we've come to see over the past few years, even up to the DMV news of
this week, the idea of the LGBT community being treated equally
within Utah still has high hills to overcome. With way too many
equality issues for us to sit down and list in this single blog
opening, the constant conflict between faith, family and personal
feeling comes with almost a weekly reminder in the land of Zion that
things seem to be in a constant state of tension. So its only fitting
that a play focused on those issues open up in the heart of
Challenging the aspects of both religion and sexuality, the Plan-B Theatre production of Borderlands watches the two collide head-on in, of all places, a used car lot. (How much more Utahn can you get than that?) The play centers around a family owned dealership with a brother rising out of tough times, his sister in pain, a mother at a crossroads at home and her nephew struggling with the family. Before its debut tomorrow evening, we got a chance to chat with all four cast members, as well as playwright Eric Samuelsen and director Jerry Rapier about the play and a few other topics.
Kirt Bateman, Topher Rasmussen, Stephanie Howell, Teri Cowan, Eric Samuelsen & Jerry Rapier
Gavin: Tell us a bit about yourselves.
Jerry: The big toe on my right foot is half-an-inch longer than the one on my left foot.
Eric: I'm a middle-aged playwriting teacher from Provo. Mormon, married, with four kids. Also a baseball fan, a lover of indie rock music, a cinephile and a pretty good chef. I've been teaching at BYU since 1992.
Kirt: I’m 35. I’m an actor/director and the Executive Director of the Davis Arts Council. My first play was in 4th grade…I played Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream. I’m a huge Stephen Sondheim fanatic and got to meet him this year at Kingsbury Hall. I have been “married” to Jerry Rapier for more than fifteen years. I am bald. I have a paraplegic dog named Stella that I love more than almost anything in the world. I have another dog named Stanley that I sort-of like okay. I am a huge Plan-B Theatre fan!
Teri: Born and raised in Utah, I graduated from the Weber State theatre program. I have been working as a professional actor and voice over talent since college. I’m a busy wife, mom, friend, volunteer, reader, actor and realtor.
Stephanie: I was raised in Southern California, studied theatre at Northwestern (in Chicago), and have lived in Virginia, New York, Boston and Prague. But, somehow, when I first moved to Park City (twenty years ago) I knew I was "home." Subsequently, I was lucky to find my theatre "home" with Plan-B and the amazingly warm and vibrant theatre community in Salt Lake.
Topher: I'm a 19-year-old music junkie. I spend way too much time on the internet. I act, obviously. I make pretty music, I have an EP up online if you wanna check it out, and I play coffee shops and open mics. I'm an amateur DJ. I love to make art, and every once in a while I get a sudden urge to write. I love horror movies, film noir, Radiohead, 40's music, herbal tea, Shakespeare and octopi. I am a moderately picky eater.
Gavin: Eric, how did the idea for Borderlands come about and what was it like for you writing it?
Eric: I'm not sure, exactly, when the idea for Borderlands first hit me. I loved the Borderlands column in Sunstone Magazine, and I thought it might make an interesting play. I also liked the idea of a play set in a used car lot. I love shopping for used cars, love the contingent nature of the car-purchase experience. And I thought it might be nice to explore a friendship between lost and lonely souls, sitting in a car in a car lot.
Gavin: Jerry, how did you decide to do the original reading at the Affirmation National Conference in 2009? What made you decide to direct that reading and this production?
Jerry: We’d been approached to do a reading of Facing East at the conference but I wanted to do something new. At the same time, Eric talked to me about putting a reading of Borderlands together and I thought, “This is perfect!” I decided to direct both the reading and the production simply because I love the play.
Gavin: Considering the content, not just how all of you live here, but also in experiencing the nuances of the church and their stances on certain issues, how has this play impacted you?
Teri: In my view the subjects we approach in the play don’t only apply to Mormonism. Yes, there are conversations that are specific to the LDS faith but they’re topics that anyone with a strong religious background struggles with. Sin, forgiveness, homosexuality, legalism, faith, the afterlife… each of these fosters questions that are difficult and don’t have easy answers. Reconciling our own beliefs with those of our church’s is often an uncomfortable road to take.
