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Gavin's Underground

Salt Lake Acting Company: End Days

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2009-04-13 -

The current season over at Salt Lake Acting Company has started to wind down, but not without bringing out some of the bigger titles left to showcase. Take for example the current play on stage... End Days. A comedic look at a post-9/11 family as the world is coming to an end (on a Wednesday no less), while Jesus hangs out in the kitchen, Stephen Hawking arrives to give insight, and an Elvis-clad neighbor becomes the family's one last hope. The play itself takes a humorous yet insightful look at love, hope and faith while challenging the ideals of the norm. I got to chat with playwright Deborah Zoe Laufer, director Kirstie Rosenfield, and four of the shows actors: Paul Kiernan, Daniel Lara, Marin Kohler and Colleen Baum about the play and their experience with it as well as future plans.

Paul Kiernan, Colleen Baum, Marin Kohler, Daniel Lara, Kirstie Rosenfield & Deborah Zoe Laufer
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http://www.saltlakeactingcompany.org/

Gavin:
Hey guys. First off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Marin: I am a freshman at the University of Utah, freshman in the Actor Training Program and I am also pursuing my B.A. in Art History and an Honors Degree. I am originally from Salt Lake. I am a huge movie lover and worship Peter Lorre, Meryl Streep, Alan Rickman, and Michael Pitt. Chances are if you see me out in the world I am away laughing on a fast camel, whatever that means, and listening to old school punk or indie electro British bands. I plan to go to London to pursue and M.F.A. after I graduate and would love to work on the West End in the future.

Paul: Born and raised in Boston. Undergrad at Salem State College, Grad school at Brandeis university. After grad school worked for the Walt Disney world corp for about nine years as an actor/writer/director. Left Disney to do more regional and classical work. I drink a lot of coffee, I cook, I live alone, I don't own a television. I love movies in the afternoon, dark bars on Tuesdays, good scotch, Yaks, the word spatula. Favorite poets are Charles Bukowski and Billy Collins. The ocean is my touchstone and I miss it every day. The word and the concept "sandwich" fill me with small giggles. Ever have tea at the Beehive Tea Room, do it, it's quite civilized. I am a fight director and really proficient with a sword. The artist Mark Rothko has always been of interest to me, not just his work but his life. I am currently attempting to read all the classic books I dodged in high school. I have a thing for red heads who wear glasses. I love aquariums. I lived in Italy for two years and would live there for the rest of my life if I could. I love history and when I am on the road I like it when the housing they put me up in has the History Channel, I could spend weeks just watching that network. I like being an actor because most times, we don't stop to watch when those things happen in real life. Actors get to slow it down and show it full and... if we do it right, we all learn something about ourselves as people.

Kirstie: I've been a professional theatre director for 20 years, the past 7 in SLC. I'm the Artistic Director of Utah Contemporary Theatre, and I used to run a small theatre in London. I trained in England, where I grew up, and at Stanford, where I got my PhD in directing, I taught directing at USU for awhile. When I'm not sitting in a dark theatre, I'm out skiing at Alta.

Daniel: My name is Daniel Lara. I was born in Bogot, Colombia and moved to the United States about six years ago. I'm 19 years old. I currently in the Actor Training Program and I am a freshman. Besides acting I love playing music. I can play anything I get a hold off. I bought a banjo last week.

Gavin: What inspired you to take an interest in theater?

Paul: I got into it in college. I still, to this day, have no real notion of why I was drawn to it. I liked the aspect of telling stories, of putting up the societal mirror... of shining the light on all the aspects of the human animal. I liked making people laugh. Plautus says the purpose of comedy is to lift the burden off the audience. I wanted to lift some burdens for a  couple of hours a night. See what that did for people.

Daniel: I guess I kind of always did theatre without doing it. I always performed poetry and stories as a child. In ninth grade I had a strong interest In music I wanted to play the viola professionally, but during that year my orchestra teacher tormented me until I finally quit. I left the fat mans class and I took a theatre class for the hell of it. I was hooked after my first semester.

