February 10, 2021
by Julie Jensen
How this play came about:
One day a friend of mine was complaining, “You don’t understand,” she said, “what straight women go through: pills, rubbers, pregnancies. Fearful and furious all too much of the time.”
I knew I had my own experiences of fear and fury, and I knew I had never really talked about those experiences or dealt with them in my work. I wondered why.
I began asking friends: had they ever been frightened and furious about the threat of an unintended pregnancy? All women had been, and I do mean all. No matter the age, class, race, marital status, religious affiliation, all women had stories. They shared them with me, on condition of anonymity. Some had never told another living soul their story. Not ever.
Each of them was moved that someone was asking about this subject. They knew it was important, knew such stories were legion, and most of all, they knew the wall of silence that surrounds the subject.
I had the subject, and I’d done the research.
P.G. Anon Actors April Fossen, Emilie Evanoff, Lily Hye Soo Dixon, Tamara Howell.
How to tell this story:
I decided to use three characters, all facing a surprise pregnancies. One is too old, one too young, and one not up to the task of raising a child.
That’s when Pauline, Sheila and Tiffany walked into my life. And for the last two years, they have been in residence. They want their stories told, and they did not let up until I told their stories right.
I worked on the play with Rivendell Theatre in Chicago. I also worked with Plan-B Theatre in Salt Lake.
What I envisioned was a very physical play, fast-paced, chaotic, abstract and busy. I was not striving for realism. I wanted to capture the feeling of the time between suspecting pregnancy and any decision about what’s next. Women are alone at that time, living in two heads, one deeply buried in the present, the other threated by a future turned upside down.
When I had a draft of a play, Plan-B did a fully-staged reading of it. I was very pleased. It worked in the way I had envisioned.
Then Plan-B decided to produce the play as a part of its 30th season. I was flattered, gratified, and excited.
P.G. Anon Director Cheryl Cluff, and Actors Tracie Merrill, Sydney Shoell, Latoya Cameron
And then along came COVID:
During the initial COVID shutdowns, we imagined the epidemic would be over in a few weeks. Instead, more than a year later, almost everything is closed down.
But Plan-B had a plan-b: all the plays in their season would be adapted for audio.
Oh lord, I had to make this abstract, physical, chaotic experience into a play for the ear.
And that’s what I’ve done during COVID. I have made the play into an experience to be heard, not seen. There were trade-offs in the process. But I think I have made the play more authentic, more direct. The characters are closer to the woman next door, the kid down the street, and your sister who went astray.
How it all turned out:
I like the piece. I like it a lot. I think it says what I wanted it to.
I’m also working with first-rate people and a cast from heaven.
What I want from the radio production:
I want us to listen to these women,
the times in our own lives
when we were frightened and furious.
I’d like us to hear ourselves in others,
even as we hear others in ourselves.
Playwright Julie Jensen is Utah’s most-produced playwright. Plan-B has previously produced her plays SHE WAS MY BROTHER and CHRISTMAS WITH MISFITS. The world premiere of her latest, P.G. ANON, opens Plan-B’s 2021 Audio-Only Subscription Series, streaming February 25-March 7 on our website or on our free app in partnership with Planned Parenthood Association of Utah. P.G. Anon tickets are Pay-What-You-Can. This article also appears in the February online issue of Catalyst.
Recently, ZAP received several calls from Salt Lake County community members asking how they can help support ZAP grantees as we all navigate our current “Stay Safe, Stay Home” surroundings. COVID-19 has had an enormous impact on our private and business communities, and our local arts and cultural nonprofits are no exception. While they are hard at work adapting to these new circumstances, what can be done to continue to support them?
Utah Symphony | Utah Opera stitchers make face masks out of material leftover from the production of “The Little Prince” last year.
Donate to Organizations Directly
Did you know you already support ZAP funding through any purchases you make here in the County? For every $10 in sales tax collected in the County, one penny goes toward ZAP grants, which are distributed annually.
If you would like to contribute more, you can donate to your favorite ZAP grantees directly! The best way to do this is to go to the organization’s website and find their ‘Donate’ or ‘Support’ page. All ZAP grantees are 501(c)3s, so you can make tax-deductible donations to support them. Like ZAP funds, your donations go to help these organizations provide programming, pay their staff, expand their reach, and more.
