Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Plan-B Theatre - Radio Hour Episode 9: Grimm

Posted By on October 14, 2014, 8:00 AM

click to enlarge gu.jpg
To kick off Plan-B Theatre's 2014-15 season, the company is bringing back Radio Hour, just in time for the haunting season. This year's Radio Hour is Episode 9: Grimm, a chilling audio play featuring three classic Grimm's fairy tales ("Rapunzel," "The Juniper Tree" and "Snow White"), presented in a dark tone that comes very close to the original stories they're based on. The hour-long play will be performed in front of a live audience at the Rose Wagner Theatre tomorrow night, while being simulcast over KUER at 7 p.m. for free as a traditional radio production. Today, we're talking with Matthew Ivan Bennett, Cheryl Cluff, Dave Evanoff, Jason Tatom and Colleen Baumseveral about the production before it takes place Oct. 15. (All pictures courtesy of Plan-B Theatre.)


Gavin: Hey everyone, first thing, what's have you all been up to since we last chatted?

Colleen: Much Ado About Nothing and a reading at PTC, several readings at Plan-B and one at SLAC.

Matthew: I've been looking longingly at my D&D books, but alas, the time.

Cheryl: I directed Plan-B’s 3, by Eric Samuelsen, last spring.

Dave: A new DVD and CD for Air Supply. An album by a new duet Of Eden, produced by Graham Russell. A Metal album from '80s artist Desi Rexx and Jonni Lightfoot and various other musical projects and albums.

Jason: Well, along with a ton of audio book projects (as normal), I recently finished two weeks of filming on Waffle Street, an independent comedy starring Danny Glover and James Lafferty.

click to enlarge Cheryl Cluff
  • Cheryl Cluff

Gavin: What was the last production you were each involved in and how did it go?

Colleen: In Much Ado About Nothing at PTC, I played two roles: Ursula and The Friar. It was a lot of fun, good cast and an amazing set and costumes. The director Matt August was so adventurous and made it magical.

Matthew: Eric(a) was my last Plan-B production. It toured to Theatre Out in California and the United Solo Theatre Festival in New York, where it won Best Drama.

Cheryl: 3 last spring at Plan-B. It was a wonderful experience. Because of that show, Plan-B was able to help Young Mormon Feminists launch their scholarship program through the benefit performance we did for YMF. I’m very proud that we could be a part of this. In addition, I think it helped give a voice to some of the feelings and frustrations Mormon women have been experiencing within the Mormon culture and I think that’s important, especially with recent events.

Dave: I worked all summer as a musician for Saturday's Voyeur at SLAC and Forever Plaid at The Grand.

Jason: Hmmmmm, I think the last stage project I did last year’s Radio Hour - Episode 8: Fairyana at Christmas with Plan-B. And it went beautifully, thank you!

Gavin: Matthew, how did the idea come about for a Grimm fairy tale episode of Radio Hour?

Matthew: Well, we always collaborate with KUER’s RadioWest on Radio Hour, and they were passionate about dramatizing Grimm’s Fairy Tales. From there, we did a survey and asked which pieces our audience would like to hear. And we worked from there. Along the way, I fell in love with "The Juniper Tree" and, happily, Elaine at RadioWest also loves it.

Matthew Ivan Bennett
  • Matthew Ivan Bennett

Gavin: What was the process like for you in finding the stories you wanted to adapt and what made you choose the three set for this production?

Matthew: As a company we wanted to do at least two familiar pieces. The survey leaned toward the familiar so that worked in our favor. "Snow White" scored well and, as it happens, the original version of "Little Snow White" is incredibly dark and different and juicier than a few of the other familiars. Of course I read through them all, and doing that discovered "The Juniper Tree" for the first time. At first, I thought it simply wouldn't fit because of its length, but I drew on my skills as a poet and wrote it into a violent group prose poem.

Gavin: Considering the original source material was already dark, how was it for you writing this for broadcast radio while simultaneously making it darker?

