from The Children's Theatre on State Street and the productions they
put on ever season there isn't much else happening in local theatre
circles catered directly to a much younger audience. But this year
one of the more modern and adult companies decided to branch from the
norm and create an endearing piece in time for the holiday
Salt Lake Acting Company kicked off its run of GO, DOG, GO last week to rousing audiences of kids and adults alike, adapting the old P. D. Eastman book to the tune of a musical show, brought to life by some of Utah's most eclectic performers all catered to an original music score for the masses. I got a chance to chat with Jerry Rapier who served as director for this play, choreographer Cynthia Fleming, as well as most of the cast about the play and their thoughts on local theatre.
Jerry Rapier, Cynthia Fleming, Colleen Baum, Deena Marie Manzanares, David Evanoff, Shannon Musgrave, Jay Perry & Nathan Shaw
Gavin: Hey guys, first off, tell us a little about yourselves.
Jerry: I am in my tenth season as Producing Director of Plan-B Theatre Company. It's nice to switch hats and spend the holidays with the good folks at SLAC. GO, DOG. GO! is my coming out as a lover of childrens' theatre!
Cynthia: For Go, Dog. Go!, I’m the choreographer. Full time, I'm the Director of Communications and Audience Development at Salt Lake Acting Company. The love of my job is heightened by the amazing women that are my communications team: Andra Harbold Murray, Becky Santti, Daisy Blake and Shannon Musgrave. I started out as an actress/ dancer. Growing up in Bountiful, Utah. I made it from Bountiful to Broadway -- I’m not talking about 300 South in SLC. Broadway, New York. I was in the 1st A CHORUS LINE for 11 years until it closed in 1990. I played 4 different parts throughout the years. Before and after ACL, I have performed, choreographed and directed many productions. I’m married to Jeff Fleming and have 2 fabulous sons, Anthony and Nick, and 4 rescue dogs – Ashes, Dusty, Sienna and Daisy.
Colleen: My name is Colleen Baum and I like dogs and theatre - especially theatre for children. That's why I auditioned for this particular play.
Deena: My name is Deena Marie Manzanares, I enjoy long walks on the beach, pina coladas and getting caught in the rain.
Shannon: My name is Shannon Musgrave. I grew up in North Ogden and studied musical theatre at Weber State University. Now I live in Salt Lake, performing everywhere I can, and working as part of SLAC's awesome new marketing team. I love cooking, I'm learning to knit and I'm a big Utes fan.
Nathan: Started in theater back in high school. I loved singing so musical theater was my specialty. It was my life. My senior year I had three periods for choir. I know it was overkill...
Gavin: What inspired all you to take an interest in theater?
Shannon: From the time I was about three, I was a glutton for attention. I've always loved to perform, and in college I became more serious about it. The training at Weber was fantastic and really inspired me to pursue theatre as a career.
Cynthia: I started ballet classes at the age of seven. I was pigeon-toed and my Mother thought ballet would correct it. It did. I loved watching variety shows on TV. When I saw Shirley MacLaine in SWEET CHARITY I knew that's what I wanted to do. Perform in musical theatre, not be a hooker. I took my first jazz dance class at twelve and was hooked. Acting and singing lessons followed.
Deena: My love of dressing up and make believe.
Jerry: There wasn't any theatre in the ultra-rural area of southeastern Arizona/southwestern New Mexico where I grew up. My first semester of college (Eastern Arizona College, 1989) one of my dear friends got cast in a play and I thought, "Well if she can do it..." So I auditioned for the next play, a crazy-ass thing called MAN OF KERIOTH, written and directed by Khigh Dheigh, best known as Wo Fat on “Hawaii, Five-O.” I got cast and was hooked.
David: I fell into theater as a local musician. I started to get hired as a very young kid to play shows at The Lagoon Opera House, Theater 138, The Promise Valley Playhouse and here at The Salt Lake Acting company. Playing music for shows let me to learn more about Theater arts.
Gavin: What was the process like in translating GO, DOG, GO from book to stage, both script and production wise?
Jerry: It's crazy that we're all getting paid to have this much fun! It's such a different way of working for me, to focus so much on telling a story with very little dialog. I love that GO, DOG. GO! insists that we look at everything at its simplest. It's comforting to have such an iconic book to anchor all of our choices, to refer back to. We're not reinventing the wheel - we're simply trying to tell this beloved story in the most entertaining way possible. The actors are going to be rock stars among 4-year-olds this holiday season.
