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Gavin's Underground

Saturday's Voyeur 2011

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2011-06-24 -
Its that time of year again for the Salt Lake Acting Company. While other theater companies have already shut their doors until the fall, SLAC brings out its longest running production to run over the summer, taking a satirical look at local politics and events with their finale: Saturday's Voyeur.
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Before the play kicks off next Wednesday, we chat with three of the actors involved with the play, Holly Flowers, Johe Rowland, Jeanette Puhich; as well as musical director Kevin Mathie and director/choreographer Cynthia Fleming about this year's production, as we as thoughts on local theatre.

Holly Flowers, Johe Rowland, Jeanette Puhich, Kevin Mathie & Cynthia Fleming
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Gavin: Hey guys! First off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

John: My name is John Rowland. Born and raised in the Utah public education system, and incidentally I have numerous talents and very little focus.

Holly: My name is Holly Fowers. I grew up in Ogden and then moved to Seattle for 13ish years where I studied acting, performed in a lot of plays and worked a lot of temp jobs. Then I got tired of the rain and the dark and moved back here. I'm glad to be back. I like to sleep way in in the morning and read good books. I love dark chocolate with a vengeance.

Jeanette: I'm Jeanette Puhich. I moved to Salt Lake from Seattle seventeen years ago and I've been working on and off for SLAC, and for several other theatre companies around town, for those many years. I am married to Cragun Foulger (fellow Voyeur alum) we have two kids, Sarah and Austin.

Kevin: I am the musical director for this year's Saturday's Voyeur. I'm also the resident musical director for The Grand Theater. I stay very busy year-round as a musical director for theater and as a composer.
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Gavin: What inspired each of you to take an interest in theatre, and what were some of your early productions like?

Jeanette: I think I knew at a very early age that I wanted to perform, even though I was incredibly shy. My second grade teacher wrote a play for me and two other friends in my class. I don't know why she did it, but she picked me, and I remember feeling like I received a great gift. One of my earliest shows was in the fifth grade. We did Macbeth and I played the first witch. I also auditioned to scream for Lady Macbeth when she died. ( I'm not sure why she couldn't do it herself) I auditioned against Jeff Pennington and I won the part. It was pretty damn exciting, let me tell ya.

Kevin: Getting into theater was somewhat of a fluke for me. As a child, I had very little exposure to theatre. My family was very interested in classical music, however, so that was my first introduction to the arts. I took to the piano very young, and was soon extremely focused on becoming a concert pianist. As I entered college, however, I ended up being more interested in the commercial side of music rather than the concert stage. I started attending Weber State University as a piano performance major, but was still trying to decide exactly which aspect of commercial music appealed to me the most. In my Sophomore year, a professor named Jim Christian joined the WSU faculty and started creating a very exciting, very dynamic Musical Theater degree program. Of course, I knew nothing about theater, and didn't care to know anything about it, but Jim needed a pianist for his productions and his classes, so I ended up helping out. Right away, I became absolutely fascinated by the people, the music, and the process! Before long, I was hooked on musical theatre. Soon after graduating from college, I became one of the rehearsal pianists for Pioneer Theater Company for a few years, and eventually went on to musically direct shows all over the valley.

Holly: I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be an actor. Even before I knew exactly what an actor was, I knew I wanted to be in front of people performing. I used to put on shows for imaginary audiences in my family’s living room (and sometimes my mother's friends until she realized what I was doing and stopped me), singing songs from the Mickey Mouse club and Glen Campbell's Rhinestone Cowboy album. I also recited the Purple Cow poem in my year-end kindergarten performance to rave reviews.

John: I've been performing since a very young age with/for my friends and family. At the age of seven years I memorized and performed the entire film of Disney's Little Mermaid for my brothers and sisters. Needless to say, I showed very little regard for gender appropriate content even in my youth. I utilized my over-active imagination throughout my education, performing in musicals and plays for performances and competitions.
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Gavin: Cynthia, what were you initial impressions of this year's production, and what's your approach to directing this particular production?