To find ZAP grantees, visit our Grantee Directory: https://slco.org/apps/zap/
Attend Their Virtual Events
Our local arts and cultural nonprofits are working hard to “Apollo 13” their programming and bring it to you right in the comfort of your living room. There’s already so much available for you to do! You can support their efforts by attending these online events the same way you would their in-person events.
From Virtual Yoga Classes on Instagram Live (every day at 5:30pm, thanks Alta Arts!), to meeting amazing animals (Virtual Indoor Bird Show at 9am with Tracy Aviary on Facebook and Instagram, and Facebook Field Trips with Hogle Zoo at 11:30am on select days), to online dance classes (looking at you Repertory Dance Theatre!), and MORE, many of our 2020 ZAP grantees are working hard to be sure their work can come to you.
Head to NowPlayingUtah’s Virtual Events page for a regularly-updated menu of virtual arts and cultural events.
Rob Reinfurt with Ace Community Enrichment teaches pizza making online
Consider Already Purchased Tickets as a Donation
Many ZAP grantees put on programming that requires a ticket. With events being cancelled or postponed to protect our community during these difficult times, they are working to refund patrons for events that cannot be attended. One way you can support local arts and cultural nonprofits is by considering a ticket you have already purchased as a donation instead of asking for a refund.
Follow Them on Social Media
It may seem little, but you can help support your local arts and cultural nonprofits by keeping up to date with them! With so many changes happening very quickly, our local nonprofits heavily use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter to communicate how they are serving you. Following helps them get their message out there and keeps you in the know of all the cool things happening right now.
Abide By the County's Health Guidelines
By following the health guidelines outlined by Salt Lake County and the State, you help not just our local arts and cultural nonprofits, but your entire community. This includes wearing masks when you are out in public, and staying informed of your community's needs and requirements. More information can be found at https://slco.org/covid-19/.
May 06, 2020
With Salt Lake County residents sticking close to home as the country collectively weathers a pandemic, Wasatch Community Gardens (“WCG”) is rising to meet the Salt Lake community’s increasing demand for home gardening education and locally produced food. Indeed, this isn’t a phenomenon specific to Salt Lake; gardening is experiencing a surge of popularity across the country (just read here, here and here), and we at WCG want you to know we stand ready to serve!
WCG is no stranger to serving aspiring and seasoned gardeners and veggie growers in the Salt Lake Valley. Affectionately referring to ourselves as “the little nonprofit that CAN,” we celebrated 30 years of empowering people to grow and eat healthy, organic, local food last year. Since 1989, WCG has provided children, adults, and families in Salt Lake County with access to land and education for growing and eating fresh produce, while building and nurturing community connections through gardening and healthy food.
You are likely to have driven past one of the 17 community gardens we operate throughout Salt Lake County. These gardens serve diverse community members, all joined by the common desire of growing their own food. Many of our community gardeners report that their garden plots serve as their key source of nutritious food during the growing months, and we are pleased to make this possible in this particular time of need.
As is the story for many local businesses and nonprofits, WCG has had to adjust its sails for a number of its programs to continue to serve the Salt Lake community in this era of social distancing. That said, we are hustling, getting creative, and bringing many of our services online. Read on for opportunities to join us in getting your hands in the soil.
- Educational workshops - WCG offers 40 workshops from April through October, allowing community members to learn from our passionate and expert educators about a wide range of topics, from soils to organic pest management to tomato growing. Click here to view the line-up! While we have had to cancel many of our offerings in April and May, we presented our “Growing Great Tomatoes” class for tomato-lovers online on April 18, and have the recording available for you HERE. We also have available for you "Increasing Our Resilience Through Organic Veggie Gardening" as a recorded online webinar that you can access HERE.
- Plant Sale at our Green Phoenix Farm - We are proud to organize the “Best Little Plant Sale in Utah” on an annual basis. To keep our community healthy, we moved the annual plant sale to an online format! The plant sale was a big success this year, with all pick-up slots filled after the sale opened online on April 30th. Pick-ups will take place in early May for those who reserved a spot.
We know that community building around healthy, organic, local food happens most effectively in person, but without that option, we're eager to connect with the Salt Lake community in the best way we can. This is true whether you are a new gardener, a green thumb, a student, a refugee, a hobby gardener, or someone who relies on gardening for your food supply.
Please do reach out to us with any needs or questions you may have during this unusual time, and we encourage you to get out to the garden - whatever that space may look like for you. It’s the best medicine there is.