Cynthia: Our goal was to bring the book to life. The set and costumes gorgeously recreate the book. There really isn’t much of a script, more of an outline, the rest comes from us, the creative team. The script does ask that the dogs not act like dogs; they play, work, sleep, and eat like people. So we did not do the DOG version of CATS. The score is more defined with clarity of action than the script. I ended up using the score as my bible for this play. As far as creating the dances, I tried to introduce many styles of dance to children as possible; there’s hip hop, 50’s jazz, the pony and monkey from the sixties, tap, a conga line, a kick line, and a big vaudeville ending to a number. The script calls for a water ballet and dogs on anything that rolls, so our dogs all enter on scooters. The process was as intense as any other play that I’m involved in. No one let their guard down because it’s a children’s play. In fact I think we all have worked harder. Whoever said “oh that’s child’s play”, never produced a children’s play.
Shannon: The script is almost exactly like the book, only about 80 words, so it was definitely a unique process. It was very collaborative. Jerry, Cynthia and Dave had a great vision of how the show would work and we as a cast got to throw in ideas as well. The outcome is a very physical, energetic hour of non-stop puppy fun!
Jay: With less than 100 words in both the book and the show, the real work has been voice and dance choreography. Dave's arrangement is brilliant and Keven's set is magical, so we have a world to play in that's really well set up for exploration. It's a lot of fun!
Nathan: The process for setting this work was so different then I what I am used to. Modern Dance choreographers often leaves blanks in the choreography and trust you to fill in the blanks. In Go Dog Go, every single moment is specific. We have worked every nook and cranny to make sure it is exactly as the director wanted.
Gavin: For the actors, how was the audition process like for you and what was it like getting the part?
Deena: It was unlike any other audition. I read/acted out the entire book, sang a children’s song of my choice. Lady Bug Picnic from “Sesame Street”, if you don't know it you should! Look it up on YouTube right now! And did some improv. It was really just another normal day for me!
Jay: We were asked to read the book out loud, play or do something physical and sing a children's song. I juggled and sang "Can't Spell Hippopotamus" at the same time and then tried to do the worm. Tried really hard. I remember thinking right in the middle of it, "I don't think I'm doing the worm." It was more like the crowbar. The real challenge was the call back. It's continued to be a great challenge ever since.
Nathan: It was really exciting to audition. I have been with RDT for four years so I haven't auditioned at all. I had a blast at the audition. I loved getting to work with the possible cast in different improvs. I think the cast that was chosen were the ones who had the most fun at the audition.
Shannon: The audition was very unique as well. With a show like Go, Dog. Go! you can't really prepare sides, so the audition called for a physical interpretation of the story and a children's song. It was a really fun audition and the call backs were great too. There was a lot of working together, creating an ensemble and coming up with ideas on how to bring the text to life. I was really excited when I found out I got cast, and even more so when I found out I got to play Hattie (the lovely little poodle with all the fabulous hats).
Colleen: The audition process was challenging because there was not a script to go from. We read the book and acted out the different scenes on the pages. We also sang a children's song. I brought a puppet to help me do that - makes it more comfortable that way.
Gavin: What's was the process been like fitting into these unique roles?
Colleen: This play has been a joy to rehearse because everyone is so talented and kind. We work as an ensemble, everyone helping each other, encouraging each other and making sure we laugh in the dressing room!
Deena: I'm basically a big kid and I find some of this process comes a little too easy! On the other hand, the physicality and stamina it takes to make this thing happen is intense. I'm sore and bruised up! It's a workout, but I do love a physical show and I'm thrilled to have the chance to be a part of this. I'm quite proud of it! It's also fantastic to be working with my husband, David Evanoff on this show. It's our third musical together!
Shannon: We've tried to find a real honesty to these characters, as silly as that may sound. We aren't dog-like; for example we don't walk on all fours, we don't wear dog makeup, we don't bark. We just are these characters with floppy ears that work and play and eat and sleep and party. Jerry's been so great about bringing real honesty to this piece, and therein lies the real humor of it as well.
Jay: It's been very, very sweaty.
Gavin: In this particular play, music is playing a key role in the development. How did you eventually choose and get David to join on?
Jerry: When I was asked to direct GO, DOG. GO! my first question was, "Is Dave doing it?" It just doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me to do a musical without him.
