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Gavin's Underground

Salt Lake Acting Company: Red

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2012-02-07 -
Rolling along with the second half of its season, Salt Lake Acting Company brings the dramatic, two-man show Red to the stage tomorrow night. The play focuses around American artist Mark Rothko as he's in the process of creating mural paintings for the Four Seasons restaurant, while his work and viewpoints on art are constantly being questioned by his assistant as he works.
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Today, we chat with the play's director, Keven Myhre, as well as the two leading actors, Ted Powell and Morgan Lund, about the work going into the production and their helping in bringing it to the SLAC stage. (Photos by David Daniels of dav.d photography.)

Morgan Lund, Ted Powell (seen below) and Keven Myhre
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Gavin: Hey, everyone. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Keven: Hi, my name is Keven. I am one of the co-executive producers at Salt Lake Acting Company. For SLAC's production of Red, I am also the director and set designer. Me, busy? Not much!

Morgan: I have been a working actor since 1980, being lucky enough to join AEA on my first show out of grad school. I have made a good living writing, teaching, directing, producing, films, commercials, voice-overs and stage acting; all forms of entertainment, and whoring my talents to any and almost all takers. Even so, I do still have some artistic integrity. At present, I am artistic director of a new professional acting company, The OtherSide Players, hailing form Carbon County. Our theater home is The Rio Theatre on Helper City main street. Come on up and have some fun ... promise.

Ted: I'm a Philadelphia native and also a musician with a solo act called The Study, as well as an author, playwright and teaching artist.

Gavin: How did each of you become involved with theater and how did find your way to SLAC?

Morgan: I got involved in theater during college to meet women. I have known about SLAC since my days as an undergrad at the U of U.

Ted: I've had a penchant for acting for as long as I can remember. When I started my undergraduate degree at Temple University, I majored in film but switched to theater after a year's time, and that's been my career path ever since. I came to Utah from Philly to take a hiatus from the stage and work in wilderness therapy for a year. Once I was wrapping up, I looked up SLAC on the net, saw their upcoming season and came in to audition.

Keven: My father was in the military so I grew up abroad. I still have a vivid memory from a time when a neighbor took a bunch of kids to see a production of Cinderella in England. The scene where the pumpkin turns into a carriage was nothing short of magic. I'll never forget it. When I discovered that I could make a career working in the theater, I was sold. I earned my bachelor's degree from the University of Utah and went on to the University of Michigan for my master's degree. Eventually, I made my way back to Salt Lake where I did some design work for SLAC. Fast forward 17 years and I've done just about every job there is to do at SLAC. It's a great place to work and the people I work with are terrific. It's a joy to come to work every day knowing that I have the chance to make a little magic happen for SLAC's patrons.
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Gavin: Keven, how did you first come across the play Red and what were your initial thoughts on the production?

Keven: It may surprise you to know that the theater community is rather small and there is a lot of "talk." I heard some buzz about the play Red and decided to take a look at the script. A good script is easy to spot and Red is exactly that. I knew right away it was a good play for SLAC to produce. Securing the rights was a bit tricky. Red won the Tony for Best Play in 2010. With all the hype, the rights were not immediately available. Additionally, there was some litigation between the estate of Mark Rothko and the publishers about use of images of Rothko's work in the play -- who knew, huh? With a little patience and a watchful eye on legal outcomes, SLAC was able to secure a contract to produce this wonderful play, finally. SLAC is very fortunate to be able to put this play "on its feet" and perform it for Utah audiences.

Gavin: How did you come to find yourself in the director's chair for this play at SLAC?

Keven: I've been fascinated by the work of Mark Rothko for over 30 years, having been introduced to his art in college. Having an opportunity to delve more deeply into the life and times of this artist was something I just couldn't pass up; I pitched the idea and here I am.

Gavin: The play isn't your typical SLAC production, as it's a two-man performance. What challenges did this present for you directing it here and bringing this show to life with the crew?