Cynthia: Directing any play or being a part of any wonderful theatrical collaboration takes most of your energy and your time and your devotion. But I have to say that since Voyeur is a world premiere musical, written new each year, with only five weeks of rehearsal – when most new musicals are at least five years in the making – it takes every single thing you have. It’s just so intense. Not just from the director’s point of view – the actors, the designers, anybody involved in this production. It’s like you fasten your seatbelt and you are there. Your whole attention is devoted to this play 24/7. Anticipating the script each year is like waiting to be asked to the prom. You’re very excited, and you can’t wait to get the script. I’m in love with this year’s script. The Founding Fathers come back, and they are absolutely outraged – by how they are misquoted, how the Tea Party appropriates and misrepresents them. So they’re coming back to let us know who they are and what they really said. Our Saturday's Voyeur Founding Fathers are amazing, and I’m in love with them. Voyeur this year is through the Cat Lady’s dream. She lives in the Yalecrest neighborhood in which her small bungalow feels like it’s being pushed down with all the buildup in her community. It is through her dream that the Founding Fathers are coming back to help her. Through that, we’re exposing everyone and anything that our audience loves to see and hear – from Senator Mike Lee to Mayor Ralph Becker to Speaker of the House Becky Lockhart, Sandstrom, Waddoups, the list goes on... They are all there through this wacky, wacky dream.
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Gavin: What was casting like for this year's production like?

Cynthia: Casting for Saturday's Voyeur is the same, in a sense. We’re looking for actors who can not only sing, dance, and act their ass off, they also need to handle creating the highest quality work in a world premiere production that opens in five weeks. There are line changes up thru opening night. Satire is very layered. In some plays you get to dive into a character and find their truth and honesty and then play it out. Not only do these actors have to find that truth and honesty, we then layer that heightened comedic part, but it’s always through that truth – and then it’s layered, layered, layered. So it takes quite a talented actor to be in Saturday's Voyeur, and we are very fortunate to get them all.

Gavin: For the actors, what was the audition process like for you, and what did you think when you finally got the part?

John: The audition process for this show was unlike any other for me. For the initial audition we were asked to bring a song and a joke, and I brought original pieces I had created along with my co-writer friends. I had so much fun in the initial audition, and then for the callback we were asked to prepare a letter to the editor as a Voyeur character, along with learning dance choreography and songs. Most callbacks are incredibly competitive, each actor vying for their part and working for themselves, but this process was incredible! The actors were all so supportive of each other. Nobody held anything back and we all felt free to laugh at what one another had created. I remember leaving the process thinking, " I don't even care if I get a part, that was so much fun!" So imagine my surprise when I found that I was in!

Holly: For the initial audition we had to tell a joke and sing a song. I felt pretty good about what I’d done and was very happy to be called back to a second audition. Everyone at the callback was so good. I felt like any of the actors could have been cast and the play would have been great. So I just waited and hoped for the best. I kept my phone right beside me the next day hoping I’d hear from SLAC. And Keven did call to tell me I'd been cast. I think I was calm enough while I was on the phone with him, but as soon as I hung up, I ran through the house doing a happy dance. I was SO excited.

Jeanette: Even though I've done this show for so many years, I'm always grateful and sometimes even surprised, when I get the call saying "we'd like to cast you in Saturday's Voyeur." It's hard to explain. You just never take it for granted.
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Gavin: Jeanette, this will be your twelfth Voyeur production. What are your thoughts on being a part of it over the years, and what's your take on this year's production as you've been rehearsing?

Jeanette: I have absolutely loved being a part of Voyeur throughout the years. My first Voyeur was in 1997 ( I think). I played "Monica" from "Touched By An Angel" and sang a song called "I Wished I Was Down Ta The Transit Hub." The show was called Jordan Riverdance and it was the first time that Al and Nancy departed from the usual spoof on Saturday's Warrior. They wrote an entirely new show, and it was a big deal because it was the first time they attempted a new format since the original Saturday's Voyeur. Salt Lake has just decided to put in TRAX, The Olympics had been awarded to Salt Lake, and the show really hit on the scandal that surrounded being awarded the Olympics. And then, of course, we ended the show in sparkly costumes all doing our version of a Riverdance number! I remember that everyone was a little nervous, and we weren't too sure how the show would play. We received a standing ovation on our first preview and it was a huge hit. It was pretty exciting. I could go on and on about all of my varied experiences with this show. I will just say that it's different every year, it's challenging every year, I laugh my ass off in rehearsals every year and I just count my lucky stars that I get to be a part of this production and work with some of the funniest and most creative people on the planet. Oh, and I get paid to do it!!!!!! This year is no exception. This isn't to say that it can't be stressful at times. I mean we don't even have the rest of the Third Act yet for this years show and we open in two weeks! (and we signed up for that!!!) I love the premise of this year’s production. The Founding Fathers visit the people and legislators of Utah and they school them on what they meant when they wrote our beloved constitution. It's quite clever. The show also has some killer musical numbers that will leave audiences thinking, and peeing with laughter.