Wasatch Community Gardens is funded in part by residents of Salt Lake County through the Tier II category of the ZAP program. If you would like to learn more about WCG and the opportunities they have coming up, please visit their website.
April 01, 2020
The ZAP program thanks and applauds Salt Lake County's arts and cultural community for its ingenuity and flexibility as circumstances surrounding COVID-19 evolve. Many organizations have moved programming and resources online for the public, which is especially helpful as we remain home in accordance with the "Stay Safe, Stay Home" health order from Salt Lake County, and have served as front line support for our Salt Lake County communities.
In light of the ongoing strategizing efforts of our grantees and potential applicants, the ZAP program has made the decision to extend the deadlines for both the 2021 Tier I + Zoo and 2020 Tier II application cycles.
New Application Deadlines:
2021 Tier I + Zoo Deadline: Friday, June 26 at 5pm
2020 Tier II Deadline: Friday, May 29 at 5pm
- Tier II 2018 Funding Evaluation: Must be completed by the 2020 application deadline to be considered for funding (only for organizations funded in 2018)
- Tier II $15k+ Request Financial Documentation: Due Friday, June 26 at 5pm
Once again, thank you to Salt Lake County's arts and cultural organizations and keep up the incredible work!
We are still fighting, and must: Jenifer Nii’s THE AUDACITY premieres at Plan-B Theatre (NOW ONLINE!)
March 02, 2020
"The stars aligned for us at Plan-B Theatre to be able to film Jenifer Nii's THE AUDACITY on Tuesday, March 26. Current ticket holders will be contacted directly to receive exclusive access to the stream Saturday, March 28 through Tuesday, March 31.
The stream then opens up to the public, free!, April 1-5 at planbtheatre.org
We would like you to know they have followed every Covid19 protocol since March 13. Since then, they have experienced two building closures (pandemic + earthquake!) and only held 6 rehearsals, none with more than 7 people in attendance, all observing 6' distance. They were only able to pull this off because THE AUDACITY is a one-woman show, April Fossen is an actor without peer, and the design team had the show pretty much complete prior to March 12.
We hope you enjoy Jenifer Nii's lyrical and surprising new play THE AUDACITY, her eighth world premiere with us, our gift to you in this uncertain time."
Jerry Rapier, Artistic Director, Plan-B Theatre
Playwright Jenifer Nii proudly calls Plan-B her creative home. She has previously premiered THE WEIRD PLAY, KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (created with Dave Evanoff), THE SCARLET LETTER, SUFFRAGE, RUFF!, WALLACE (created with Debora Threedy) and (IN)DIVISIBLE (a collaboration with 11 other local playwrights) at Plan-B. Her latest, THE AUDACITY, premieres March 26-April 5.
THE AUDACITY began with a story about a woman who dared to carve her own path in life. Josie Bassett lived nearly 90 years in the wilds of eastern Utah, amid cowboys and Natives and outlaws and Mormons. She romanced Butch Cassidy, ran a ranch and rustled cattle, bootlegged wine and whiskey, and sent five husbands packing. She outlived the Great Depression, two World Wars, and the fight for women’s suffrage.
How? How did this woman live this life, at a time when women were audacious for daring to wear trousers?
Josie Bassett, January 17, 1874 – May 1, 1964
THE AUDACITY began with one woman’s feat - her determination and independence, her stubborn unwillingness to submit or compromise. What emerged during my research, though, became much more. Josie didn’t just HAPPEN. She was, in so many ways, built and shaped - by her fiercely independent mother, who showed her how to ride, rope, and lead; by her younger sister Ann, a rival to keep her sharp who reigned over a gang of rustlers; by her father who honored the strength and ambition of his wife and daughters; and by a culture that, in pushing against her, taught her to push back.
Playwright Jennifer Nii
What emerged was a call to arms. I have realized while working on this project that the same audacity the Bassett women displayed is what is required of women today. The obstacles have not changed, nor has the opposition weakened. Women must still defend the sanctity of their bodies, choices, and ambitions. We are still fighting, and must.
This realization changed the way THE AUDACITY developed. One woman’s story became THE women’s story. The perspective of the past grew to include the now. New characters emerged in the play - modern women speaking alongside their historical sisters about what it is, and what it takes, to live the life they choose. What it takes to be audacious.
