the 2009-2010 theatre season comes to a close and people start
looking toward the next round of plays, final productions have now
kicked off at every theatre company. Starting with Plan-B's And
The Banned Slammed On nearly two
weeks ago and the remaining ones wraping up around July. Today we
take a look at the final production from another resident of the Rose
Pygmalion Theatre Company's second presentation of Sordid Lives kicks off tomorrow night. The Texas-branded dark comedy of a family dealing with the death of an elderly matriarch while sorting out their own inner issues. I got a chance to chat with the play's director (and Pygmalion's Artistic Director) Fran Pruyn, as well as actors Michael Canham and Brabara Gandy about the production, as we as their thoughts on local theater.
Fran Pruyn, Barbara Gandy and Michael Canham
Gavin: Hello all! First off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Fran: I started doing theatre in high school and never stopped. In the decades that followed I have directed scores of shows, and produced maybe three times that number. My most recent production was The Passion of Sister Dottie S. Dixon, the homage to Mormon women with gay children. To support my theatre habit, I am the Senior Principal of Marketing and Business Development at CRSA – an architecture and planning firm. The other partners are remarkably indulgent with me... I have sat on several boards, touted many causes, and am currently a proud if not brilliant member of the Intermountain Wild Horse and Burro Drill Team.
Barb: I'm Barb Gandy. I'm originally from Denver; moved here in 1978 with the plan of getting into the Dance Program at the U of U. I didn't make it in, but stayed in SLC. Currently, my day job is a commercial banker with U.S. Bank. I'm a Board Member of Pygmalion Productions. So, I believe my right and left brain are balanced. To relax, I read novels. I live in a household of six -- two dogs, a love bird, my best friend, and her life partner. Unconventional, but it works for me.
Michael: My name is Michael Canham and I am playing the role of Brother Boy, the tragic funny guy in the show.
Gavin: What inspired all you to take an interest in theater?
Barb: My BA is in theatre. I've been doing stuff on stage since I was five years-old. I have a clear little memory of dancing/singing at the old Denver Auditorium as a kid wearing a white satin costume with blue maribou -- don't know the tune though. While growing up, I was part of a entertaining troupe that did variety shows at hospitals, nursing homes, military bases, and anywhere else we were called. So, being in front of an audience is second nature. My dad was a musician, and his dad was a stagehand in Denver vaudeville houses -- he also worked the Wild Bill Hickcock Wild West Show tour and met my grandmother in England during the tour. She was a singer, and hailed from Vienna.
Michael: I really don’t have one particular thing that inspired me to want to do theater, I just remember from a small age that this is what I wanted to do. It just seemed natural to do so.
Fran: Oh gee, I probably wanted to be a movie star – I mean why does anyone take drama in high school? When I realized that wasn’t either easy or likely, I decided I wanted to be a drama critic -- writing came easier to me than acting. I wrote for the student newspaper at the University of Colorado, and rapidly realized I knew diddly squat about what I was writing. That is when I decided to take some theatre classes. It didn’t take long to realize, aptitude be damned, it was theatre not criticism that I found attractive: the scripts, the ideas, the creativity, and most of all the wonderfully good-humored collaboration of the people involved.
Gavin: Fran, how did you originally come across Sordid Lives?
Fran: Teresa Sanderson brought it to us. She had seen a production in San Diego and said, “we have to do this show!” We read it and agreed.
Michael: I can’t speak for fran, but I remember I saw the movie and just about peed my pants!
Gavin: What made you what to do the first production in 2008, and what was it like bringing that play to life that season?
Michael: It was so exciting to do Sordid Lives in 2008. This was a regional premier and knowing that it was a cult movie , I felt that it would be interesting to see who it brought in. Like I said, I loved the movie and just felt that I had to do it. There was no question about it.