Matthew: Broadcast radio has all sorts of language restrictions, of course, but there's a lot you can describe without being "Rated R" on the radio. Making the pieces darker—since it's Halloween—came naturally in part since radio theatre depends a lot on dialogue. In the original printed "Rapunzel," we discover the girl is pregnant in a couple of sentences, something like: "And Rapunzel asked the faery, 'Frau Gothel, why don't my clothes fit me anymore?' And the faery snapped, 'You godless child' and cut off her hair and banished her to the desert.'" It's not much a scene. For radio, I had to take those few sentences and tease out a whole (much darker) argument.

Gavin: Cheryl, how has it been directing your ninth Radio Hour and working with KUER?

Cheryl: I’m the company’s managing director and the work I do in that aspect is very analytical, orderly, I crunch a lot of numbers. I like spreadsheets. Nothing better than a well organized spreadsheet with lots of formulas. Then when I direct or do sound design, it’s obviously much more creative and more free flowing. I find if I’m too planned and rigid with the process it can work against me – you have to let things happen more organically (while still being very prepared). I feel fortunate that I get to work both sides of my brain so thoroughly. Working with KUER is always a complete dream. We are so fortunate to have them as a partner with this project. They are always incredibly supportive of whatever wacky idea we have in mind and they’ve embraced Radio Hour since the beginning.

click to enlarge Bill Allred
  • Bill Allred

Gavin: The last Radio Hour was just three people, this time you're up to five. What was the process like in choosing the talent you wanted to work with for this episode?

Matt: Adding Colleen Baum was a no-brainer. She's a comedic treasure here in Salt Lake.

Cheryl: We’ve got our regulars back: Jay (who has been in every Radio Hour episode), Teresa (nearly every episode) and Jason (this is his third episode) and it’s very helpful to have regular folks back—I have a kind of radio short hand with them and it’s nice. There is a reason why we keep asking them back, which will be apparent in performance. When we decide to do Grimm stories for Episode 9, Bill Allred’s name came up immediately. This will be his third Radio Hour. He’s unconventionally charming and can be a real weirdo when he wants to be. Perfect. And he’s also a great actor. There are a lot of characters in this show, so we decided we needed one more actor so that folks don’t have to play two characters against themselves in the same scene. Looking for someone new, I wanted someone with a great sense of timing, who can vocally play multiple characters, and that’s Colleen Baum. It was an easy decision. Although she’s never done Radio Hour, she was in our production of War of The Worlds in 2002.

Gavin: Colleen and Jason, how was it for each of you to be asked back for this show, and what were your first impressions of the script?

Colleen: This is my first Radio Hour, so I’m very honored to be able to do it. I am going to have to work hard to keep up with all these amazing actors and all of their experience! The script has some incredible imagery in it and fantastic humor. Matt is a pro at writing scripts that give actors many options.

Jason: Well, seeing as this is one of the projects I always wanted to be involved with, year after year, the fact that I'm back for a third year in a row is just fabulous. And I have to say I giggled like a little kid at getting to read Matt's script. God, that man is good at what he does.

Gavin: With three different stories going into an hour-long set, how is it for you adapting to each one and defining different voices for each to distinguish them from each other?

Colleen: The best way for me to keep all of my characters straight is to use lots of different highlighters! Seriously, color-coding is the way to go.

Jason: It's like a day on the playground. Honestly, everyone involved in this, at all levels, is fantastic at what they do. So when you get to be in a room with so much talent, you're automatically braver than you might be otherwise, so you just try stuff. See what sticks. I remember at the first reading, I tried a voice for the young prince. It was a silly voice that got an initial laugh, but became completely ridiculous and distracting, so you just nope out of it, and try something else.

click to enlarge Jason Tatom
  • Jason Tatom

Gavin: Do you have a particular favorite among the three stories and why?

Colleen: My favorite is “Little Snow White.” I love playing the Witch Queen!

Matthew: "The Juniper Tree" in terms of raw messed-up-ness, but "Rapunzel" in terms of meaning for us today.

Cheryl: “The Juniper Tree” is my favorite at the moment. I love how dark and horrifying it is. The others are also dark, but that one is particularly shocking. Perfect for Halloween.

