Already a few months into the 2010-2011 season, every established theatre company have debuted their season opener for the public. But as the audience grows, so grows the theatre community itself, both in talent and crew. And the need expansion and new companies to keep up with the demand becomes necessity. It was only a matter of time before we saw a new outfit establish itself. And considering the various types of companies we could have ended up seeing, its interesting to have one so willing to experiment from the start.
Calling the artistic space at The Pickle Factory its home, The New Works Theatre Machine set up shop earlier this year, developing small productions for limited runs and utilizing the gigantic space about them as the stage. Now kicking off its official season opener this weekend, the company is hoping to inspire and challenge what many consider the norm in Utah, thespian and patron alike. I got a chance to chat with the main man behind the new company, David Fetzer, talking about his career and its various points of change, the company and upcoming play, thoughts on local theatre and a few other topics here and there. All accompanied with pictures of rehearsals from the play Go To Hell, set to premiere this coming Saturday.
Gavin: Hey David! First off, tell us a bit about yourself.
David: I'm a local actor/musician/producer. I also brew beer and drink it passionately. When I was eight years old I burned down my garage. It was an accident.
Gavin: What first drew you towards theatre and film and what were some early influences on you?
David: Inspired by my brother Scott who took up acting when he was a kid, I started acting in plays at City Rep Family Theatre, (now called The Children's Theatre) back when it occupied the building that is now The State Room. I kept it going through middle school and eventually went to a performing arts high school in Michigan as a theatre major. Ironically, though, it was during my senior year at Interlochen Arts Academy where I developed a passion for film as well. A classmate of mine, Brian Perkins, introduced me to auteurs like Bergman and Cassavettes and Renoir. Brian himself is a phenomenal filmmaker. He was a big inspiration and probably the reason I took up filmmaking.
Gavin: Education wise you attended Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. What was it like for you being a part of that program during high school?
David: Wonderful and terrible. The campus is extremely isolated and the student body is very small. 450 students total. So, socially, it was like a sociological experiment. But the instruction was phenomenal, and I created many life-long friendships there who would later become artistic collaborators.
Gavin: Considering the kind of options you'd had coming out of their program, what brought you out to Utah and what made you decide to stay?
David: I didn't come back immediately -- I spent a year in Ann Arbor making a documentary on a fellow named T. Casey Brennan, who truly believed he assassinated JFK. But after a year of that, I realized that I had no fucking idea how to make a documentary, and I decided to come home to Utah to go to film school at the U of U, simply because it was the most affordable option, and I knew that the real learning would come from experience post graduation.
Gavin: How did you end up meeting Patrick Fugit and ended up becoming good friends?
David: I met Patrick Fugit (from "Almost Famous") in the 3rd grade at Bonneville Elementary School. We had similar tastes in candy and Monty Python and G.I. Joes. We've been best friends since.
Gavin: How did the two of you form the band Mushman and how was it performing around town?
David: Mushman happened a bit by accident. We grew up together and were each others' biggest influences, so if one of us picked up a hobby, the other would, and we'd work on it together. This happened with guitar. The two of us would spend hours in Patrick's parents' basement playing the guitar and working out little ditties. When we'd accumulated a large enough body of little tunes, we decided to record them (with the help of our friend, music producer Camden Chamberlain) and from there the band Mushman was formed.
Gavin: Likewise, how did you end up meeting Patrick Waldrop?
David: I met Patrick Waldrop when the two of us worked with the Salt Lake Film Society. Naturally, it started out with talking about favorite films and music, and I've never met anybody as in synch with my tastes as Patrick Waldrop. We started writing and collaborating from there.
Gavin: With Waldrop you founded the original Open Screen Night at The Tower Theater. How was it working with him in bringing that idea to life?
David: With Patrick Waldrop, we both shared not only practically identical tastes in art, but we also shared ambitions of making our own and facilitating others to do the same. Neither of us were content with being merely consumers. So we conceived and founded the Open Screen Night at the Tower Theatre (back then called "Open Mic Night") which was a program that not only gave others a reason to create and showcase their work, but gave us a reason to do it, too. Patrick and I have made a lot of short films together. A couple of them were good.
