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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
November 21, 2018
A whole lot of turkey
33 pints cranberry sauce
134 quarts mashed potatoes
60 quarts homestyle gravy
At least three different kinds of pie
4 rows of tables and handmade decorations
1 basketball court
More than your average recreation center, Central City has been serving up resources, fitness opportunities, youth programs, and community connection since it opened 50 years ago on the corner of 600 South and 300 East in downtown Salt Lake. For nearly half of that time, those servings have included a free turkey dinner on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
The neighborhood tradition has seen a lot of changes over the years, initially starting as part of an open rec program, where youth would put on the dinner for their families. “We no longer have the open rec program, but it’s cool to see the event continue with Utah Valley University. It means a lot to the families that come back every year,” said Darian Abegglen, Associate Director of Recreation.
Central City has since developed a partnership with UVU Culinary Art Institute, and the dinner has since become a holiday treat for the neighborhood. The culinary students both prepare and serve the meal, getting a chance to share their new skills with the community and witness the resulting smiles from their pumpkin pie, turkey, and all the fixings.
It’s an evolution on a spirit of service that allows for more connection and full stomachs during the holidays, and who couldn’t use a little more of that these days?
Central City Recreation Center is supported in part by Salt Lake County residents like you through Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts & Parks. For more information on recreation centers and community events with Salt Lake County Parks & Recreation, visit recreation.slco.org.
Plan-B Theatre brings solo play Good Standing to life, a love letter to uncertainty and complicated faith
October 22, 2018
UPDATE: Plan-B has announced there are only 90 tickets remaining in Good Standing's run. Tickets can be purchased through planbtheatre.org.
By Matthew Greene
It’s possible that if I hadn’t spent so many years in the proverbial closet I never would’ve become a writer. It’s the oldest story in the book, isn’t it? Creativity born out of private pain. I spent my days playing the perfect Mormon, slipping that ill-fitting costume on over the self I’d learned to loathe and trying my best to walk a path that was, frankly, killing me. My solace in those dark days was the pen and the page. In the fictional worlds I crafted, nothing could stop me from exploring the tantalizing gray areas and questioning tenets of belief that were supposed to be taken as gospel.
The heady, emotional conflict taking place between these two characters onstage was just a reflection of the debate running constantly through my own confused, closeted head day and night.
I was an undergrad at Brigham Young University (that’s right, Mormon Mecca) when Proposition 8 rocked California and, in turn, the world. Desperate to make sense of the divisive and disturbing rhetoric I heard every day, I wrote a play called ADAM & STEVE AND THE EMPTY SEA, exploring what the gay marriage debate did to two friends, one openly gay and the other openly Mormon. After nearly getting me kicked out of school, the play received its world premiere at Plan-B Theatre in 2013. People were quick to identify Adam, the devout church member, as my onstage stand-in, but who, they all seemed to ask me, was the inspiration for Steve, his gay best friend who wanted simply the freedom to love? I capitulated and talked around the question, not wanting to reveal the truth: the heady, emotional conflict taking place between these two characters onstage was just a reflection of the debate running constantly through my own confused, closeted head day and night.
Years have passed since then, and I’ve changed the narrative quite a bit. I’m now an out-and-proud gay man who made the choice, in a moment of crisis, to love himself no matter what. I worried, though, as I crawled out from under the weight of religious expectation, if I’d lose the drive to write now that I felt so liberated, so unburdened. It turns out, once again, that I was naive. Taking a step (or two or three) toward authenticity didn’t make the world any less complicated. Allowing myself to truly fall in love (surprise surprise) led to more emotional tumult than I’d ever imagined. And stating emphatically all the things I didn’t believe in could only go so far in helping to make sense of this murky mess of a world.
There's no way to untangle the threads of identity that have made me who I am...
The truth is, life is tricky even after you’ve gone through a “personal renaissance” and my new play GOOD STANDING is proof of that. But unlike ADAM & STEVE AND THE EMPTY SEA, I’ll own up to the true inspiration behind the script’s central figure: it’s me. The man onstage torn between love and belief was born out of the internal debates I’m still having. There’s no way to untangle the threads of identity that have made me who I am and I’ve got Mormonism practically woven into my DNA. I treasure the new life I’ve crafted for myself, but I mourn the loss of innocence I knew within comfy church walls and regret the pain I’ve caused to those who love me.
Life didn’t magically become easier when I finally admitted that I, like Curtis in this play, dreamed of finding a husband, not a wife. What’s different, I guess, is an enhanced ability to feel joy and to claim it as my own. But the search continues: the search for meaning and for purpose and for the light I know is out there. GOOD STANDING is another step in that ongoing journey, a love letter to uncertainty and to complicated, problematic faith.
Playwright Matthew Greene premiered his play ADAM & STEVE AND THE EMPTY SEA at Plan-B Theatre Company in 2013; it then played the New York International Fringe Festival. His latest, GOOD STANDING, opens Plan-B’s 2018/19 season October 18-28 and will also play the United Solo theatre festival in New York. Tickets and details at planbtheatre.org
by 11-year-old Oliver Kokai-Means
IS THIS THE SAME ONE?!
My name is Oliver. I am a kid who likes soccer, who likes sports, and who likes and is really good at reading, and video games, and is not what some people would say normal is. Because I have anxiety.