Colleen: I took an interest in acting and theatre when I was about 12 years old. I had a great elementary school teacher who did after school projects like writing plays and performing them for students and parents. She encouraged me to be an actor and I've been doing it ever since.

Kirstie: I went to university expecting to go to medical school. I chanced upon a directing class when I was a Junior, and it was like catching an incurable disease. However, I was probably wired for theatre already, because my parents took me to see the Royal Shakespeare Company starting at age seven (3 hours of Anthony and Cleopatra!) I was immediately an addict; it was what I wanted to do on birthdays, special occasions, first dates.

Marin: I cannot remember a time I did not want to do theatre. Theatre is what I am meant to do with my life. In Elementary during recess I would make my friends run improve scenes over again so that we could get them just right. It is in my blood.
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Gavin: How did you first get involved with the Salt Lake Acting Company?

Paul: I was new to Salt Lake, looked up auditions, auditioned for White People, didn't get cast, went back and Auditioned for Freedomland, got cast and ...kept going back.

Colleen: My first experience with Salt Lake Acting Company was Cabbies, Cowboys & The Tree Of The Weeping Virgin. An evening of short plays by local playwrights. My play was exactly the one I wanted, The Dome, written by Mike Dorrell. I couldn't have been more thrilled, the writing was so touching and I fell in love with the character. I was hooked on Mike Dorrell's writing from then on.

Marin: This is my first show with SLAC. My professor announced that they were holding auditions for a show and needed a younger girl who could play a goth girl. I decided to audition to get my name out there and I wound up being cast.

Kirstie: I've directed seven shows for SLAC, starting eight years ago. Its been a wonderful relationship - at SLAC they value the rehearsal process and the play, and they provide enough time to accomplish strong performances.

Daniel: The first audition for End Days was my first involvement with SLAC.

Gavin: Tell us about the play End Days.

Paul: Well, it is about so many different things for all of the characters. For me, a lot of it is about what you feel is important and what happens when that becomes not so any more. What happens when you're suddenly forced to look around and wonder if you've made a mistake. And, is that mistake something you can repair. It is a very smart play in it's comedy. It is comedy of character and action more than it is just funny lines. It deals with religion; Christianity, Jewish and, going over the script again prepping for week two, I am seeing a great deal about the Protestant work ethic ...work will get us through. But, there is a difference between working simply to make money and working for something that your heart feels is important. It's about family in a very diverse sense and, it is about rebuilding after devastation. But, you know, that's just one actor's ideas and it's 9 in the morning and I'm drunk so, don't believe me.

Colleen: End Days attracted me because of how strongly these characters love each other. They are passionate about connecting with one another, yet at first, can't make that connection because of the way they are living their lives. I could see that my character, Sylvia, loved her family so much that she went to the extreme of creating her own Jesus to guide her and reassure her that everything will be okay and safe. He became her woobie blanket until finally she had to let go of him and face the reality of her family again.

Daniel: End Days is a magical yet realistic play that focuses on finding a medium for life. The play deals with different ways of looking at life, from a religious to a scientific perspective. In the end the playwright creates a synthesis of these ideas and creates a way of uniting humanity. Or at least the humans on stage.

Kirstie: I like to describe End Days as a comedy about tragic times. While the play deals with the aftermath of 9/11 for one particular family, it could be about coping with any major tragic event - Hurricane Katrina, Tsunamis, terrorism, economic meltdown. The play is really looking at how we cope in an ungrounded, or even broken, world. How do we go forward when we live in fear? All of the play's characters are paralyzed in some way by their experience of tragedy. Not particularly comic, you'd think. But what I love about this play is its "magical realism". That is, the introduction of characters who are real, but not quite - Jesus, Stephen Hawking and Elvis all come to the aid of the family and they bring gentle comic moments with them. All of the characters are looking for a savior of sorts – whether its Jesus, or physics or an un-dead Elvis. The real characters get unstuck by moving from isolation to community and reconnecting with their pasts and with traditions. They learn to live in the moment, be with each other and move forward in the face of fear.

