The Perils of Existing in a Black Body and What Happens Next- Plan-B Theatre's 'Oda Might'
October 28, 2019
by Camille Washington
There are sometimes when the bottom doesn't seem low enough. Then, after surviving a car crash and knocking on a door seeking assistance, Renisha McBride was shot and killed near Detroit. In the midst of those stirring and unrestful early days of the Black Lives Matter movement, it was hard to feel anything but the pull of immediate action. March. Protest. Anything but write. A play.
Oda Might started as an examination of something else. A tangent about black mysticism and religiosity in the American imagination. But the image of an injured, young black woman seeking help and being shot dead instead would not leave my thoughts.
Another instance of the perils of existing in a black body. Devastating loss is always eminent. Present in the most mundane or extreme situations.
The patient in Oda Might is an admitted crook. A grifter and con who spent her adult life breaking the law to make a living. That isn't why she is in a mental hospital, though. She believes she was scapegoated for murder because she's a spiritual medium. Her psychiatrist wants to believe her but isn’t yet convinced.
As a doctor whose specialty is mental health, she has first-hand experience with varying perceptions of reality. More than that, she knows about public mistrust and misconceptions about her field. At a certain point in the play, the doctor divulges to the patient that her mother never believed in a doctor to whom one would divulge their emotions or thoughts.
In this way, there is a relationship with mysticism on both sides. A reliance on faith in a complicated, often misunderstood, systems. A constant need to prove, and to explain, and to justify.
So, then, the fact that they are both Black women is critical. They don’t have to waste time proving their personhood to each other-- a constant and exhausting part of blackness. It is possible for them to move on to more pressing matters. Is the patient innocent of the crime that put her in prison? Is innocence relative?
For Renisha McBride the answer was yes. For us black folks often the answer is yes. Given the right - or wrong - circumstances, our blackness precludes the benefit of any doubt.
Camille Washington, playwright of Oda Might
Somehow the stage feels like a more appropriate context in which to tell this type of story than through narrative writing or through reportage. The actors take up visual and physical space, and share that space with the audience. There can be no ambiguity about their race, and it cannot be left up for interpretation. It has to be considered from the moment the play begins.
Whether or not all the above inspiration is immediately apparent when viewing Oda Might, I am sincerely thankful to have theatre as a venue to express these ideas. Most of my other writing to this point has been research-based articles and historical/critical essays. The fact that this play will have a life outside of just written text is, truly, a thrill.
Oda Might is a play about what happens next. Or, what could happen next. In the lives of two women who have everything and nothing in common, brought together by a fantastical circumstance. It is supernatural and suspenseful in a way that only live theatre can achieve.
Playwright Camille Washington is the co-director of Good Company Theatre in Ogden. Her play ODA MIGHT receives its world premiere at Plan-B Theatre November 7-17; tickets and info at planbtheatre.org
Playwright Will Snider on the Utah Premiere of DEATH OF A DRIVER
October 04, 2019
Note: The following remarks by DEATH OF A DRIVER Playwright Will Snider originally appeared in the production's playbill under the title "In the Room with Will Snider"
Salt Lake Acting Company and DEATH OF A DRIVER
By 2017, DEATH OF A DRIVER was dead. I wrote the first draft three years earlier and sent it to theaters hoping it would get a production. It didn’t. So I moved on. I wrote other things and filed this one away. Every six months I would reread the script and find myself missing the story of Kennedy and Sarah, wanting to see it on stage, but I didn’t think it would happen.
By the end of the week, the play was back to life - it went on to have a world premiere starring Patrick in New York earlier this year. And now it’s come home to Utah, to the place responsible for its rebirth. Thank you to Cynthia and everyone else at SLAC for all you do for writers like me. Without the Lab, this play would never have been produced.
The Origins of the Play
“No one has a right to work in a place where their family doesn’t deal directly with the consequences of the work they do.”
I paraphrase words delivered by one of my college professors, Mahmood Mamdani, an anthropologist critical of foreign aid in his home country of Uganda. I listened to him, loved his writing and lectures, and immediately upon graduation violated his dictum. For three years I worked for an agricultural nonprofit in Kenya and Ethiopia that offered microloans of seed and fertilizer to small-scale farmers. We conducted rigorous harvest measurements to determine impact. We ran longitudinal household surveys to determine our effect on health and education.I believed then, and still do, that a good deal of development work is flawed and ineffective, but I felt our methods were different, we were different, I was different. Was I?