February 28, 2020
Ethan Morris, Utah Film Center
Media literacy begins at the young age of 4-years-old and is becoming an increasingly important lifelong skill. In response to this, Tumbleweeds Film Festival for Kids, the Mountain West’s longest-running international film festival for families, was founded by Utah Film Center Executive Director Patrick Hubley in 2011. It offers access to curated media that teaches empathy, critical thinking, and shows diverse perspectives.
Patrick believes that, “This year's slate of films will take audiences on a thought-provoking, imaginative, and empowering journey around the world. International films make up the majority of the program and we are thrilled to explore and discuss the universal themes alongside our young viewers.”
This year, Utah Film Center has expanded Tumbleweeds to two weekends, March 6-8 & 13-15, with public screenings and festival field trips March 9-12. All public events including free film screenings and clubhouse activities will be held at the Salt Lake City Public Library.
In addition to culturally-enriching curated films, audiences can participate in media arts workshops and explore a variety of free clubhouse activities designed to balance visual content, active play, and critical thinking, empowering them to tell their own stories.
Festival workshops are designed to connect kids with experts and give them the tools to enhance their storytelling. This year workshops on claymation, special effects makeup, sound effects, augmented reality, and storytelling will allow attendees to craft their own works of art and gain a new perspective on the media they consume.
Media education offered by Tumbleweeds also reaches a diverse student audience through festival field trips. In 2020, our goal is to have public school students make up 50% of total festival attendance. Students and educators attending festival field trips engage with filmmakers, industry experts, and receive standards-aligned study guides for use in the classroom. Last year, 37% of field trip attendees were from Title 1 schools.
One educator who participated in a Tumbleweeds Festival Field Trips last year commented, “We loved the Tumbleweeds experience! The documentary was everything we hoped for and more for our students!... When we take students out of the school to learn and research we refer to it as Fieldwork not field trips because our goal is for students to assume the role of researchers and experts. It is a hands on growth mindset practice, so your workshops were a vital component of our purpose for the day at Tumbleweeds. Thank you so much for this wonderful learning opportunity for our students! We are constantly amazed at how closely what you are accomplishing at The Utah Film Center coordinates with our [expeditionary learning] model!”
Utah Film Center fully believes that educational and cultural opportunities like Tumbleweeds festival field trips should be available to all students regardless of location and income. For the past two years, staff have been focused on developing partnerships that encourage engagement from under-resourced communities, such as refugees, immigrants, students living near the poverty level, and students living in rural communities. Partnerships, with the Refugee Services Office, for example, help us understand the barriers to participation for Tumbleweeds, including transportation and admission.
If you would like to participate in Tumbleweeds Film Festival for Kids, festival passes and tickets can be purchased here.
Please contact our development office at firstname.lastname@example.org, 385-240-2124 if you would like donation or sponsorship information.
We hope to see you and your family at Tumbleweeds!
February 28, 2020
Written By Nancy Borgenicht, Director of A Doll's House, Part 2
If you’ve never read or seen A Doll’s House by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, you still may have heard of it---that really old play about Nora Somebody who slams the door and leaves her husband and children. Shocking when it was first seen in 1879 Copenhagen---shocking still. It was a revolutionary work of domestic realism ---the first of its kind--- taking us into the marriage of a 19th Century middle-class Norwegian family. It changed theatre forever. Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is now 141 years old and continues to be one of the most performed plays in the world.
Lucas Hnath, Playwright
Lucas Hnath, DHP2 playwright ----pronounced “Nayth,” loves Ibsen. Hnath asked himself the same question audiences have been asking the past hundred plus years: When Nora Helmer slammed the door and left--- what happened to her? Hnath wanted to get inside Ibsen’s skin. Hnath found a bad translation of A Doll’s House online and started cutting and pasting Ibsen’s dialogue, re-writing it his own way. He spoke to women scholars, read George Bernard Shaw’s essays on marriage, and found inspiration in the Greeks and their love for argumentative dialogue. He kept futzing and playing until he got to the essence of what he wanted to say about marriage, divorce, family. He culled his characters down to four: Nora, the wife; Torvald, the husband; Anne Marie, Nora’s childhood Nanny and now her children’s Nanny; and Emmy, Nora’s grown daughter, whom she left when Emmy was four. DHP2 premiered at South Coast Rep and on Broadway in 2017.