Fran: The message and characters resonated with us: the women are so wonderfully wild and wacky (and that includes Brother Boy), and Ty’s story fits the old axiom, “parents are the first to know that their kids are gay, and the last to admit it.” Most importantly, this is a funny, funny piece of theatre. The actors love doing it, the audience enjoy that the situations and are infected by the fun that goes on stage. I have seen this show in rehearsal over, and over and over again, and there are still moments that I find so funny I can’t breathe. I have the advantage of having a very patient, generous and good natured cast that makes the process a joy.
Gavin: What made you decide to bring it back for a second run? And what was your approach to directing it this time around?
Fran: Two reasons: first it was hugely successful the first time around and we had plenty of audience members who didn’t get to see it the first time, and second – it was so much fun that the cast and crew agreed after the first run that we had to do it again. My approach was not to mess with the stuff that I knew worked (like some of the blocking), but to accommodate the interpretations of our new cast members and the new insights of the actors who are doing the show for the first time. I wanted to keep it fresh, by being open to new bits, new moments, new ideas, new decisions — but I also wanted to capitalize on the work we had done the first time around particularly with the physical humor.
Gavin: For the actors, what was it about this play that caught your eye to audition for it?
Barb: Sordid Lives is one of the funniest plays I've been involved in that also has an underlying serious message. When we got a hold of the play the first time, I organized a reading of it. I assigned myself the part of Dr. Eve for the reading -- folks seemed to like me. So, when the production was mounted, Fran cast me as Dr. Eve. This time around, Reb Fleming, who played Latrelle in the 2008 production, was not able to come back in 2010. So, after much deliberation on Fran and others' parts, and with the blessing of Reb, I got cast as Latrelle.
Michael: Well, I guess I should not say this, but I didn’t really have to audition. We did a read through one Sunday afternoon about four years ago and just read it to see if it was a show that PYG would want to do. The producers basically decided it then and there and gave out roles. I am actually very lucky because I know there were a couple actors in town that wanted this role. Sorry boys!
Gavin: How has it been for both of you fitting into these roles and interacting with each other and the rest of the cast?
Michael: Working with this cast has been so much fun. My “big” scene is just with on other person, so I don’t get to see many of the cast members unless Fran is rehearsing more than one scene that night. So I am looking forward to the last week of rehearsals so that I can see everyone! But Chris ( Dr. Eve) and I are having a riot. This is her first time in the show, so it is fun for me to recreate and do new things with her.
Barb: The 2008 production as Dr. Eve I got to play with Mike Canham (Brother Boy). It was wild -- I got to strip down to my red rhinestone bra and holler desperate sexual epithets at Mike. Whoo hoo! Oh, yeah, I was the body in the coffin too -- actually quite restful. This time, I'm playing uptight Latrelle, the mother of Ty, who is gay. I love Latrelle too. She is so desperate to present a good face to the community which means she about goes nuts trying to 'reason' with her wild-ass sister LaVonda (Teresa Sanderson), cover up her mother's farcical cause of death (tripping over 2 wooden legs, hitting her head on the sink in a seedy motel room where she's committing adultery), and not wanting to face the fact that her son is gay. But, she loves them all! And love wins out. What's also exciting this time is I get to be in scenes with Teresa and Vicki Pugmire, two of my closest friends I've known for years; I've only known Fran longer. We believe this is the first time all three of us have been in scenes together. And, I have a lovely scene with Ty, played by Alex Bala. I'm so lucky - he just great.
Gavin: Going into opening night, what are your overall thoughts on the production?
Michael: I am hoping for a HUGE success of course! I would love to see this show sold out and I hope that we get a lot of return visitors from the last time we did it, mostly because I don’t shave my face for just anyone, ya know!
Fran: Other than louder, faster, funnier? Gee, just the usual stuff. Where can I find a coffin for cheap, why does that actor have such big feet, is a lav mic really necessary on Bitsy, should I use real beer in the bottles??? This is a great show... I hope lots of people see it.
Barb: The returning ensemble are stronger than ever, and the new members of the ensemble are terrific. This is a ''pee your pants because you're laughing so hard" production, but you might shed a tear too. We're well supported by the design team and crew, as well as Becca our stage manager.