Alexandra Harbold, Kareem Fahmy, and Will Snider at the 2018 Playwrights' Lab
My language back then was the language of management consultants, of tech entrepreneurs, of MBA programs, and the use of this language resulted from, and reinforced, a reflexive anti-government stance, a feeling that solutions to socioeconomic problems were found far from polling stations, often in places that looked more like boardrooms. To me, electoral politics was a sideshow, a competition between elites, the result of which mattered little to the subsistence farmers I hoped to help. Anthropologist James Ferguson takes exception this. In his book The Anti-Politics Machine he criticizes development work for serving state needs above local needs, for being anti-political in the ways it ignores, and therefore supports, the political establishment. The more materially transformational foreign-led work is, the more it “helps,” the more it sustains the political status quo, which, in many places with significant foreign aid, is often ineffective if not outright oppressive. A bad government takes credit for good work.
Patrick J. Ssenjovu and Cassandra Stokes-Wiley rehearse during the 2018 Playwrights' Lab
But another part of me finds this argument too easy, a case for inertia, for ignoring pressing problems because they should be solved by local politics and therefore not solving them. Bad governments also have the ability to co-opt this anti-development discourse to defend their own legitimacy. And there is no way to close borders completely – the asymmetric exchange of resources, ideas, languages, and people cannot simply end, even if some wish it could. And so how do we go about transnational work ethically? Is there a way? DEATH OF A DRIVER is much more than the dramatization of my own cognitive dissonance around my early professional life, but I name it as one of the animating anxieties in the writing. It’s one way to watch the play – there are many others. This is the story of two people, of what we like to call the “personal,” and the way that this “personal” is transformed and constrained by national, cultural, economic, and gender difference. And I hope it’s not boring.
Thanks for coming.
Death of a Driver runs at Salt Lake Acting Company through October 20, 2019. When an American engineer moves to Kenya to build a road that will shape the country’s future, her charismatic African driver becomes her first employee and trusted friend. After a dispute over a local election lands him in jail, she questions the integrity of their alliance. DEATH OF A DRIVER is a sharp political drama about the complexities of “doing good” abroad. Tickets and show information can be found at: https://saltlakeactingcompany.org/this-season/item/1467-death-of-a-driver
Plan-B Theatre Presents Flora Meets a Bee, a children's production
September 19, 2019
FLORA MEETS A BEE
By Morag Shepherd
I was born in Scotland and my entire family still lives in the United Kingdom. I have lived in America so long that I feel (mostly) American. But I’m not; I'm a permanent resident. I sometimes still feel like I don’t belong, even though I have lived my entire adult life here.
Once I moved to America, I tried to cope with the constant moving about by hiding my accent. I didn’t want people to know I wasn’t from here. My accent was also a constant reminder of the figurative and literal distance between me my family.
I know what it feels like not to belong.
Usually when I write, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But when I was commissioned to write for Plan-B’s Free Elementary School Tour, my first attempt at writing for children, I knew right away what it would be.
About six months prior to the commission, a seemingly inescapable debate was raging in Salt Lake City about the homeless population within which the humanity of 'the homeless' was getting lost. Because posting on Facebook doesn’t really do anything, I realized I had do something, no matter how small, to help our neighbors that could also involve my children. A friend of a friend was connected to a local shelter that operates a facility for families. We asked her what the kids in that shelter needed most. We were surprised that play-doh was at the top of her list of suggestions. So we put together a play-doh drive. When we made our delivery, I was overwhelmed by the experience of seeing so many children in such need.
I couldn’t stop thinking about them.
I immediately felt the need to write about what it feels like for a child to not belong, for a child to wonder if they are wanted.
During this time I also had several conversations with foster parents about the diﬃculties, realities and joys of fostering. Once I realized that FLORA AND THE BEE would live in the world of foster care, I went into research mode. I read a lot about Utah's foster care system and noticed that two factors seem to impact long-term and permanent placement: being Latinx and the age of the child: eight is, in most cases, the outside edge of adoptability.
I wanted to share and expand on my experience of what it feels like to live half a world away from my biological family. But something was clearly missing. I realized that if Flora were Latina, I could tell a more complex immigrant story than my own. I understand the immigration process but suddenly I was stuck. Was it appropriate for me to tell this story, now? Jerry Rapier from Plan-B and I discussed it at length; we then sought help and counsel from three Latina women connected to Plan-B, all of whom immediately graciously stuck with me through this process to be sure Flora is authentic.