My anxiety has caused problems for me because I don’t like being with people I don’t know, so first days are extra hard for me. It has also caused me problems with teachers who don’t understand, and with making friends.
Our play ZOMBIE THOUGHTS is about a pig named Pig and a nine-year-old kid named Sam who has anxiety [I was nine when we started writing the play]. They are in a video game and they go on an adventure with different levels and try to beat them, but they have a hard time and they fail most of the time. They try and work on it and then they finally beat a level and then they have to fight The Machine. They technically beat The Machine but it doesn’t go away because you can’t beat anxiety. The audience gets to make a lot of choices in the play, like they’re the ones playing the video game. I identify with Sam.
One of the things that happens in anxiety is you get scared of all this stuff, and some of the stuff that you’re scared of doesn’t even exist. Zombie Thoughts are where you do something but you don’t think about it first. You just do it. Like, one of the things about anxiety is you don’t stop and think about what you’re scared of. You don’t stop and say, wait, zombies aren’t real.
I learned about Zombie Thoughts from my old therapist, Gennie. Every week I would see her and talk about stuff involving this topic and, based on what she knows, she would give me some ideas and I would try them and if they worked I would tell her and continue them and if they didn’t, I would tell her and we wouldn’t use them. In the play, Pig teaches Sam some of the things I’ve learned. You shouldn’t get mad at people. If someone suggests something that scares you, you shouldn’t get mad at them, you should say, “I don’t think that’s a very good idea.”
I refused to go on Space Mountain and threw a fit. But when I actually thought about it and went on it, I loved it and now it’s one of my favorite rides.
To write the play my Mom and I had a lot of conversations about what could go in it. Then we decided to make it like a video game. There aren’t that many choose-your-own adventure plays, so I like that, and I really like video games. I gave my Mom the ideas and the characters and she wrote the words.
I like how the play goes right to the topic and doesn’t kind of talk around it. It doesn’t have an end really. That’s what some people wanted, but it doesn’t really make sense because of what the play is trying to convey. It has kind of a happy ending, but it doesn’t use sweet words and avoid the topic it’s trying to talk about. Adults will talk about anxiety and things like that, but they’ll kind of talk around what it is and they’ll use words that make it sound like this cute little thing and not a big issue that you should worry about.
I hope that kids who see the play understand that those people with anxiety aren’t just scared, they’re scared in a way they can’t help, and you shouldn’t make fun of these people for being scared because they can’t help it. I also hope that if they have things they’re scared about, the ideas in the play help them learn how to feel better.
ZOMBIE THOUGHTS, co-written by Jennifer A. Kokai and her son Oliver Kokai-Means, receives its world premiere as Plan-B’s sixth annual Free Elementary School Tour, serving 8,000 elementary students, grades K-6, at 46 schools in 12 counties beginning October 1. Public performances October 8 (Weber State University, $5) and October 13 & 25 (Salt Lake City Public Library branches, free). Details at planbtheatre.org.
August 28, 2018
On August 28, 2018, Salt Lake County Council unanimously approved $2.2 million of funding recommended by Salt Lake County’s ZAP Tier II Advisory Board for local arts and cultural nonprofits. The nonprofit grant recipients represent a wide range of disciplines, including community symphonies, historical museums, dance companies, visual arts programs, theatre companies, art and ethnic festivals, natural history organizations, folk arts groups, botanical gardens, and more. Recipient organizations span every district in the County.
The $2.2 million in approved grant funding for the 2018 funding cycle is split between 183 organizations. 20 of these organizations are brand new to ZAP this year. This 7% increase in applicants beats out 2017 as the highest number to date, meaning the ZAP program is providing more support to growing arts and cultural organizations each year thanks to tax payer support.
This year’s applications from ZAP grantees show these dollars being put to incredible use. “With ZAP funding we serve people who primarily are not served by other performing arts projects. Heart & Soul brings over 900 live concerts each year to Salt Lake County residents.” said Janna Lauer of Heart & Soul, a Salt Lake County nonprofit that brings live local music and performances to disadvantaged, marginalized, and isolated individuals. These performances represent a small (but vital) fraction of county residents reached through ZAP funding.
Highlights from the remarkable range of work include:
- 18,433 events provided (a 34% increase from last year)
- 2.9 million attendees/participants
- 1.7 million free admissions to events and programs
- 35% increase in full and part-time jobs provided (1479 to 2009 positions)
- 46,683 contracted positions, from artists to photographers to scientists and more
- 30,426 volunteers
For many arts and cultural organizations, ZAP funding represents integral community support for their organizations. “ZAP provides critical funding to…encourage residents to engage with their neighbors through art events.” shared Sheryl Gillian, executive director of the Holladay Arts Council. Their Recent Crossing Paths project by local artist Jim McGee pulled residents from all over Holladay to their City Hall during its month-long showcase.
Over 400 hours were spent by the ZAP Tier II Advisory Board in carefully reviewing applications, plus another 30 hours discussing, scoring, and determining funding amounts. $3.4 million was requested by 187 total applicants, and through this diligent review process the Advisory Board determined the $2.2 million in funding approved by County Council on Tuesday.
With funding recommendations now approved, the 2018 Tier II application process is now complete. Organizations funded in Tier II can expect to receive funding in two installments in January and May of 2019.
Applications for 2019 will open in January.
Want to learn more?
1. View a complete list of funded organizations.
2. Learn more about how to apply for ZAP funds.