement to their season. This past year, Guild member and Salt Lake City native, Matthew Ivan Bennett’s Art & Class was presented as part of PTC’s Play-by-Play reading series. PTC artistic director Karen Azenberg believes strongly in the necessity of supporting new plays. “Nothing is more important to the long-term vitality of American theatre as an art form than the nurturing of new voices and new work,” she said.
Salt Lake Acting Company (SLAC) has also made new work part of its standard programming. Three of the four New Play Sounding Series readings presented at SLAC this past season were written by local writers—Rachel Bublitz’s Burst; Kathleen Cahill’s The Robertassey; and Elaine Jarvik’s Four Women Talking about the Man under the Sheet.
Kathleen Cahill workshopped her most recent production, Silent Dancer, in a week-long intensive at SLAC in February 2017, utilizing local actors and dancers. The play, a jazz-infused mix of dance and theatre, just received its world premiere at SLAC in May 2019.
Plan-B Theatre Company has made new work its mission. Plan-B focuses its whole season on producing new work by local writers, with almost every season being composed entirely of world premieres. In addition to commissioning a short play that tours elementary schools each fall, they produce three world premieres by local writers, as well as a series of staged readings. Plan-B is the first Utah theatre company to sponsor a workshop focusing on the creation of new plays written by theatre artists of color, committing to presenting staged readings of those works each year, working toward the goal of eventual production.
Plan-B’s 2018/19 season included world premieres by Matthew Greene (In Good Standing) and Elaine Jarvik (An Evening with Two Awful Men) and concluded with a full production of …of Color: several short plays created in the Theatre Artists of Color Writing Workshop: Driver’s License, Please by Olivia Custodio; The Frailest Thing by Bijan Hosseini; American Pride by Iris Salazar; and Roar by Darryl Stamp. The fall elementary school tour presented Zombie Thoughts, co-written by Jennifer A. Kokai and her eleven-year-old son, Oliver Kokai-Means. Plan-B also hosts The Lab, where eleven member playwrights gather monthly to share table reads of their latest projects. Plan-B’s annual Script-in-Hand Series presents staged readings of new plays, including this season’s Balthazar by Debora Threedy and Donna by Jenifer Nii.
Playwright Morag Shepherd is a resident artist at Sackerson, a theatre group intent on exploring ordinary stories in extraordinary spaces. They produce a mix of existent and new work. One of their recent adventures, Morag Shepherd’s Hindsight, was a love story he experienced by walking alongside the actors through downtown Salt Lake City.