Enter eight-year-old Flora, who has lived in six foster homes in three years. She is riddled with fears and issues, but is also forever likeable and funny (which could probably describe every 8-year-old who ever lived).
Flora spends a lot of time inside her own head. As a young Latina separated from her family and her culture, she struggles with how to simultaneously assimilate and be herself. She thinks a lot about the fact that she doesn’t really own anything. Most of her belongings—clothing, ideas, songs, families—are borrowed, or things she’s taken without permission. The only thing that is truly hers is a penny, a gift from her mother. Flora carries it with her in an attempt to stay connected to her mother, her culture and herself, hoping that it's somehow lucky enough to help things return to what they were. That’s almost too much for a child to carry and remain a child. When Flora meets Bee, she’s relieved to finally have someone to confide in.
The chances are high that any child in any school - my own children! - will, at some point, meet a Flora. My hope is that each student that experiences FLORA MEETS A BEE will get to know this flawed and funny human and gruﬀ-exterior-but-heart-of-gold insect well enough that they will see the value of being a good friend.
FLORA MEETS A BEE, created specifically for grades K-3, will tour Utah as Plan-B Theatre’s sixth annual Free Elementary School Tour. Free public performances at City Library: October 1 at the Glendale Branch, November 2 at the Chapman Branch.
2019 ZAP Tier II Funding Approved!
Over $2.3 million in grant funding will be distributed this year by the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts & Parks program (ZAP) to arts and cultural nonprofits. Salt Lake County Council approved the funding on 27 August 2019 based on the recommendations of the ZAP Tier II Citizen Advisory Board. The ZAP program is a voter-approved fund devoted to supporting arts, culture, and recreation for County residents. Tier II category funds will be distributed to 193 local nonprofits, more than any previous year.
Tier II-funded organizations include community symphonies, museums, dance companies, visual arts programs, theatres, cultural festivals, botanical gardens, and more. Funded activities take place within the Salt Lake County, and recipient organizations span every County district. This year the program saw a 10% increase in submitted applications, 24 of which were new to ZAP.
The Tier II Advisory Board vets each organization through a rigorous application process. In order to be considered, nonprofits must demonstrate how ZAP funds will enhance their capacity to provide arts and cultural experiences to residents and visitors in the County. Last year, Tier II-funded organizations provided over 20,000 Salt Lake County community events and offered 1.7 million free admissions to participants.
Each ZAP Tier II Advisory Board member spent over 30 hours meeting to determine the 2019 funding recommendations, in addition to their personal review of the 205 submitted applications. Scoring prioritizes organizations that add vibrancy to arts and culture in the County, strongly benefit the general public, and demonstrate sound organizational management.
“As a community board, we know how precious the ZAP funds are and we take great care in reviewing each and every program that desires to access these funds.” said Tier II board chair Ryan Benson. “It is my belief that, through this initiative, we are truly enhancing our community in a profound and unique way.”
About Salt Lake County ZAP
Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts and Parks Program facilitates community-supported arts, culture, and recreation grants. The ZAP Program Initiative has been voted on and renewed by Salt Lake County residents since 1996. One cent of evert $10 spent in the County partially funds over 200 County arts and cultural organizations, as well as over 30 parks and recreational facilities.
Plan-B Theatre, Gandhi Alliance for Peace, Granite School District and United Nations Association of Utah are embarking on a unique collaboration as a companion piece to the United Nations Civil Society Conference coming to Salt Lake City at the end of the month.
Adapted from Rabindranath Tagore's classic fable by Utah playwright Melissa Leilani Larson, THE POST OFFICE is the story of Ash (Alexis Bitner, Olympus High School), a child suffering from a mysterious illness. Despite being confined at home by the doctor, she remains hopeful, winning over strangers with her positive attitude and ability to imagine a better life for herself.
THE POST OFFICE is performed by high school students from high schools across Granite School District) and directed by Adam Wilkins, the drama teacher at Cottonwood High School.In addition to the acting roles, there will be student dramaturgy, stage management and student-created show art; as well as shadow opportunities with Adam Wilkins (director) and each member of the design team: Madeline Ashton (set), Cheryl Cluff (sound), Pilar Davis (lighting) Maddiey Howell-Wilkins (costumes).