Jason: Right now, it's the second piece, “The Juniper Tree.” It's by far the shortest, and completely different from the others. You'll see, it's eerie, sad, inventive, and ultimately shattering. So good.

Gavin: Dave, you've returned to do music for your fifth Radio Hour. How was it for you being asked back?

Dave: It is a pleasure and an honor always to work with the Plan-B family in any capacity! My goal is always to put on the best show I can. Plan-B has always given me the freedom and guidance, when needed, to do just that.

click to enlarge Dave Evanoff
  • Dave Evanoff

Gavin: Prior to production, what was the process like in creating music and finding a theme?

Dave: I wait as long as I can to begin. This year I began after three readings and one week from the start of rehearsal. After the second reading I start to make notes. Some piano here, guitar there, theremin in this section, a child's toy piano would be great in that section. Funny here, scary there, big swell and finish. I record the final read through and actually spend a couple of days playing along with it just to make sure I can get from one instrument to another fast enough. I always try and come up with one or two instruments that not only bring an unusual sound, but a visual element to the performance. I've got a couple good ones in mind for this year.

Gavin: Even though it's an old-school way of doing radio plays, there's a lot of newer tricks used to create sound effects, and in one story they're being created by the cast. How challenging is it for everyone on stage to turn this production into a flawless listening experience?

Colleen: It’s very challenging, that’s why I think it’s important to rely on your fellow actors and trust them.

Matthew: By doing what good actors do best: listen.

Cheryl: Yeah, sound is different this year. We’re using music that supports the tone of each piece, but also as figurative sounds effects in some cases. I think that’ll be a nice change for us and the audience. It’s good to mix things up. In “The Juniper Tree” the actors are not only doing the sounds, but they are speaking the sounds. So when there’s a slap, the actor won’t make the sound of slapping, they literally say the word, “slap” – very much in an onomatopoetic kind of way. And all of those “sound” words the actors are doing convey the horror that’s happening in that story. I love how Matt has written this one because of that.

Dave: Laptops, iPads, samplers are all a huge help. Traditionally however, we've kept Radio Hour very old school. We’re trying something new this year.

Jason: The challenge of doing everything live is what makes this the most fun. The fact that it isn't perfectly produced and seamless is one of its strengths. It's the tiny imperfections in things that make them interesting. We'll pull you along.

click to enlarge Colleen Baum
  • Colleen Baum

Gavin: What are all of your thoughts going into opening night?

Colleen: I just hope I highlighted everything. I repeat: It’s the way to go.

Matthew: My fondest hope is that I get a piece of hate mail over Grimm. I've never gotten hate mail really, but I think this piece has the potential to make a few ears bleed.

Cheryl: I hope folks are sufficiently creeped out by the brutality of the original Grimm stories. I think most people know they are darker than the stories we hear these days. But most people don’t know how much darker they really are.

Dave: My thoughts will be, guitar in tune? Music on my stand? If the live radio show is short, how much ad-libbing am I prepared to do to fill with music?

Jason: Just, bring it on! I can't wait.

Gavin: What can we expect from all of you going into next year?

Colleen: I’m in the next Plan-B show Christmas With Misfits.

Matthew: In March, at Plan-B, I'll have another piece called A/Version Of Events, a road trip play that I'm really proud of. I feel it melds together my oldest dramedy instincts with a lot of things I've learned lately as a writer.

Cheryl: This Christmas, I’m directing Christmas With Misfits. I’ll also be doing sound design for Plan-B’s Mama, A/Version of Events and Pilot Program.

Jason: I would imagine I'll make and abandon several resolutions going into the new year.

click to enlarge radio_hour.jpg

Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Matthew: Literary Death Match at the Urban Lounge on Thursday, Oct. 16! I'll be judging some live lit performances from some of the best writers in the state. Literary Death Match is loud, fast, and like a shot of wheatgrass for your brain.

Jason: Right now, the next thing I'm doing is Plan-B's Marry Christmas . I'm just incredibly lucky I can make a living doing what I love.

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