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
January 15, 2020
We are very pleased to announce that the 2020 ZAP Tier II Application is now open! The application closes Friday, April 3 at 5:00pm. No late or incomplete applications are accepted.
WHAT IS ZAP TIER II FUNDING?
"Tier II" is one of four categories of ZAP funding: Tier I, Tier II, Recreation, and Zoological. All categories but Recreation are managed with an annual application process. Tier II is open to all organizations who are not funded in Tier I or Zoological. ZAP funding is unique, in that it can be used for operational expenses for qualifying organizations, in addition to program expenses.
Last year, ZAP's Tier II category funded 193 arts and cultural organizations to the tune of $2.5M total, helping 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 with them! We would love to see if they may be eligible for funding.
Could My Organization Be Eligible?
If the following things are true about your organization or program, it may be eligible for ZAP funds:
- Arts & cultural focus
- Programs available to the general public
- Programs performed in Salt Lake County
- Clearly falls in one of the established ZAP Disciplines
FIRST TIME APPLICANT?
If you are applying for ZAP funding for the very first time, please contact ZAP staff so that we can help you determine your eligibility for funding and get to know your organization better. We look forward to working with you!
READY TO APPLY?
Please visit the ZAP Tier II page, under the Apply tab, for more information on opening and submitting your organization.
Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts, and Parks Program to Distribute $15.3 Million to Large Arts and Cultural Nonprofits and Zoos
January 03, 2020
In 2020, 22 large arts and cultural nonprofits and 3 zoos throughout Salt Lake Valley will be funded through the Salt Lake County Zoo, Arts and Parks (ZAP) Tier I and Zoological categories. $15.3 million will support the 25 organizations based on recommendations from the ZAP Tier I Citizen’s Advisory Board.
Directed by statute and policy, the Tier I and Zoological categories can fund up to 22 nonprofits and 3 zoological organizations whose annual expenditures meet a certain threshold, showing a notable and direct impact on the local economy. The ZAP program provides one stable source of funding among other revenue and fundraising efforts for these large organizations as they plan annual programs and offerings for the Salt Lake County community.
Each of the selected organizations is vetted through a rigorous application process. They must demonstrate how they serve the Salt Lake County community through artistic offerings, sound management, and valuable resident and visitor experiences. Last year, Tier I and Zoological organizations re-invested over $78 million back into the economy, brought nearly 30,000 events to Salt Lake County, and provided over 1.6 million free admissions to Salt Lake County residents.
This year 24 Tier I and 3 Zoological applications were reviewed and 22 Tier I and 3 Zoological organizations were selected for funding. The review is conducted by a dedicated advisory board that clocks countless hours assessing and scoring applications and visiting the applicant sites and leadership.
Funded Tier I Organizations:
Hale Centre Theatre
Natural History Museum of Utah
Pioneer Theatre Company
Red Butte Garden
Repertory Dance Theatre
Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company
Salt Lake Acting Company
Salt Lake Arts Council
Salt Lake Film Society
Utah Arts Alliance
Utah Arts Festival
Utah Film Center
Utah Museum of Contemporary Art
Utah Museum of Fine Art
Utah Symphony | Utah Opera
West Valley Arts & Cultural Foundation
Funded Zoological Organizations
Utah’s Hogle Zoo
Loveland Living Planet Aquarium
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
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
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.
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.