100% of proceeds benefit Adopt-A-Future, a program of the United Nations Association, providing direct support for refugee education at the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. Donations - and all ticket sales - will be matched 4 to 1!
From Plan-B Theatre
We develop and produce unique and socially conscious theatre created by Utah playwrights. The Dramatists Guild of America has recognized us as the only professional theatre company in the United States producing full seasons of new work by local playwrights.
THE POST OFFICE is presented as part of In the Classroom, our newest educational program. Launched in January of 2018, In the Classroom has served more than 1,000 students K-12 students in Salt Lake City. The foundation of the program is diversity and inclusion, for we believe live theatre enriches and enlivens education and is essential to the development of well-rounded, civically-engaged individuals.
From Gandhi Alliance for Peace
We first learned about Tagore’s play THE POST OFFICE when one of our members read “The King of Children” by Jean Lifton, the story of Janusz Korczak, a Polish pediatrician. During the Nazi control of Warsaw, Korczak’s orphanage was forced to move into the Warsaw ghetto. To help the children accept death, the orphanage produced THE POST OFFICE. When the time came, Korczak boarded the box car for the death camps with the children.
The international community failed to save the children and adults of the Warsaw ghetto. Far too often we continue to fail to protect the children of the world. This new adaptation of THE POST OFFICE gives us here in Utah the opportunity to help more children living in refugee camps receive an education—a fundamental right of childhood.
Art has the power to help us cope with the unacceptable. Art also has the power to inspire us to reach beyond expectations and, sometimes, even to change the world.
From United Nations Association of Utah
Happiness, good health and financial stability are the pursuit of people worldwide. The surest path to achieving this is knowledge. Knowledge is acquired by education or experience. Basic skills and knowledge are learned in part at home or in a community. But formal education plays an important part in securing a satisfying future. Millions of people now living in refugee camps, away from their home of origin and the family and society of their forebears, seek educational opportunities.
The Adopt-A-Future program is providing direct support in the form of schools, teachers and teaching materials to the young people living in Kakuma. Donations (including all ticket sales to THE POST OFFICE) will be matched 1:1 by the Telemarcus Fund and that will be matched 1:1 again by the Educate a Child Fund of Her Highness Sheika Moza Bint Nassar of Qatar, making every $100 donation worth $400.
From Granite School District
We are proud to host one of the largest refugee centers for students in the state. The Language Academy, based in Cottonwood High School, is designed to serve refugees and immigrants from around the world. The Language Academy provides access to a first-class education with highly qualified teachers and staff. Through this enriching and supportive environment, we strive to increase the English language skills and academic achievement of newcomer students to support successful integration into mainstream society. Working with professionals, we hope that THE POST OFFICEproject will inspire this incredibly talented and unique population to contribute to the larger community.
From playwright Melissa Leilani Larson
I was excited to adapt Rabindranath Tagore’s THE POST OFFICEfor several reasons. The original is beautifully simple—it’s a parable, filled with symbolism, about the power of a child’s desire to grow beyond plotted expectations. Part of the beauty of Tagore’s play is that it takes the viewer to a very specific place and time, and it has been a fun challenge to open it up a little for a broader, contemporary audience. There is so much about the central character Amal to admire: his curiosity, his compassion, his guilelessness. As the child of an immigrant, I have a personal stake in the way that our community accepts and interacts with immigrants and refugees. For me, the message of THE POST OFFICEis one of friendship and acceptance, delivered through the medium of theatre, one of the most communal forms of art we have.
From director Adam Wilkins
As the theatre teacher at Cottonwood High School, my primary goal is to educate, inspire and entertain. When given the opportunity to direct THE POST OFFICE for the community, I realized that through working collaboratively with business, non-profits and the Granite School District, I—and, more importantly, the students from across Granite School District that will work on the production—will use theatre as a tool for social awareness and change.
Performances & Tickets
Saturday, August 24 at 4pm & 7pm
Sunday, August 25 at 4pm & 7pm
Monday, August 26 at 7pm
Leona Wagner Black Box Theatre
Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center
138 W 300 S, SLC
801.355.ARTS and/or planbtheatre.org/postoffice
Appropriate for ages 5+
Running time: 55 minutes
All tickets, including student tickets, are $10. If you call 801.355.ARTS or purchase in person in the Rose Wagner box office, student tickets have no fees. It's not possible to order student tickets online.
