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Gavin's Underground

Salt Lake Acting Company: Good People

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2013-10-29 -
The Salt Lake Acting Company continues to roll through one of its more packed seasons with the interesting drama called Good People. The play looks in on working-class women in Boston as they struggle through life, and when a successful face comes back into the main character's life, she begins to question what she's been doing all these years in a revised look on class and race.
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Today, I chat with the play's director, Robin Wilks-Dunn, as well as three of the actors from the production about the play and their experience with it. (All pictures courtesy of SLAC.)

Michelle Patrick, Robert Scott Smith, Gordon Dunn (all pictured) and Robin Wilks-Dunn
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Gavin: Hey, everyone. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Michelle: Michelle Patrick is from Queens, New York, who has been performing for a majority of her life. Oh, and I LOVE crossword puzzles!

Robin: I moved to Utah to go to graduate school in theater, and got my MFA in directing. I had met my husband, Sam, in the film department while we were both in school. We got married and started a family and stayed in Utah 'cause we have always had work. My day job is at Kingsbury Hall, working with education and outreach, and I do freelance theater whenever possible. I primarily have been hired to direct, but I also read scripts, write, produce and teach. I have two sons, a dog, a cat and four chickens.

Robert: Hi, Gavin. I'm Robert Scott Smith, but you can call me Scott. When I was younger, I thought using my full name looked more "professional," so I ended up with a name that has caused much confusion throughout my life. The worst period was in graduate school, where I was called Bobby Scott; I wasn't amused. A little bit about myself: I grew up in Twin Falls, Idaho, and found my way to the actor training program at the University of Utah, then off to San Diego and The Old Globe Theatre for my MFA. I've bounced back and forth between NYC and SLC; loving both equally.
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Gavin: What have you all been up to over the past year in local theater?

Robin: This past year has been pretty quiet on the theater front. A show I co-wrote with Eric Jensen and Kevin Mathie, LiVe!, for Intermountain Healthcare is now on its fifth tour to junior high schools in Utah. I read scripts for Sundance Theatre Lab and I am on the board of Pygmalion Productions. I am on the national advisory committee for Kennedy Center's Partners in Education Program for professional development in the arts, which I am affiliated with through my job at Kingsbury Hall.

Robert: I moved back to SLC two years ago as creative director at The Leonardo, where I developed Popup@TheLeo, which was a theatrical multimedia experiment. I produced three shows Senses 5, Love and Mind Over Matter with the ever-talented Andra Harbold. We discovered something quite inspiring and are now about to launch our own company, Flying Bobcat Theatrical Laboratory.

Michelle: I made my debut with Pygmalion Productions as Elizabeth in In The Next Room last spring. I have also taken an interest in portrait photography.

Gavin: Robin, when did you first hear about Good People, and what did you think of the play?

Robin: I read it about a year ago and loved it -- put it on my list of "things I want to direct."
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Gavin: What made you decide to come on board as director for this play?

Robin: Keven from SLAC called and offered it to me. I would have been happy with any of the shows from their season, but was thrilled that Good People was what they offered me.

Gavin: How has it been for you working with the cast and crew as you put this play together?

Robin: It has been an amazing, creative process. I couldn't be happier with the cast, stage manager, designers and crew -- I got the best of the best of Utah theater artists! It was amazing that this team was all available at this time.
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Gavin: For the cast, what were your initial thoughts on the play when you first read it?

Robert: It was quite evident that this was a brilliant play. It's up there with Whose Afraid, Our Town, Streetcar and Angels In America. I was blown away by the nuances, surprises and depth of each character.

Michelle: A friend of mine suggested that I audition for the play before I had even read it. Initially, I was hesitant because I was planning on leaving the country for a month. But after reading the script, I immediately called SLAC and scheduled a time to audition. It's not everyday you receive an opportunity to read/perform a piece with so much depth. This is by far one of the best pieces I will perform to date. I'm very proud of the cast and Robin's directorial gift; she is a true gem to this community.