Kirt: Well, I think the impact for me has come from the unforced honesty of the play. The play isn’t necessarily about the Mormon church for me. It’s about being honest with ourselves and with others – even when it might seem like doing so will be alienating. The construct of the play uses Mormon people, I think probably because Eric is a devout Mormon – he wrote what he knew. And each one of us in the play was at least baptized Mormon…so we all know the language of these characters pretty well. But it’s the unexpected honesty that the characters share with each other that has impacted me the most. It’s difficult and touching.
Stephanie: I grew up a borderlander kid in California. My parents were active Mormons until I was about six but grew away from the church after that. I was baptized, and for a few years went to Primary but rarely to Sunday School. When I moved to Utah as an adult, I developed a very black and white way of looking at Mormonism. Either you were or you weren't. (I'm not.) This play (along with the research leading up to it and the conversations surrounding it) has opened my eyes to a whole segment of the population – the "borderlanders" who define themselves as Mormon, yet don't fit the stereotype.
Topher: This play had an amazing effect on me in a spiritual sense. Growing up in an active Mormon family, I grew frustrated with this sense of elitism and bigotry i got from a large portion of church members, especially when it comes to their attitudes on homosexuality. So for a few years I didn't consider myself a Mormon. I didn't want to be associated with those attitudes. They didn't – and still don't – seem Christ-like to me. When we did the reading for the Affirmation Conference, I felt the spirit. Deeply. My character Brian's strength in choosing to believe despite conflicts gave me strength. I realized I can believe in God, and be an active Mormon without subscribing to hateful beliefs. Because of this play (and my mother's and sister's examples) I am now planning on serving an LDS mission.
Gavin: For those you who were involved, what did you think of the audience's reception to that reading?
Jerry: It floored me.
Eric: I didn't know what to expect. I worried that the play wouldn't resonate with them, that it would be long and boring. I tried to write a play where relationships unfold gradually; I worried that it wouldn't read that way. But it turned out really well. Audience members seemed very moved by it, which I hoped would happen, but you never know. It turned out that these characters' experiences validated life experiences of some audience members.
Kirt: I honestly had no idea what the reaction would be. So, I was genuinely surprised and uplifted by how it touched the audience. The reading was for a room full of people who also “spoke this kind of language” and most of them, I would guess, do live in the Borderlands – struggling to be who they are and also keep hold of what they believe spiritually. It was a special afternoon. There was definitely a spirit of love in the room.
Teri: Two things: Sometimes when you’ve been working on a piece over a period of time you lose touch with how you reacted the first time you heard it. When we did the reading, I had forgotten how funny some of the lines were so was a little startled at the laughs we received. Also, I think we were all taken aback at how engaged and emotional that audience became.
Topher: The reading was a beautiful experience. My father cried (though he's a crybaby) and so did a lot of other people. I'm not sure what else i have to say about the reaction except that it was a distinctly spiritual moment. It was heartbreaking, but there was an undercurrent of strength. Really, quite an exquisite feeling.
Gavin: Jerry, did you know it would become a full-fledged production afterward or was there some hesitation regarding putting it on the Plan-B stage?
Jerry: I was so pleased with the reading that I announced then we’d be producing the play within a minute after it ended.
Gavin: What's it been like bringing the play to life a year and a half later?
Jerry: It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, honestly. It feels like the reading was just a few weeks – maybe months – ago. It’s an honor to work on a piece that is so meaningful and personal for Eric.
Eric: It's very exciting. I wrote these characters and grew to love them, but the nature of theatre is that it's collaborative. For example: my Dave isn't the same as Kirt Bateman's Dave – Kirt's such a consummate actor, he brings nuances and truths to the character that I didn't anticipate. What we're getting is something greater than the sum of its parts. That's the theatre ideal, and it's happening.
Gavin: Given the emotional subject matter, both on a religious and a gay rights front, how do you believe audiences will react?
Jerry: Hopefully with an open mind and heart.
Eric: I think the staged reading gives us some idea of how audiences will react. I hope they're moved by it, and I hope they see it as truthful and real. Of course, it's also possible that some folks may find it offensive. That's not the preferred reaction, but if it's an honest reaction, then okay.
Kirt: I’m not sure. I definitely think the play will spark conversations! And that’s always good. I’d personally rather have someone have a truly emotional response to a show than be indifferent about it. I hope that they connect with the characters first and foremost and that the subjects of gay rights and religion are just the vehicles to get them there.
Teri: I can only hope that the full production will be as engaging as the reading was. I do think this play will take people out of their comfort zone, make them examine their own beliefs and hopefully promote some lively conversation on their drive home.