Theatre folk are often thought to be the cream of the progressive crop, and in many ways that is true. Good theatre challenges norms, questions the status quo, and galvanizes change. Theatre people are in the business of storytelling, and thereby the business of empathy. And yet, even so, the field has primarily been dominated by white men in positions of leadership, whether they be leading the companies, writing the plays, or directing the productions.
Since roughly 2015, the American theatre field at large has seen an impressive turnover of artistic leadership as many founders and long-time leaders are leaving their posts, and while things are improving for women and people of color, we have a long way to go. Data published in a recent American Theatre article reflects that the gender split of artistic leadership has gone from 74% cis men / 23% cis women / 3% transgender or gender non-conforming to 58% cis men / 41% cis women / 1% transgender or gender non-conforming. In terms of race, artistic leadership has gone from 90% white / 10% people of color to 74% white / 26% people of color. These numbers at quick glance look like progress (and they are!), but when you dig a little deeper, you find that the larger the companies get, the less impressive the progress.
Here in Utah, our small (but tasty) piece of the theatrical pie is doing pretty well for itself. Two of our largest professional theatre companies, Pioneer and Salt Lake Acting Company, are run by women; Plan-B Theatre is run by a person of color; Good Company Theatre in Ogden is run by two women of color. (Let’s hear it for Utah!)
Next season at Salt Lake Acting Company (its 49th) brings a line-up of all female directors, of which I am proud to be a part. SLAC has long been known for its progressive programming and overall liberal values, and even so, this particular milestone is a first. Upon its announcement, a male Facebook follower commented something to the effect of, “I guess the men should stay home this season,” which made me ponder the many seasons of many theatres that have had slates of all male directors. I doubt that stopped women from attending.
Having women in the director’s seat matters because the lens through which stories are being told has a profound effect on how the audience receives them. As Rebecca Gilman (playwright and artistic associate at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre) wrote in a recent article for the Chicago Tribune, “…playwrights, directors, designers and actors shape the stories we tell in the theater and the stories we tell become the world we live in. If the stories of one group are hierarchized above those of another, that signals to the world that the rest of us are not nearly as important…”
I am incredibly proud to have spent so much of my career up to this point creating work with Salt Lake Acting Company, where women’s voices and perspectives are integral to every production and the work is all the better for it. Next season’s plays take us on journeys far and wide – from 1890s Norway to present-day East Africa; from a 12-year-old discovering who she is to a pair of middle-aged couples looking to spice up their marriages. The stories are funny and engaging, and while they are each being told by a woman at the helm, make no mistake – men are still invited.
Shannon Musgrave was Associate Artistic Director of Salt Lake Acting Company until April 2019, when she relocated to Pittsburgh. She holds her MA in Arts Management from American University. She loves cooking, plants, yoga, and looks forward to returning to Utah whenever possible to make theatre.
Plan-B Of Color Production
March 05, 2019
… OF COLOR
By Olivia Custodio, Bijan Hosseini, Iris Salazar & Darryl Stamp
…OF COLOR is unlike anything ever undertaken in the history of Utah theatre. It’s the world premiere of four short plays by four Utah playwrights of color – each making their playwriting debut – and includes Utah’s first world premieres by Latina and Persian playwrights.
Playwright Iris Salazar, born in Gomez, Palacios, Durango, Mexico, is the author of “American Pride,” very, very dark comedy about making America great again.
I am not a politician, and I have never been able to articulate or debate politics in any way. I went through a torrent of emotions as I watched Donald Trump attack groups of people and brag about his sexual predatory behavior during his campaign but I naively believed that we would never allow this man to preside over our country.
My disappointment, anger, and sadness were far too large to measure and simply get over as some would suggest. I found myself posting everything anti-Trump that I could post on social media. In the process, I discovered that people who I knew, went to church with and even admired were supportive and defensive of this individual.
As a person of color, I didn’t think I could write a play about white racists, but white people write about people of color all the time, and not always in a good light. So I took what I saw and created “American Pride.” It was a way for me to work through my emotions surrounding our current political state.
As an immigrant female in America, I felt welcomed and empowered when I became an American citizen but now I find myself concerned and can feel powerless. I’d like to believe we haven’t given up, that we have something that still empowers us or that we are working to find something that does. For me, theatre has been just that, whether I am behind the scenes or sitting in the audience watching life played out on the stage.