Marin: End Days is about a family deeply affected by the 9/11 terrorists attacks who are picked back up by a kid in an Elvis costume.

Deborah: End Days has so many things that are important to me in there. It’s a really dear play to me. I care desperately about science, and I’m fascinated by religion.  I was listening to NPR one day, and I heard that 40% of the country was Evangelical, and I didn’t even really know what Evangelical meant. I was shocked; I thought they must have gotten it wrong, but I went online, and I started doing some research and found out, indeed, 40% of the country is Evangelical. It was around the time when Bush was re-elected, and I was feeling like I didn’t really know or understand the country at all, and I thought I should find out what that means. I would like to get inside it in a way that is not judgmental, where I could really understand the emotional life that would bring someone to choose something that seemed so extreme to me. So, whenever I’m confused by something, writing a play is really the way I look at it, the way I try to figure it out, so I would say that was what sparked it.

Deborah: At the time I was writing this, the country – everybody was in tremendous fear. I lived outside New York, and it was not that long after 9/11; we were getting alerts every day about how frightened we should be. When I was looking at what Evangelicals believed the Rapture would be like, it sounded a lot like 9/11. I hadn’t thought about writing about 9/11 or the aftermath, and then – all the descriptions of fire in the sky, and people screaming and disappearing, sounded so much like the experience the people I know had on 9/11, that it seemed like a kind of obvious tie-in. I was writing about where we live when I wrote End Days. There were kids who lost their parents in the Trade Towers in my kids’ classes. People left the city and moved to our community. People were just trying to get out of the city quickly after that happened. In almost every one of my plays there’s an innocent. It’s a good way to give people a fresh eye on the world around them, and to see it through the eyes of someone who is seeing it anew, or seeing it for the first time, so I frequently put a character like that in my plays. Someone who’s trying to figure out our world; the things we take for granted are new to him. Nelson, I think, is sort of like that old saying, "If Jesus came to your door, would you recognize him?" He’s this crazy, weird kid who gets beaten up all the time, but he’s just got a purity and an openness. He’s like a bright light coming into this dark household, and it shines a light on all of them.
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Gavin: What was your first impression of it when you got wind of the script?

Marin: My first impression of the script was that it was going to be a typical sitcom type script. The family would come back together at the end, all of their problems would be solved, life would be great. I was really happy to realize that the script progressed in a way that was still optimistic about the future, but acknowledged that the characters still had their problems. It was also really nice that the script did not judge the characters. It is all to easy to judge Slyvia, Arthur, and Rachel’s choices as being negative. The play simply presents their actions as their means of coping with the world.

Paul: These are good, solid, funny, playable characters with enough depth that the discoveries will be fun.

Daniel: I loved the play for several reasons. I loved the dialog and the ideas it presented. But to tell you the truth I loved nelson, I enjoyed the way he sees life and the things he says. I saw a part of myself in him. By the end of the play I was hooked on the story and all I wanted was a chance to play this character on stage and present his ideas to the world.

Gavin: Kirstie, how did you come to be the director for this play?

Kirstie: Keven asked me to look over both End Days and Dark Play last spring. End Days spoke to me: I'm interested in the characters' struggles to find meaning in their broken world. Stylistically I enjoy the comic approach to tragedy (it must be from those early Shakespeare adventures) and the element of magical realism. Also, I connected to the Jewish elements of the play.

Gavin: What was the audition process like for you going in? And how did it feel to know you had the part?

Paul: The audition process was pretty much like every audition. You prepare, you make choices and you do your best. The rest is out of your hands so, there's no need to worry about it. You get it or you don't. I was happy to get the job, as always.

Daniel: This audition process was very interesting. It was my first time auditioning for a professional theatre company so I was scared shitless. But besides being scared I felt confident about my work, I felt that I really had put in some time to understand this character and I felt that all I could do was give my best and I tried to do that. After the audition I did not know if I had the part or not. All I knew Is that I had done some great work and that the audition was a good experience on its own.

