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How admittedly cheesy humor fosters transformation

Posted By Salt Lake County ZAP
August 03, 2016

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I had been a patron of the Off Broadway Theatre for more than 15 years before I learned that the name of the theatre came from the fact that 300 South in Salt Lake City, just around the corner from our 272 S. Main entrance, was also named “Broadway.” Okay, now I get it!

Frankly, I had thought the name came from the fact that everything about this theatre is a little bit “off.” The humor is cheesy, the sets are simple, the “special effects” are anything but. I’ve often told people that the only thing classy about the joint is the way we spell “Theatre.”

transmorfer 2009

OBT's original parody, Transformers, runs Fridays, Saturdays, and Mondays, August 5 through September 10.

But what OBT lacks in show biz glamour and big production budgets is more than made up for by the energy, the attitude, and the feeling of family shared by our cast, our crew, and our audiences. For this I credit our founders, Eric and Sandy Jensen.

People who enjoy zany, improv-laden, bad-pun-dripping, physical and verbal comedy absolutely love our shows, and come back time and again. And soon, they feel right at home, enveloped in both the madcap humor and the warm welcome of acceptance that permeates the OBT.

eric jensens charlies aunt 2013

Take for example, Andy. (I’ve changed his name, to protect his privacy.) To most of us, Andy was just another kid in our cast—a new friend to joke around with and to spend time with. We didn’t know his back story: all we knew was that he was a dedicated, responsible boy who learned and performed his part well and always seemed happy at rehearsals and performances.

But, after the show closed, we got the following note from his parents:

 

Dear OBT,

We first heard about your theater through friends, and thoroughly enjoyed the experience so much we ended up purchasing season tickets! At the end of one of your shows, it was announced that there were open casting calls for all ages at an upcoming performance. My 12 year old son begged if he could audition. With no previous experience, we weren't sure what the chances were of him being cast, but decided it would be a good experience for him.

Last summer he went through some difficult times in his relationship with his non-custodial father. His confidence was shattered, his self-esteem diminished. It was heart wrenching for all of us to work through, and we were concerned how he would further be affected if he did not make the cut.  

Long story short, he was cast in an Off Broadway Theatre original parody! His entire demeanor changed and he instantly believed in himself again. Each week he looked forward to every rehearsal, he quickly formed a bond with the cast that was very encouraging and welcoming of him. He would tell others he loved it so much because everyone there was like his family.

We wanted to personally thank you for the opportunity that was provided, and let you know how this experience positively made a difference in the course of our son's life. He is back to himself and seems to have a new perspective on life. He is getting better grades in school and we truly believe this small part he played in the show was the stepping stone he needed to re-build his self-esteem. He has since joined Center Stage Players to continue his development in the art, and is flourishing immensely.

Once again, we express our deepest gratitude.

Wow! When we got that email, our hearts were touched. The next time I filled out an application for ZAP funds and saw the question “What value does the community receive from your activities?” I thought of Andy, and I shared his story.

star ward 2016

OBT plays and our in-house improv comedy troupe, Laughing Stock, are all about fun and comedy and laughter. Our mission is to share that laughter and that zest for life with everyone—those in a great mood having a wonderful week, as well as those who are going through hard times or suffering from being dealt a rotten hand in life. 

The stories go on and on: the “wish child” from Make-A-Wish Utah who got to come up onstage and perform in a Laughing Stock skit . . . the artist on disability who thanked us for “allowing” him to help build sets, who has become a valued member of our stage crew . . . the actor in Chicago who recently wrote about the time he played a train in an OBT show, and said that watching the other actors improvise on our stage taught him a sense of freedom that has made him a better performer.

eve laughing stock performance

We partner with several local nonprofit organizations that serve children and adults struggling with various challenges, such as Big Brothers Big Sisters, YouthCare, HopeKids, Odyssey House, and Student Veterans of America. We provide them with free or discounted tickets for their clients, and have enjoyed hearing the stories of the wonderful time they have at our shows. What a great family to be a part of!

As one who has performed and teched in countless shows in a variety of theaters, I know how fun being in a play can be. But I also know how unique the Off Broadway Theatre is, and I’m so grateful to be a part of the OBT family. We appreciate Salt Lake County’s Zoo, Arts, and Parks program—and the citizens and taxpayers of Salt Lake County—for supporting our operations. Through OBT and other ZAP-supported organizations, ZAP truly is serving and benefiting families and individuals in our community.

Let me conclude by sharing one more letter from an appreciative parent:

 

Dear Eric and Sandy,

Last Saturday my family and I had the opportunity to go and watch the Peter Pan and the Pirates play on the 2:00 pm function thanks to your support. We have never had the chance to take our children to an event like this one, and we weren't sure what to expect. Well, my kids had such a great time, and I laughed out loud so much, that I forgot for couple of hours about our daily routine with the kids (I have two children with spinal muscular atrophy), and we just enjoyed our time there at the OBT! What a great time we had! And all thanks to you!

May God keep blessing you and your family with this enormous talent and hearts, we certainly appreciate it!

So, maybe the Off Broadway Theatre is a little “off.” We go off book. We break the fourth wall. We sometimes get more laughs out of forgetting our lines than from delivering them properly.

But when it comes to what really matters: family, community, service—all the things that ZAP is about—we couldn’t be more “on.”

OBT Fever: Catch it!off broadway theatre logo

-Jeff Driggs

Jeff Driggs is on the OBT board, and has had the pleasure of performing in a few of their shows.