“American Pride” has been, for me, one way to cope. As playwrights of color, we have all come together and voiced ourselves through these plays. I hope that as you see this production you will cry a little, laugh often, get a glimpse of who we are as people of color, and most importantly, of who you are. This production is just the beginning. Great things will come as Artists of Color continue to unite and do what we are doing with …OF COLOR. I believe theatre is that powerful; we make it that powerful.
Persian/Japanese playwright Bijan Hosseini, author of “The Frailest Thing,” a drama about the difference between wanting to live and not wanting to die.
A mirror is a hell of a thing.
I have no idea what I’m doing. Several people much smarter than me who do have all told me that this is okay.
I [almost] believe them, intellectually.
Emotionally … not so much.
– Not yet anyway.
This experience has been a thing, like a gun to my head, that graciously forced me to do the thing I want to do but haven’t often done – write.
I’ve been led through a process that bled me open and made me look at other processes inside: What’s in my control and what’s not? What do I want to hang on to, and what do I need? What can I let go of, and what can’t I? What do I have to let go of, and how long do I have to be dragged before I finally let go?
I still don’t know.
I don’t have any answers.
– Not yet anyway.
The play, for me, roots this universal existential angst about which one can become mired in intellectualization and puts it into a painful present with very little, if any, control – it puts the gun to the head and forces the reality not of thoughts, but feeling.
African American playwright Darryl Stamp is the author of “Roar.” a dramedy about stand-up comedy.
“Roar” comes from my personal experience as an amateur and professional stand-up comedian. As a two-time winner of Showtime’s Funniest Person in Kansas in the 1980’s, I competed against Ellen DeGeneres, who was named Funniest Person in America. I’ve experienced what it’s like to perform at various open mic nights, to fundraisers with hundreds of people in the audience, to opening for and working with other professional stand-up comedians. I’ve performed at the Santa Monica Improv, Charm City in Baltimore, the Comedy Cellar in New York City and various comedy clubs in Kansas, Missouri, and Louisiana.
The stand-up comedy writing process, the stress associated with entertaining audiences despite what’s going on in your personal life, and the exhilarating feeling you get when you hear audiences laugh is the inspiration for “Roar.”
Most comedic material is the expression of moments that run the gamut of experiences and emotions. Like Richard Pryor ‘s routine about catching himself on fire while freebasing cocaine (“… Save the balls! …”) to Robin Williams “Childbirth” (“… It’s like Winston Churchill and Gandhi had a baby …”), they’re all scripted, worked, amended, rehearsed, performed, and reworked in their earliest stages.
I’ve always believed in writing things down as soon as possible if I’ve experienced something funny or had an epiphany. It’s not unusual for me to get out of bed to write something down that could become material for a stand-up “bit,” or a moment within a moment in a scene in a play.
It’s only natural that the intersection of race, gender, family and culture would be explored in plays about people of color, written by people of color. “Roar” reminds us that the past is inescapable and that hope, forgiveness, and justice for all is needed to heal.
Latina playwright Olivia Custodio is the author of “Drivers License, Please,” a dark comedy about bagels, rental cars and rednecks.
Writing a play is weird. Seriously weird.
As an actor, I usually feel pretty confident when I walk out onto a stage and give a performance. But watching my play onstage?! Welcome to Insecurityville, population: me! It is a very strange thing to write words from your heart and know that people are going to hear them. It’s as though someone else gets to read your diary to a crowd and you have zero power to control how it goes. Personally, I think writing a play is far scarier than being an actor. I still can’t even use the word ‘playwright’ to describe myself.
I was inspired to write “Driver’s License, Please” because of how I was treated by a roomful of men at a car rental agency. The way I had to pretend to know a lot about cars and insurance so that they wouldn’t take advantage of me. The way I had to ignore the fact that the redneck guy next to me was staring at my body the entire time. “Driver’s License, Please” is a metaphor for the state of our union, dramatized to the highest degree, and yet perhaps not too far off.
Writing “Drivers License, Please” has taught me a lot about myself, which isn’t something that I necessarily thought would happen during the process of creating a short play. It has taught me that yes, I do actually know what I’m doing and I have to trust it. I have to be okay with the fact that it will never be perfect and sometimes, as Julie Jensen says, you need to “just write the damn thing!” That other opinions matter, but ultimately I get to tell my story the way I want to. Sure, it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but neither was the awkward and crunchy afro that I sported freshman year of college, and hey, I survived that too.