Gavin: John and Holly, this will be the first time for both of you to be in Voyeur. What are your thoughts on the production and it's history, and how has it been for you being a part of it?

Holly: I've seen a few productions of Voyeur through the years, but I don't think I realized, at first, quite what an institution it has become. When I tell friends and co-workers that I'm performing in this year's Voyeur, I receive such enthusiastic responses, I feel a little bit like a rock star. And hearing about how much it has meant to so many people over the years, I feel so happy and so lucky to be a part of this great tradition. I also have to say, this is the most amazing cast and crew. Not only is everyone extremely talented, but everyone is so great to work with and so supportive. Everyone is working together to make this a really great experience for each other. That is a remarkable thing!

John: I have seen the production only once before, and it is incredible to be a part of something with such a history of a place that I have lived most of my life. It addresses issues that I have always felt strongly about and wondered, "Why aren't more people angry about this?!" and this show gives those issues a voice.
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Gavin: Kevin, what was it like for you working with the material and putting together the score for this production?

Kevin: Arranging the music is probably my favorite part of the whole process. Al and Nancy take popular songs and create parody lyrics. But the music doesn't always quite fit the scene once we see it on its feet in context. Perhaps the original song ends softly, almost fading to nothing, but we need it to be a huge ending with the entire company singing. It's my job to take the weak ending and create a mega-ending that will make the audience leap to their feet. Or, maybe the whole "feel" of the song needs to be edgier, more angry, than the original version because the characters in the scene are angry. I've got to figure out how to create a new "feel" without destroying the integrity of the song. And sometimes, Al and Nancy just need something different. Maybe the song was originally a 1920's-type ballad, but they need it to be an energetic tango -- and then later in the show they need the same song to be a disco number. Those are the kinds of challenges I LOVE.

Gavin: What has it been like for you working with the cast on the music and essentially doing a totally new play from scratch?

Kevin: I love it. I've actually written the music to four other new musicals that have been produced over the past fifteen years, and of all the musical jobs I've ever taken, creating a new musical from scratch is by far the most fulfilling. Even in Voyeur, where we do non-original music, the context is completely new, so the treatment of the music is wide open to possibilities! We can do pretty much anything we want. The only thing we really have to concentrate on is telling the story, so if doing something crazy with the music helps further that goal, then that's what we do! Also, I absolutely love what the cast does with the arrangements I'm always giving them. I feel bad a lot of times, because we sometimes have to make major changes frequently, so I sometimes end up giving them three new arrangements of the same song in a week! But, they take it all in stride and they ALWAYS do an amazing job with whatever I give them.
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Gavin: How has it been for everyone taking on Voyeur as a whole and bringing it to life?

Jeanette: It's always such an interesting process to take on a Voyeur role. Among others aspects of creating a role in Voyeur is that I believe it's important to love whoever I'm playing. (That's a rule with all roles in all plays.) I know that sounds crazy because I've played some very polarizing people in the past including Gayle Ruzika and Paula Houston (Utah's Porn Czar, remember her?). But I believe my fellow actors would agree with me on this issue. Steven Fehr and a bunch of us were discussing this in the green room the other day, he's the one who said this next part and I'm stealing it for this blog... I mean think about it, people like Gayle Ruzika think they are right and believe what they're fighting for is right. They love themselves, so in order to create my version of that person, I too have to love "myself" or believe me the audience would see right through it and the portrayal would come off as phony. Now don't get me wrong, we do take a lot of liberties with these people. I mean, we push physical attributes to the limit, we exaggerate certain qualities, but all of it really does come from a place of truth.

Cynthia: We have three new actors who have never done Voyeur before and nine Voyeur veterans. This cast has jumped into the process, and they haven’t looked back. The veterans help out the newbies – either as an example or by going up to them and saying, “Yeah, the same thing happened to me my first year” – they have given so much support. As an actor in Voyeur, the challenge is be brave enough to be completely naked and to just jump in – to jump in loud and to jump in fast – because that’s what it takes to make this thing work. And this cast is doing that.