Gavin: Going state-wide, what are your thoughts on local theater, both good and bad?
Barb: On the weaker side, I have little patience for shows promoted as "family entertainment". What that generally means is it's suitable for a child. While I don't mean the lowest common denominator, certainly the youngest common denominator. And, how many productions of Nunsense, Joseph and the Amazing..., and Forever Plaid do I want to see? One each and I've already done it. On the other hand, the amount of theatre in the state on every level is amazing; from small community theatres to the Shakespeare Festival to very fine university/college theatre programs. And, to satisfy my interests, there are a number of solid companies producing thought-provoking theatre -- newer ones like Utah Theatre Artists, to established companies like Pygmalion, SLAC, and Plan-B, even Pioneer Theatre Company and The Grand Theatre which both present a broad based season.
Fran: There is a lot of talent in this state, and a lot of great local theatre. Even the “worst” shows have ten fabulous minutes and one terrific actor. I am praying that enough young people want to see live theatre to keep the art form viable for the next century. There is so much competition for audiences, and funding, and it costs so much to produce
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to improve it?
Fran: We need more spaces like the Rose Wagner Theatre, that are actually designed to do small, intimate theatre in. (The Rose Wagner BB was really designed for dance, and as a result does not have optimal floors, or wing space, or acoustics... for theatre. That is). We need more rehearsal space that is affordable. We need more parents to encourage their kids to do theatre, and to go to theatre, and not to be afraid of the ideas that are presented in “progressive” plays. Actually, I think we all do damned good job – given that we are all in some way or other hand to mouth – as a friend once said, “it just depends on the size of the hand and the size of the mouth.”
Barb: Changing a mind-set that may be religiously/morally based and thus primarily supportive of 'family' theatre is difficult. However, I think it's important that funding agencies -- government based and private foundations -- be open to supporting all types of theatre. ZAP is a great example.
Gavin: What's your take on the recent push to bring “Broadway to Utah”?
Barb: I worry about it. I'd rather see capital funding to build another facility like the Rose Wagner. The Rose is busting at the seems, and Pygmalion is lucky to be a tenant there. There is a big need for smaller performance spaces -- 75 seats studio theatres to 350 seat theatres -- as well as a crying need for reasonably priced rehearsal space. Part of me certainly wants the community to go see theatre, but the ticket price of "Broadway" theatre tends to mean: A) many audience members will save up to go to a touring show and not go to any other; B) some audience members will assume that the touring show has to be better than anything locally -- which is so not true. The hope is that the audiences will then be interested in local productions, but I'm skeptical.
Fran: Performance facilities are very, very expensive to build and mostly to maintain. Studies indicate their is a need for smaller spaces, why stretch our resources on a much larger space? Especially now. I just don’t think we have the tax base to pay for this and everything else we have as well. For the time being, we have facilities enough to handle touring shows, and heck plane tickets are not that expensive. I’d just as soon see the big stuff in big cities.
Gavin: What can we expect from all of you over the rest of the year?
Michael: Hmmm, what will I be up to the rest of the year? I have no direct plans. There is another show coming up that I would love to audition for, but we will see. Other than that… summer is coming and I hope to have a blooming garden, lots of veggies, a few cocktails and lots of laughs with friends. And I’ll probably go see some theater.
Fran: We need to slot our third show next season, but first up is a great play by Elaine Jarvick who writes for the Deseret News called The Coming Ice Age - a funny and poignant show about growing older and downsizing, and then a play called Well by Lisa Kron – a memoir that is sort of about a mother/daughter relationship, sort of about integration, sort of about being “well”. It is tender, and also funny. Funny is very important to me.
Barb: Working behind the scenes for Pygmalion's 2010-2011 season. I generally appear in at least one production a season, but have no immediately plans for next season. We'll just have to see.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Barb: Yes -- Pygmalion will be announcing its season soon -- the opener is a lovely play by local playwright Elaine Clark opening in October. We're also planning an August fundraiser brunch with great entertainment, so look for that too.