…OF COLOR receives its world premiere at Plan-B Theatre March 28-April 7. Details and tickets at planbtheatre.org.
UMFA Race to Promontory Exhibit
March 01, 2019
The Race to Promontory: Get a Wide-Angle View at UMFA
One hundred and fifty years ago at Promontory Summit, Utah, the final spike was driven, the transcontinental railroad was complete, and the nation was transformed.
The Race to Promontory: The Transcontinental Railroad and the American West, a major traveling exhibition now on view at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA), offers an extraordinary account of one of the greatest achievements of the nineteenth century through powerful images that still resonate a century and a half after their making.
It also reunites—for the first time in Utah—the famous Golden (The Last Spike), Nevada Silver, and Arizona spikes that were present at the “Meeting of the Rails” on May 10, 1869. All three spikes will be on view at the UMFA through April and then at the Utah State Capitol May 8–12.
Along with these compelling images and historic artifacts, Utahns can explore some of the historically overlooked narratives around this important history through free educational programs with renowned historians, artists, and community members
The Race to Promontory, organized by Joslyn Art Museum and the Union Pacific Railroad Museum, is a cultural centerpiece of Spike 150, the state’s year-long celebration of the anniversary. It’s on view through May 26.
The exhibition connects Utahns with this shared history in ways that only visual art can. The transcontinental railroad joined East and West, triggering dramatic economic, technological, and cultural changes across the nation. Fittingly, this transformative event was captured by the equally groundbreaking medium of photography.
Visitors will experience rare works from photography’s earliest days by practitioners who brought a painter’s eye to this historic moment. The more than 150 photographs and stereographs by Andrew Joseph Russell (1830–1902) and Alfred A. Hart (1816–1908) are drawn exclusively from the Union Pacific Historic Collection at the Union Pacific Railroad Museum.
Visitors will also discover thirty-one works by nineteenth-century Utah photographer Charles Savage, whose scenes of local landscapes helped boost tourism and settlement. Savage’s photographs are on loan from J. Willard Marriott Library Special Collections at the University of Utah.
These nineteenth-century photographers focused primarily on the engineering triumphs of the railroad, the vast resources available for an expanding nation, and the region’s pictorial beauty. Interpretive materials and an interactive gallery help visitors think critically about the ways in which these photographers framed the railroad’s construction for their audiences.
Free educational programs will examine many narratives only alluded to in the images on view—including the experiences of Chinese and Irish immigrants who made up the workforce, members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints who worked alongside them, and Native Americans, whose lives were forever changed as the railroad spurred new migration into their ancestral lands.
Join UMFA on Wednesday, March 6 at 7pm for a free lecture, "Promontory Perspectives: A Faculty Conversation":
Promontory Perspectives: A Faculty Conversation Wednesday, March 6 | 7 pm | Katherine W. and Ezekiel R. Dumke Jr. Auditorium | FREE
Perspectives on the transcontinental railroad and its completion at Promontory Point are as dynamic as the moment itself. Join us for an evening of University of Utah faculty presentations that examine the significance of this historical event through diverse critical lenses. Featured presenters include Paisley Rekdal, Utah poet laureate and professor of English; Gregory Smoak, director, American West Center, and associate professor of history; and Matthew Basso, associate professor of gender studies and history. Q&A to follow.
Generous support for the exhibition was provided by Presenting Sponsor George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation, Golden Spike sponsor Zions Bank, Programming and Lecture Sponsor The Hal R. and Naoma J. Tate Foundation, and by Union Pacific, the State of Utah, the Utah Department of Heritage and Arts, and Spike 150.
The UMFA is grateful to the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts & Parks Program (ZAP) for its year-round support of the Museum. ZAP funds help make possible the UMFA’s many free programs and twenty-four annual free general admission days.