Gavin: David, what's it been like for you in composing music to a classic children's piece?
David: The music was already composed, however in my opinion , thinly written for piano or accordion. I re-arranged the music and gave it a little cartoon style. Cartoon in the notion of Bugs Bunny and Disney.
Gavin: What was the reaction for all of you going into opening night, and your overall thoughts on the play itself?
Cynthia: Prior to opening night, we had three previews filled with elementary students. All the children and teachers have loved the play. I was a little nervous with our first mixed audience – adults and children. Well, the adults enjoyed the play just as much as the children. It’s just what we were hoping for GO, DOG. GO! – that it’s for ages 2 to 102. It was a magical evening and I’m looking forward to observing the spellbound eyes of children and hearing their glorious laughter: the result of this play every single performance. I'm excited and proud to be a part of SLAC's first play for children. Our GO, DOG. GO! is 50 minutes of non stop joy.
Jerry: I'm excited for people to see what a true ensemble can create!
David: I am amazed at how this piece of work captivates children. They are hypnotized by it! Bring your children, you'll be amazed at how much live theater can entertain them!
Shannon: This week we have elementary schools coming in for our morning shows, so we will have a theatre full of our exact target audience. It's going to be really exciting to see and hear their reactions to the show and I think will really help us fine-tune everything for opening night. I can't wait for audiences to see this show!
Jay: There have been a lot of last minute changes and the show is growing every time we do it. I think we're in for an exciting month.
Nathan: I was so pumped to open the show today. This show is sooooo much easier to perform when you have an audience. Especially when it is Kindergarten through 2nd grades. They were giggling the whole time. It was inspiring to feel their energy.
Gavin: A bit state-wide, what are your thoughts on local theater, both good and bad?
Nathan: I am new to the theater scene so I haven't really developed an opinion yet. Everyone is nice so far, just a little dramatic....I love them!
Shannon: I'm for it. There are a lot of new companies springing up, there are a lot of established companies doing good work and I think we should support it all. Utah has a pretty sweet little theatre scene and people ought to take advantage of it. There is really good work going on here and it can only continue if people support it.
Cynthia: 34 years ago I was amazed at the large community of theatre artists in Salt Lake City. I still feel the same way. There are passionate people creating theatre, a lot of actors are taking the next step and starting their own theatre company and I think that’s fantastic.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to improve it?
Shannon: Buy tickets. Be brave! See new work!
Gavin: What can we expect from all of you the rest of the year and going into next?
Jerry: Next up for me is a pair of world premieres at Plan-B: WALLACE by Jenifer Nii & Debora Threedy and AMERIGO by Eric Samuelsen.
Cynthia: I will continue to lead SLAC’s communication team to creatively and effectively get the word out about SLAC. One can still subscribe to this stunning, elegant, classy, wacky, transcendentally goofy season. This season has been magnificent so far. I’ll also choreograph SATURDAY’S VOYEUR.
Colleen: From here, I go to Pioneer Theatre Company for their production of OUR TOWN.
Deena: I'm still working on global domination! Cranking out videos on YouTube and for CityWeekly.net, some surprise video collaborations with local celebrities, modeling, and I'll be playing Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz in the world premiere of "Amerigo" with Plan-B next March, as well as appearing in Plan B's annual fundraiser "Banned/Slammed" in May.
Shannon: After GO, DOG. GO! I'm doing a show with Pinnacle Acting Company (a relatively new theatre company) called The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. It is hilarious. Come see it. It runs in February. After that I'm not sure yet, but hopefully something!
Nathan: My next show is with RawMoves Dance Company, Jan 22-23, 2010. The Story of Eight. Eight props, eight dancers. Should be a lot of fun. Also, RDT has shows coming up as well in the coming year.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Cynthia: Cheers to Joyful Expectations!
Deena: Oh there is a lot! Head over to DeenaMarie.biz to see it all!
Jay: I'm looking forward to CHARM at SLAC in the spring.
Shannon: Speaking of new theatre companies, one of Utah's newest - Dark Horse - is having a fundraiser at Club Jam on Tuesday, Dec. 15 at 9PM. There will be lots of local actors singing holiday favorites. It will be a really fun night and a great way to support a new local theatre company!
Jerry: Step away from your Wii, iPhone and DVR and support local theatre!