John: Such an interesting process. Learning one act at a time, getting that ready, then being handed a second act and getting THAT one ready. In every other production you have previous materials already in hand when you show up for the first rehearsal, and even the audition, but with Voyeur we showed up to the first rehearsal and were handed the first act and read through it together. It was new for all of us.

Holly: It has been such a great experience! I've enjoyed and learned from all of it, even the hard parts. When you are creating a play, from scratch as you say, you don't always know, at first, exactly who a character is, or what a scene should look like. Sometimes you have to try a bunch of different things, figuring out what it isn't, until you finally come to know what it is. While that can be frustrating, it has been so great to be a part of the process of figuring it all out. We are making a brand-spanking-new musical for all y'all to enjoy!
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Gavin: Going into opening night, what are your overall thoughts on the production?

Holly: Every single person at Salt Lake Acting Company has worked so hard to make this a great production and you will see that when you come see the show.

Cynthia: It seems insane for me to say this at this time, because we haven’t even started tech – and we haven’t even seen the whole script – but I can’t wait for opening night! I cannot wait to hear the laughter of the audience. I cannot wait for the gift that the audience gives to the actors – the laughter, the applause that they give the actors –because they so deserve it, and they will get it.

Jeanette: Oh my God, opening night is still two weeks away (as of the time of this interview), I can't think about that yet!!!! Seriously, I will be honest and say that I never feel "ready" to open Saturday's Voyeur, but that's the nature of this gig. Quite often we'll be getting script changes or other kinds of changes during that first week of previews and even on opening night, and you just have to roll with it. It's scary, to ay the least, but it's exiting too! As far as the show goes, I think this is one of my favorite Voyeurs ever. (my humble opinion)

John: So much work goes into this production, from the writers, directors, designers, EVERYONE! I am just so proud to be a part of something with so many amazing artists I had seen but never worked with before.

Gavin: A bit state-wide, what are your thoughts on local theater, both good and bad?

Kevin: Having worked in several different theaters along the Wasatch Front, I'm constantly amazed at both the quality and quantity of talent we have around here. I don't know this for sure, but it seems like Northern Utah is home to a disproportionately high level of talent compared to other areas of comparable size around the country.

John: At its best, local theatre introduces a limited audience to new and inspiring works. At its worst, there is the one-millionth production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and it always pulls a huge audience.

Holly: I think Utah has some great theatre! I wish there was more of it. I’d love to see more 'straight' plays produced. More thought and discussion provoking plays that explore and reflect back to us our struggles, our sorrow, our joy. I would also love to see more people create original work that is different from what might be considered a traditional play in a traditional theater. Things like one person shows, and site-specific theatre works around the city, and great, passionate, awe-inspiring, absurd amalgamations of dance and acting and music. And then, of course, we need more people to come see all of these amazing things.

Cynthia: I started my career in the theatre here in Salt Lake City in the late 70s, and I was blown away by the arts community, and I continue to be blown away by it. I am so grateful for it. Working in New York for ten years as an actress and then coming back to Salt Lake again and working in this community, I feel like we’re as big as New York in the sense of the commitment, the passion, the love of the theatre – and I am very proud to be a part of this community. More and more and more.
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Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to make it more prominent?

Holly: I don't know the answer to that one. I will continue to think about this question. If I have any great ideas, I'll get back to you.

John: Audiences should rid themselves of the misconception that the place to go for real talent is New York or Los Angeles. Certainly they have a longstanding reputation, but that does not preclude our growing city from possessing all the talent necessary to produce professional theatre that can affect an audience on an emotional level.

Gavin: What can we expect from all of you going into next season, and for the rest of the year?

John: Keep your eyes and ears open. I will put my name in the hat for upcoming auditions, and I am currently writing original music for an album based on the play Long Day's Journey Into Night by Eugene O'Neill.

Cynthia: As Executive Producer at SLAC, we have just received all the rights for our upcoming 2011/2012 Season. We have two Tony Award winning plays and four world premieres. It is extremely exciting, and it gives me chills.

Holly: I will be performing with Amy Caron's great, absurd, thought provoking amalgamation of dance, art and performance this fall with Waves Of Mu at the University of Utah. I’d also like to write some of my own crazy, non-traditional stuff and find a non-traditional place to perform it. And I'll keep auditioning for all of the great theaters in the SLC area too.
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Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Holly: Come see Saturday's Voyeur! It's going be great!

John: Saturday's Voyeur!!!

Jeanette: I would like to plug Alexis Baigue as a future candidate for Mayor of Salt Lake City.


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