Photo credits in order:
Artist unknown (American, 19th century), Nevada Silver Spike, 1869, silver, Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University, Stanford Family Collections, 1998.117; William T. Garrett Foundry (American, active 19th century), The Last Spike, 1869, gold, alloyed with copper, Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University, gift of David Hewes, 1998.115; artist unknown (American, 19th century), Arizona Spike, 1869, silver, steel, and gold, Museum of the City of New York, gift of Mrs. Arthur Whitney, 1943, 43.44.4
Alfred A. Hart (American, 1816–1908), Rounding Cape Horn. Road to Iowa Hill from the River, in the distance, ca. 1866, albumen stereograph, courtesy Union Pacific Railroad Museum
AN EVENING WITH TWO AWFUL MEN
February 13, 2019
by Elaine Jarvik
“How would you like to write a play about our first gay president?” Plan-B Theatre’s Jerry Rapier asked me in the summer of 2016.
And so I began researching the life of a man I knew little about, one of those presidents who fall somewhere in the vague middle, one of those indistinguishable men with a high collar and a grim mouth. And what I discovered, of course, is that there is
always more to the story.
James Buchanan was the only president to live out his White House tenure as a bachelor. So there were rumors then and there are assumptions today. But the facts are slim: his best friend was Sen. William King of Alabama, who was also a bachelor, and they
lived in the same rooming house in Washington; some said then that King was Buchanan’s “better half;” they were referred to as “Miss Nancy” and “Miss Fancy.”
And, finally, Buchanan once wrote a letter to a friend in which he bemoaned the fact that Sen. King had been appointed minister to France: “I am now ‘solitary and alone,’ having no companion in the house with me,” he wrote. “I have gone a-wooing to several
gentlemen but have not succeeded with any one of them.” And that’s pretty much it: some innuendos and a few letters, which we filter through our 21st century understanding of the way men act and speak.
As I read more about Buchanan, I began to wonder what he would make of other assessments of his life and his administration. Some historians argue his actions and his inaction led America into the Civil War, and his name tops the lists of “worst presidents.” One of his biographies is titled: “Worst. President. Ever.” (Note to the outraged: these lists were made prior to January 2017.)
This is what fascinated me: what might a man wish he could say to historians and the rest of us if he had a chance to explain himself? What would it feel like to be called “the worst” a century and a half after your death? What would it feel like, as
a 19th century man, to be called “gay”? What would it feel like to be publicly, relentlessly called out on the eternal archive of the Internet?
And so I’ve written AN EVENING WITH TWO AWFUL MEN, an alternative reality in which James Buchanan (Jason Bowcutt), John Wilkes Booth (Aaron Adams) and Harriet Tubman (Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin) appear on “Dead People Live”, a darkly comic reality-show-of-sorts
where the long-dead share with the not-yet-dead what it’s like when your name lives on forever, and your legacy might not be what you want it to be.
Playwright Elaine Jarvik has previously premiered MARRY CHRISTMAS (which celebrated the one-year anniversary of marriage equality in Utah), BASED ON A TRUE STORY and RIVER.SWAMP.CAVE.MOUNTAIN. at Plan-B Theatre. Her latest, AN EVENING WITH TWO AWFUL MEN, also features Emilie Starr in the cast and premieres at Plan-B February 21-March 3. Details and tickets at planbtheatre.org
2019 ZAP Tier II Application Now Open
January 15, 2019
We are very pleased to announce that the application for the 2019 ZAP Tier II cycle is now open!
The application closes March 29, 2019 at 3pm. Information on eligibility, upcoming application workshops, and the application itself can be found on our Tier II Page:
WHAT IS ZAP TIER II FUNDING?
ZAP's Tier II category funded over 183 arts and cultural organizations this past year, splitting $2.2M to help them serve our diverse Salt Lake County community. All organizations are nonprofits who provide arts or cultural opportunities to the public within Salt Lake County.
These are organizations that YOU as taxpayers support to bring experiences to your families and communities, through 1¢ of every $10 of sales tax in the County.
If you know an arts or cultural nonprofit serving Salt Lake County who you don't think is receiving ZAP funding, share this blog post with them, or have thememail ZAP staff. We would love to speak with them and see if they may be eligible for funding.
Before you submit your application, we strongly encourage you to attend a ZAP Tier II Application workshop, during which ZAP staff will review this year's application and any new or updated questions, and answer any questions you may have.
Successful applicants often involve their grant writer, the individual who will be reporting on their finances, and a member of their leadership in the workshops.
ZAP Tier II Application workshops will be held:
- Thurs, February 7- 10-12pm
- Fri, February 22- 1-3pm
- Wed, February 27- 10-12pm
The RSVP for the Tier II Application workshops can be found under the "Apply" tab of the ZAP Tier II Funding Information page.