Colleen: The audition process was nice. My first audition was not my best, I was a bit nervous, but got the callback anyway. I was called back with two other extremely talented actresses. Any one of us would have made the role of Sylvia unique and strong. I was surprised to find out I was cast and I still feel lucky to this day.

Marin: The audition process for me was actually quite a shock. I honestly did not even think I would make it past the initial auditions. The entire goal of auditioning was to get my name out there. I was shocked to learn that I had gotten the part. Excited beyond belief and thrilled to be working in the professional world.

Gavin: How was opening night for all of you, and what did you think of the audience reaction to it?

Paul: Opening night was good; the audience was kind and responsive.

Marin: Opening night was great, the audience had wonderful reactions. It really got the show off to a great start. I was really nervous in the beginning of the show because this is technically my professional debut, but the second I stepped on stage I forgot about everything and focused on the task at hand. In the end I am really proud of the work I have done. I presented the work I had been doing for a month with the idea that rehearsal is never over. That mentality really works really well for me.

Colleen: Opening night went really well, we were all nervous backstage but excited to finally open the play we had all been working so hard on for weeks. The audience laughed a lot, we weren't used to that - we were relieved.

Kirstie: The joy of preview nights is that by opening night everyone has settled into their roles and the actors have acclimatized to audience reactions and laughter. Our opening night went very well: the audience was receptive, listened intently and laughed a lot.

Daniel: Opening night was fun. It was great to work with everyone and to receive such a positive response from our audience. I think as a cast we felt very pleased with our work and we felt that our play was glued, or solid.
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Gavin: What's the next project for you after End Days wraps up?

Paul: Always auditioning and, since I make my living as an actor, I am sure something will come up. I am still performing Jeff Metcalf's play, A Slight Discomfort. I have dates around Utah and the country with possibilities in England and Sweden all summer so, that's nice.

Daniel: My next project is finding a next project. Working with SLAC has been one of the most educational and personal journeys I have taken. I have learned intensively and I cant wait to work again. For now I'm going to keep going to school to learn my craft so that in the future I can find work like this again. But besides school, after End Days I'm planning a trip to Oregon on foot so that will be another story to tell.

Colleen: My next project after End Days is over is SLAM/Banned with Plan-B Theatre Company in May. After that I am going to take a vacation! It's been years since I've had one. I'll also be auditioning for various film projects around the state.

Kirstie: This is my fourth back-to-back show since August. I'm going to spend the summer with my three kids on a mountain in Vermont. I'm hoping they will remember who I am.

Marin: My finals scene for my acting class. Sam Shepard's Fool For Love.

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

Paul: Literacy. I would like to encourage kids to read more. Divide time between TV and video games with books. Read plays. Read more. Start reading groups. And, I also would like to promote the idea of hand written correspondence. We have lost touch with that. Email and text messaging is so easy... try, once a week, putting pen to page and writing a letter to someone, even if you see them every day... just write to them. Send them or hand them a nice letter.

Marin: Une Saison En Enfer (A Season In Hell) at Studio 115 in the PAB building on the U of U campus. April 16-19.

Kirstie: Terry Tempest Williams, in her recent book Finding Beaty in a Broken World talks about post-9/11 "fragmentation" --a turning inward rather than outward as a mechanism for coping. It’s a mechanism that fails us. End Days shows us a similar failure to cope in our frightening world. In these challenging times, we have to open outward, connect with those around us, and build communities. We are in a tough climate for the arts right now, but the arts are part of how we understand our times, and stay connected. Coming to the theatre is not about just one show. Leave the house, see something new, and discuss it with family and friends.

Daniel: Mostly Salt Lake Acting Company. It has been a blessing to work for them. Their dedication to theatre is to be admired. I feel that their ideas and their work really demonstrate their care for this art.

Deborah: Deborah Zoe Laufer on NPR Science Friday, April 17. KUER 90.1 FM.

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