Gavin: You yourself have stayed active in the local film and theatre communities. What has your experience been like learning the ropes and being a part of the area?
David: Salt Lake City is an extremely accommodating place to live. This has its advantages and disadvantages. Comfort is nice, but it is conducive to laziness, and I think our local art is sometimes reflective of that. Admittedly, I've been an accomplice. I've learned plenty through experience, but I've also developed lazy habits, and now I want to play a part in reversing that ethic.
Gavin: How did the idea come about to start up The New Works Theatre Machine?
David: I've been acting in SLC since I was ten, and it's pretty much always been to middle-aged and older crowds. That's just the reality of our local theatre scene. We generally create theatre that is conceived and marketed to older folks. And it's also the case that theatre is expensive, and younger folks really can't afford to dish out $20 minimum for an evening at the theatre -- especially if the incentive isn't there in the first place. I wanted to found a theatre company that was affordable to younger crowds, and that appealed to their sensibilities (without alienating the older audiences). I figured the way to do that was to produce theatre that was entirely unique and set apart from everything else. NWTM is less focused on being politically satirical or socially progressive; we just want to make theatre that is inventive, exciting, unconventional, and thoroughly engaging. As all theatre should be.
Gavin: Was there any real hesitation on your part to start it with several established and upstart productions already in place around town, or did you feel there was room for one more?
David: Because NWTM will be providing something so completely different from every other company in town, I'm actually encouraged. I feel fortunate to exclusively occupy the experimental theatre niche, and think that it'll prove to be a beneficial distinction from all other SLC theatre companies.
Gavin: As part of the description you chose to define yourselves as “SLC's only experimental theatre company.” What do you believe separates you from other companies in Utah?
David: The term "experimental" has some negative connotations. But I use it in the most positive sense possible. Our "experiments" will be conceiving and workshopping new, unconventional, and innately theatrical methods of performance and storytelling, always toward the end of making a production more engaging and more rewarding. I think that's what will set us apart -- our emphasis on form first. I think most local producers are more focused on themes and ideas and provoking thought. Their audience become passive voyeurs. NWTM will work toward creating experiences. Our audiences will be participants!
Gavin: For space you chose to put on productions in The Pickle Factory. Why choose the open artist space as opposed to putting up house in a tradition theater?
David: First off, all the "traditional theatres" in SLC are completely monopolized by other theatre companies. You can't get your show up at the Rose Wagner unless you reserve it, literally, at least two years in advance. That's just not practical. Secondly, The Pickle Factory is an awesome alternative venue in the heart of an up-and-coming art district, and a major goal of NWTM's is to bring a younger crowd in to see some theatre. So it's really a perfect venue for the job.
Gavin: The official opener you have coming up is called Go To Hell. First thing, what made you choose this specific play as the inaugural production?
David: I didn't choose the play -- I chose the playwright/director, and gave him complete artistic freedom to create whatever he wanted. Our sensibilities are so intertwined, I knew that whatever he created for me would be a perfect fit for our inaugural production.
Gavin: The play is written and directed by Jeremey Catterton. What was the process behind bringing him in to put on the first play, and why Catterton specifically above others locally and abroad?
David: Jeremey and I are old school chums, we went to Interlochen together, and we've kept in touch over the years. So when I told him what I was trying to accomplish with NWTM and asked him outright if he'd be down to direct our inaugural production, he was excited. And I chose Jeremey specifically because, as I said before, I'd seen his work in Minneapolis, and it possessed all the qualities I value in a fantastic theatrical experience, and I had every faith in his ability to produce one here.
Gavin: What has it been like putting this play together and bringing something a little different to the theatre scene?
David: Our production has been plagued by Murphy's Law, but the team we've pulled together is extremely resilient, and we're fueled by the incentive of knowing that we're bringing something brand new to the theatre scene, which is exciting to us. But we're not disillusioned to the fact that it's going to be a huge uphill battle getting folks on board. Especially since our targeted demographic never goes to see the theatre, and would never spend more than $10 on a ticket (which is why we've established a sliding-scale payment option, where you can pay whatever you want between $10 - $30 to come see an NWTM show).