Stephanie: As an actor (or writer, or artist of any sort, really) I think it's usually best to avoid speculating about "audience reaction." Our responsibility is to be true to the words, the characters, and the story that Eric has written so beautifully. As with any play, if you have 100 people in the audience you'll have 100 different audience reactions. That said, it's certainly a challenging, powerful and thought-provoking play.
Topher: I don't believe this play puts anyone down. It presents a conflict, some painful truths, but it doesn't mock or insult anyone. So I feel that audiences from religious viewpoints will recognize the spirit, and be uplifted in a special way. On the gay rights front, I think important issues have been raised, and though there's no solution given, there is a sense of reassurance and a general message of "yeah, this really sucks right now, but everything will be okay in the end."
Gavin: What have each of you taken away from this play, both as actors and on a personal level? And What are your thoughts going into opening night?
Eric: My thoughts going into opening night are, as usual for me, so fraught with tension and contradictory, it's hard to know how to answer you. I'm a ridiculous audience member for my own plays. I sit there in agony, my lips moving, cringing at every audience reaction, positive or negative. It's honestly one of the most painful experiences I know. But that's entirely about me and my own neuroses; I hope the audience has a good experience.
Kirt: Relationships are complicated. And I’m not talking just romantic relationships, although those are maybe the most complicated. But I’m finding as I work more and more on the play that my character’s relationships are what I find the most interesting. Relationships are hard and they’re messy and they’re sometimes unclear and they’re often indefinable. I am excited about opening night and nervous%u2015but that’s good%u2015I’d be very nervous if I weren’t nervous.
Teri: I have great respect for Eric Samuelsen. It takes tremendous courage as a faithful Mormon to ask these questions and to have these very personal conversations in a very public forum. I admire his fearlessness in telling this story – I believe there are many committed and active LDS members who have these same thoughts but may be afraid to voice them. As we head into opening night I just hope that we present the story as the Eric meant for it to be.
Stephanie: Living in Gail's skin for a while has inspired me to think about what it means to be truly honest. Where are the places in my life where what I'm presenting to the world doesn't quite match up to what's going on inside?
Topher: I have been reminded of my weaknesses as an actor through rehearsals, ha ha. I'm having a wonderful time working with some phenomenal actors, and I'm so excited that this is the play I get to be in as my first professional production. I love it so much. And I'm very excited for opening night, hoping I don't screw anything up!
Gavin: What can we expect from all of you over the rest of the year?
Jerry: Well, all of us are involved in our annual SLAM event on May 7th, which is now our annual fundraiser. We’ve retired the BANNED event, focusing on the creation of new work that SLAM showcases!
Eric: Well, I'm excited about the staged reading of my translation of Ibsen’s A Doll House this August at Plan-B. My play Blind Date is going up at the Covey Center in Provo in November, and my translation of Ibsen's Little Eyolf goes up at BYU next March. I think Jerry and I are going to have a reading of my newest play, Half Asleep, about the world wide financial crisis, probably this fall. And I'm trying to get a novel finished. So that's a lot.
Kirt: After Borderlands, I’ll be SLAMmin’, then I’m going right into the revival of Gutenberg! The Musical! as part of Plan-B Theatre’s “Musicals on Main” partnership with the Egyptian Theatre in Park City. We run in June and I can’t wait. Jay, Jerry, and I (and our whole team) had a blast doing it in 2007 and I’m so glad we get to do it again.
Teri: Next on my plate performance-wise will be that stress-inducing, always wacky, actor bonding, “Now why did I want to do this?”, 12-hour spectacle called SLAM.
Stephanie: Next up for me is the nerve-wracking, never-a-dull-moment, insanity-inducing thing known as Plan-B's SLAM.
Topher: SLAM. More music, hopefully! I hope to record a full-length album by the end of the year. And who knows, maybe a show or two here and there!
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Eric: My other play, The Plan, runs through April 2nd at the Covey Center in Provo!
Jerry: SLAM on May 7!
Kirt: YES! Come to Layton this summer to take part in our “Summer Nights With The Stars” season, which includes music from Indigo Girls, Kenny Loggins and more. Comedy from The Flying Karamazov Brothers and Alex Ward, and theatre like Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Topher: My music! You can hear my whole EP here on SoundCloud.
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