So. It’s fifteen years later---1894--- and Nora comes back! Why and what’s become of her? In those days, a woman on her own, could be a seamstress, a factory worker, a clerical worker, a prostitute, or a wife. Divorce was rare, shameful, one lost the respect and weight of one’s name, a scandalous black mark that lasted a lifetime. Norwegian public records from 1894 list only seven divorces! The husband, of course, could divorce in a snap. The wife had to prove infidelity, impotence, desertion--- or that, thanks to her husband, she now had syphilis. The husband had absolute custody of the children no matter who left whom. A married woman could not sign a loan, a bank check, a contract, an agreement of any sort. Had she come into the marriage with money, it now belonged to her husband. Women could not vote, could not own property, were treated like little dolls who could not think for themselves.
In DHP2, Nora has lived now for fifteen years as an unmarried woman under an entirely different set of legal and societal rules. Using a pseudonym, she becomes a well-known feminist writer who believes women should leave unhappy marriages. That life is about to be shattered. She is being threatened by a Judge whose wife left him after reading Nora’s books. He digs into Nora’s past and discovers she is a fraud and still married. He is determined to ruin her. Turns out Torvald has never divorced her. She comes back, determined to get that divorce.
Hnath has said in interviews that one doesn’t need to know Ibsen’s A Doll’s House to see DHP2. And no question, DHP2 stands on its own. For us though, the beautiful audacity of Hnath to take on this hugely famous iconic play and character --- gave us no choice but to immerse ourselves in the original. Turns out it’s riveting. You also see why every serious actress dead or alive has played Nora or wants to play her still. The original, as well as DHP2, asks the same questions: Is marriage a viable institution? Is it even necessary? What do men want? What do women want? What does the world want and why is the world so often wrong? Can it ever be a good thing to leave or be left? How much has changed? How much has not changed?
Ibsen’s A Doll’s House is also very much about not talking. “We never talk,” Nora says, minutes before she leaves and slams the door. DHP2 is all about talking! It is a two-person verbal boxing match between Nora and Anne Marie; Nora and Torvald, Nora and Emmy. We are witnesses to four points of view where no one wins and everyone is right.
DHP2 is funny, sad, ridiculous, tragic, brave, sweet, loving, stupid, hurtful, selfish, touching, maddening---like life. DHP2 moves like a bullet train. You are totally transported into 1894 Norway ---but for some micro seconds, you may find yourself right here, right now! It’s a trip. Thank you so much for coming. Vote.
Salt Lake Acting Company's A Dollhouse, Part 2 runs through March 8. For more information and tickets, visit: https://www.saltlakeactingcompany.org/this-season/item/1470-a-doll-s-house-part-2
February 20, 2020
by Lin-hsiu Huang, Clever Octopus Program Coordinator
“Clever Octopus is the first and only Creative Reuse Center in the state of Utah." When I say this about Clever Octopus, many will respond with “well, what is Creative Reuse?” In the 3R’s we all know (reduce, reuse, recycle), we talk about recycle- or lack of. And we are also familiar with reduce - use less stuff means less stuff goes to the landfill. But, what about the one that’s in the middle - reuse?
Instead of reduce, reuse, recycle, let's focus on reduce, and break it down to 4R’s:
Reimagine, rethink, recreate, reevaluate.
- Reimagine the Future, where art truly is for everyone.
- Rethink Waste, as viable materials.
- ReCreate Art, to alleviate poverty.
- Reevaluate your impact, against climate change and environmental racism.
This is creative reuse.
Creative Reuse, to me, is the process of transforming waste materials or unwanted products into new, exciting, useful, or artistic products. It requires innovative thinking, problem solving, and product testing to make use of reclaimed materials. Creative Reuse fills in the gap with a driving goal of maximum impact on people and minimum impact on the environment. Creative reuse keeps materials inside the loop and invites everyone to work together in harmony to celebrate off-cuts, oddities, found objects, and the magic and mystery that arrive via chance.
Clever Octopus was based in Murray since our inception April of 2017; however, recently, we moved into a larger space in South Salt Lake, and we soft opened beginning of 2020! The new Clever Octopus' campus features large classrooms, community gathering spaces, combined retail/warehouse, a big parking lot, and more, which will allow us to divert more waste, provide additional creative reuse educational opportunities for youth and adults, and lengthen our community reach.