Gavin: For the rest of the year you don't have a traditional schedule, the next play isn't until May and then nothing until next December. Why the long breaks, and will you do any side projects in between?
David: Because all of our productions are going to be original pieces, and because most of them will be workshopped and built from the ground up, we'll need the extra time to get them to where they need to be, hence the long breaks. We were thinking about establishing a curatorial board and bring in other companies to the space during the off-time, but that probably won't happen until 2012, our goal-year for having the building completely up to speed.
Gavin: What for you is the overall goal for the company and what do you hope to accomplish within the theatre community?
David: I want NWTM to entice non-theatre-goers to go see theatre, and I want it to present seasoned theatre-goers who think they've seen it all something they've never seen before. I want it to change the way we here in SLC think about the theatre -- what it is, what it can do, what about it we take for granted, and what about it we can take more advantage of. Ultimately, I'd like to convince my peers that the theatre really can be life changing, and at the very least, utterly engaging, and goddamn well worth the $10 to get in. It'll be a long, hard process, and we'll make plenty of mistakes along the way! But it'll be a rewarding journey and an exciting one to follow.
Gavin: Going onto state-wide, what are your thoughts on local theater, both good and bad?
David: I like a lot of local theatre for the variety they bring to their seasons. Producers are looking for more obscure plays to produce, and educating the public that there's more out there than Shakespeare and The Best Christmas Pageant Ever. But nobody is challenging their art form, exploring its boundless possibilities, or thinking outside of the box. I think that, as artists, if we want to be progressive, we need to break more rules. We need to change our art.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to improve on it or make it more prominent?
David: Make it more collaborative. Make it more unexpected. Break conventions. Start new ones. Don't appease your subscriber base -- challenge them. Show them something you think they might hate. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Also, as patrons, I believe we need to be more honest. We need more artistic checks and balances. Otherwise we're just self-perpetuating bad art. To be an artist is a luxury. So with it comes responsibility. And we need to be able to look each other in the eyes and say, "that sucked, try again," without getting devastated.
Gavin: Can you tell us some of the productions you've enjoyed so far and are looking forward to this year?
David: I saw Lane Richins' Burn This at the Sugar Space and was blown away by the direction and the performances. I saw Meat & Potato's Everyman and I appreciated it's pure theatricality. And I'm looking forward to SLAC's If You Give A Mouse A Cookie because they'll give me points for plugging it here.
Gavin: What's your take on the push to bring “Broadway to Utah” and the steps being taken so far?
David: I haven't followed it very closely. I thought that the Capitol Theatre was doing just fine, wasn't it? Do we need something bigger? There are so many nomadic indie theatre companies vying tooth and nail for performance space. I'd say use the money and give the little guys a chance, too. I don't think that the size or grandeur of the production is related in any way to what you can take away from the experience. Life-changing theatre can happen anywhere, in any space, with whatever budget, if you've got the talent and the diligence.
Gavin: What are your thoughts on the Utah Shakespeare Festival and the work they do down in Cedar City every year?
David: I've only ever seen the Shakespearean productions that the festival puts on, so I can only judge it from that angle, but I actually really love it. This may seem hypocritical to everything I've just said about the theatre, but I love how the festival presents Shakespeare in the authentic Shakespearean tradition. I'm sick to death of contrived contemporizations and directors inflicting high-concepts to make something so old and familiar seem new and relevant. Shakespeare is timeless. He doesn't need the help. That's why he's got his own festival.
Gavin: What can we expect you and NWTM over the rest of the year and going into next?
David: A bunch of fundraising, grant writing, begging, crying, and then, hopefully, the rest of our season: Hello, My Name Is and Sympathy For Mr. Hurtz.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?
David: Hard work. Just doing it. Failing without being discouraged. Recognizing that we're young and we're enabled, so there's no excuse for sitting on our asses.
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