Gavin: What was it like for each of you auditioning and eventually getting your parts?

Gordon: For me, the process was very professional and what I typically expect from an audition. As far as the past goes, I have had a ton of great opportunities and roles, from college productions to professional repertory companies. I am excited to see what kind of response we get from the Salt Lake community from this show.

Michelle: During any audition, it's always terrifying to unleash both your talent and vulnerabilities, but all actors know this is necessary in the audition process. So in other words, yes -- terrifying, but you just do your best and hope no one noticed your hand shaking while holding the sides. Callbacks were just as intense, but when I received the call that I had gotten the part, I was ecstatic! The one thing I've learned through my years of experience is that the first impression is always the lasting one.

Robert: Auditioning was a must, and I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to play Mike Dillon.
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Gavin: Robert and Michelle, both of you have been working in SLC theatre for years. How do you approach new roles when you come in?

Robert: I look for the heart of the character and see where I personally find similarities and use that as a starting point. With a great play, it's all in the script and the playwright gives you a compass. Looking for options is the best way to explore the possibilities and get outside yourself. Every role is different, but at the end of the day, it's about objectives and what the characters want from each other. If you aren't playing an objective or going for what you want then the performance is flat and one dimensional, and who wants to watch people talking at each other instead of listening to each other? SLC has been good to me as an actor and I've had some of my best experiences here in. From BatBoy to Henry David Thoreau, it's been a treasure.

Michelle: Coming in PREPARED. Being off-book as much as possible affords me a great amount of flexibility in terms of character development throughout the rehearsal process.

Gavin: Gordon, this this your first year with the company. What's it like for you coming in fresh and working with this ensemble?

Gordon: As a first-time member of SLAC, the process has been extremely fun and inspiring. We have an amazing cast, director and stage manager, as well as great people creating the set and costumes. SLAC has always been one of my favorite companies, and I am honored to be a part of it and hope to work here again as often as they would want me back. As far as the script goes, it is an amazing piece and touches on some great issues in our society today.
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Gavin: How has it been for each of you fitting into these roles and discovering these characters?

Michelle: Kate and I do share a love of cheese, that's for sure. And like any character I'm portraying, I try to disable their vulnerabilities. Regardless of a character's indifference, actors simply demonstrate the flaws and the beauty of the human spirit. That's what's so powerful and moving about this particular show; David Lindsay-Abaire gracefully approaches a variety of social issues in such a direct, yet conscious admission. I think a lot of people will leave feeling like they may want to re-examine their lives and the people they have allowed into them.

Robert: I hate to say this, but it's been easy to fit into the role. Like I said earlier, it's a brilliant script and it feels like one of those well-worn sweaters that you just love to put on. The challenge is in the details and specifics of the character. Mike is so damned likeable, but at the end of the day, he's human and he's made some interesting choices to get where he is today.

Gavin: What's it been like interacting with each other and putting the play together as a group? 

Robin: I love collaboration. This has been a process of discovery, and each person has brought their best work to the table and I have helped shape it. The process of rehearsals has been very exciting, as the characters have taken shape and the story has unfolded. The script is so good and so multilayered. To have actors of this caliber working together has brought out the best in everybody's work.

Robert: This is a top-notch cast and creative team. The stars were aligned, and here we are with an amazing production.

Michelle: This has been an incredible experience in terms of our ensemble chemistry.  We all genuinely respect each other both on- and offstage ... and it shows!  LOVE this cast!!
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Gavin: What are all of your thoughts going into opening night?

Michelle: LET'S GO!

Robert: Anxious, and so ready for an audience!

Gavin: What can we expect from all of you over the rest of the year?

Robert: I'm hoping for a couple more productions this winter and early spring, but don't want to jinx it. With Flying Bobcat, we will be co-producing a new work with the newly formed NOW-ID Interdisciplinary Dance Company in May.

Michelle: I am choreographing Once On This Island at the Grand Theater in March. And then, we will see.
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Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Robert: Be on the lookout for Flying Bobcat Theatrical Laboratory.


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