Salt Lake City is a fast-growing community with a very young population - opportunity and need for reshaping how we think about waste is critical. With harmful environmental effects of inversion clearly seen for Salt Lake Valley residents each day, we need to invest in solutions for all of us. Creative reuse is one of the solutions. Come join Clever Octopus this new year to create art, waste less, and save money!
Clever Octopus is supported in part by Salt Lake County residents through the ZAP program. For more information about their work and campus, visit http://www.cleveroctopus.org.
January 28, 2020
SINGING TO THE BRINE SHRIMP
By Jenny Kokai
This essay also appears in the January 2020 issue of Catalyst Magazine
Before I got my job at Weber State I had really never been to Utah. I’ve moved around many times in my life, growing up in Kentucky, living in Missouri, Texas, Indiana, and for a year Bristol, England. But never anywhere western, never anywhere with mountains, never anywhere with quite this much snow. People have a lot of feelings and opinions when you move to Utah, they share them with you freely, and they’re mostly people who have never been here.
I’m not going to lie, moving to Utah often felt a bit more like my year in England than moving to a different state. I didn’t know the rules, I didn’t know the culture, sometimes I didn’t even know the particular names for things. For example, I grew up eating “Hashbrown Casserole,” a recipe we got from the Junior League cookbook, on Christmas morning, and then I discovered Utahns call it “Funeral Potatoes.” Whatever you call them, by the way, they are delicious. But despite our mutual affection for potatoes and cheese, I definitely felt like I didn’t belong.
Shortly after moving to Utah I was invited to participate in a super fancy theatre opportunity in New York, which I had applied to on a whim. In the haze of being a mom to a young child and having a full-time job, I had totally forgotten I’d applied. New York, chock full of theatre people, is the place to which playwrights like me are supposed to aspire. This is where, in theory, I should have felt like I belonged. But I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing, I was too embarrassed to admit to the fancy people working on this project that I didn’t know anything, and I was overwhelmed and terrified. There were also lots of thoughts about Utah, being a Mom, and being old (I didn’t even know I was old) that were freely shared with me and impacted the work we did on the play. I definitely didn’t belong. I came back to Utah a mess.
This is when things started looking up. I settled into my job and relished having amazing venturous students willing to do play readings and workshops with me. The fancy New York thing gave me the confidence to take more brave steps, like reaching out to Plan-B to say, “Hello, I am a playwright.” Jerry Rapier invited me to come to The Lab. I met people across Utah: playwrights, directors, dramaturgs, actors. To a person, nobody I met had any pretensions. They created plays about the complicated, fascinating place we live for the community. I gradually realized for my community. I got to work with people like Julie Jensen, whose plays I had read and loved in grad school, and now was freely and kindly giving me feedback. I got to do workshops with people who didn’t think it was surprising or diminishing to be an Old, Utahn, Mom Playwright, so we just worked on the play. My art became better. So much better.
For a long time, I had a poster on my office door that said “Belong to Where You Are.” That is what Singing to the Brine Shrimp is about. Learning that I belonged to where I am. Learning that great art is made all over the country when you’re working with people who get you and believe in you. I wrote this play for Plan-B, I wrote it for the actors who are in it, I wrote it to say thank you, Utah, for being Utah. And for your potatoes.
Jenny Kokai teaches playwriting and theatre history at Weber State University. For Plan-B, she contributed the monologues “Mitch” and “Janine” to (IN)DIVISIBLE, wrote “Bird Brains” for ROSE EXPOSED: FLIGHT and co-wrote ZOMBIE THOUGHTS with Oliver Kokai-Means, which toured Utah as the company’s 2018/19 Free Elementary School Tour. SINGING TO THE BRINE SHRIMP features music by Ken Plain and premieres February 13-23.
January 24, 2020
Photo courtesy of the Spike150 website.
Written by Max Chang
On May 19, 2019, Utah and the nation celebrated the sesquicentennial anniversary of the driving of the golden spike into a laurel tie that connected two great oceans and unite a country torn by the Civil War. One of the primary goals of the Spike 150 Foundation was to ensure the proper recognition of the Chinese railroad workers and their contribution to the greatest engineering feat of the 19th century that helped build this great state of Utah and our nation.
The Spike 150 Foundation specifically sought to utilize the arts to help tell these stories as art documents and interprets our histories, challenges and provokes our present, and informs and imagines our futures. The arts also inspire people to make the leap to understand the experiences, perspectives, and cultures of others. The direct impact of ZAP Tier 1* and Tier 2** organizations to achieve this vision cannot be understated.
The Utah Museum of Fine Arts* hosted the photographic exhibit, The Race to Promontory: The Transcontinental Railroad and the American West. The exhibit is composed primarily of photographs and stereographs of Andrew Russell and Alfred Hart, the official photographers for the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads, respectively. The museum literally asks what can the museum guest learn from who’s missing in the photographs. This essential question coupled with programming featuring prominent scholars and leaders assisted in exposing the invisible in these photographs.
Prior to the 150th celebration, the Chinese never had an official voice at any of the milestone celebrations of the driving of the Golden Spike. Spy Hop* in coordination with the Chinese Railroad Workers Descendants Association** produced a public service announcement, Unite as One, which was played prior to Spike 150 performances in Salt Lake County. [Watch Unite as One Here].
In addition, The Chinese Railroad Workers Descendants Association** partnered with Spike 150 to produce a concert version of the musical Gold Mountain by award-winning playwright, Jason Ma. Gold Mountain is a beautiful but tragic story of the Chinese who made the ultimate sacrifice to come to a foreign land in order to better their families’ lives. With the assistance of the Gifted Music School,** some of the top Utah musicians performed the score for many Broadway veteran actors, including Ali Ewoldt who had just finished a two and a half year role as Christine Daae in Phantom of the Opera on Broadway. Gold Mountain premiered at the Regent Street Black Box Theater just a stone’s throw away from Plum Alley where in 1869 workers from the Transcontinental Railroad built a Chinatown but, in its place, today stands a parking structure.
Salt Lake Acting Company* produced Tony Award Winning Playwright, David Henry Hwang’s The Dance and the Railroad, one of his earliest plays. Few realize the largest labor movement in the 19th century was when the Chinese workers went on strike demanding equal pay and hours to their counterparts of European descent. Hwang’s work juxtaposes both the optimism and pessimism the workers felt during this strike.
Utah Symphony and Opera* first commissioned four mini-operas, two of which were on the Chinese experience. Secondly, at their annual 5th grade concerts, they selected pieces related to the railroad to give students musical context of the period. Finally, they performed the sesquicentennial commission of the new symphony, Transcend, by Grammy nominated composer Zhou Tian. Starting with the bombastic rhythm of nitroglycerin versus granite, Transcend concludes with a chorus of strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion vocalizing D. O. N. E. in Morse code symbolizing the nationwide celebration 150 years ago.
Oakridge Elementary in Millcreek, led by Principal Christine Drummond, utilizes a cross-discipline methodology with immersive arts programming. Spike 150 provided a comprehensive history of Chinese railroad workers to three fourth grade and one third grade class at Oakridge. In order to enhance the students’ learning experience, Spike 150 engaged with ZAP arts organizations to add art to the formulation.
Plan B Theater** guided one of the fourth-grade classes to create a play within a play to address the conundrum of how to honor the Chinese railroad workers without dishonoring them through cheap, old and tired tricks of imitation. The students’ creativity in re-enacting their actual discussion of this dilemma results in telling the Chinese story with accuracy while honoring them.
Under the conduction of Salty Cricket Composers Collective, ** another class performed an original opera which visually and acoustically through a drum line and narration illustrates how the Chinese railroad workers built the longest tunnel in the Sierras by digging in four directions at once.
With the assistance of Tanner Dance* the fourth-grade teachers and students choreographed and performed a dance to tell the story of the impact the Transcontinental Railroad had on Utah history.
The students were eager, engaging and empathetic learners and demonstrated with aplomb the valuable trait of critical thinking. Additionally, the students proved teaching history does not require educators to dumb down complicated subject matter. Just add art.
Aristotle is well known for his mimesis, “Art imitates life.” Exactly one score following the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad, Oscar Wilde in his essay, The Decay of Lying, wrote his anti-mimesis, “Life imitates art.”
Through the integration of art and history in the museums, theaters, concert halls and schools, these outstanding ZAP organizations have shown that neither Aristotle or Wilde are correct in their assumption that imitation is the correlation between life and art.
Actually, it is empathy.
Max Chang is the past chair of the ZAP Tier 1 Advisory Board and a board member of the Spike 150 Foundation.
*Denotes ZAP Tier 1 organization
**Denotes ZAP Tier 2 organization