Keven: The challenge for me was finding a good balance between the reality and the fiction. The playwright did a ton of research before putting pen to paper. However, there is a bit of artistic license taken. This is more than a biography about an unappreciated visionary artist, it's a study of the struggles we all face as human beings -- relating to one another, believing in oneself and such. Perhaps Rothko said it best. When commenting about one of his exhibitions, he is quoted as saying, "It's not a show, it's an event."
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Gavin: Ted and Morgan, when did you first find out about the play, and what were your thoughts after reading it?

Morgan: I first became aware of Red through watching the Tony Awards; it won at least three of the big awards that year. But I did not go out and order the script the next day. My first thoughts after reading the play? Holy shit! What the fuck is this!? This guy never shuts-up. Then I started working on my audition, making actor choices for my version of this character -- all of which where wrong. Lucky for me, Keven saw through my own personal bullshit and is giving me a shot at this very intense artist/man, Rothko.

Ted: I hadn't heard of the play until I auditioned for it. I really liked the playwright's application of the two-actor format to make what was ultimately a very intimate and intense experience for Rothko as an artist, and a similarly intimate and intense excursion for his audiences in Red.

Gavin: What was it like for both of you auditioning and eventually getting your parts?

Ted: It was kind of bizarre because I hadn't done any acting for almost a year by that point, which had been the longest hiatus I'd taken since fifth grade or something. It was great to be cast because if I was going to jump back into acting after that kind of break, what better way to go than with a great play and company?

Morgan: Auditions for me are just part of this job, and I like doing them -- nothing else we do as actors can compare to this kind of vulnerability and honesty. I did not audition with Ted, but there were some very talented young men and old men reading at the callback audition. My first thoughts after the phone call from Keven were all about jubilation and wow -- what a surprise! And in this case I said a little prayer. This is one of those few roles written for an actor my age -- Rothko a real icon who lived in my lifetime, a revolutionist! And even more poignant, he speaks to many of the problems I believe have developed around all the arts in America and the way we do things in what we call this democratic experiment.

Gavin: How has it been for you both fitting into these roles and interacting with each other?

Morgan: At this point, "Rothko" hasn't shown up to many of our rehearsals. We get glimmers of him, but mostly shadows of the man and his life. We have applied the undercoat and painted a couple of layers. Some of the depth of our image is showing through. There is some conflict of color, space, proportion and complexity. The size seems correct, the movements of thought are rough and still unfinished. It is possibly adequate -- we will have to wait and see; these things take time. As for working with Ted? He's just this kid! So most of the time, I just watch him stumbling around, falling down, picking himself up -- its really fun! But, I run to catch him. I believe that Red at SLAC will live, it will glow with an inner life and a radiance seldom see around our SLC theater scene. Don't miss it!

Ted: It's great to see the thing grow over time. First, you're just trying to figure out your own side of things, and eventually your ears start to open up and you begin to work off of what others are giving you. My favorite part of the rehearsal process is when the stuff inbetween the lines starts coming alive, when it feels like the intellect is starting to get out of the way and instincts have the chance to take over. As Morgan is rather the seasoned pro, having been at the game for over 30 years now, it's felt natural to play his learning apprentice, as I feel that I'm still relatively new to this business of acting, so it adds a nice extra dimension to the piece in the ways our selves and characters are mirrored.
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Gavin: Considering that it's just the two of you, does it present more of a challenge that you have to play off each other more without an ensemble of characters, or do you find it easier with the two-man back-and-forth?

Ted: A two-man deal is certainly a different beast than being in The Wizard Of Oz, and it's apples and oranges, really. With a motley crew to bounce stuff off each other, you can find a huge variety of sensations going on between everyone, and that's fantastic. But there's a whole ton going on between two, and what's more, with only the two of you it pulls the focus in on a razor's edge. I enjoy watching two-person shows for that reason, as I usually feel like I'm missing something when there's a lot going on at once, i.e., 60 rainbow-sherbet-colored Munchkins dancing on stage at once.

Morgan: For me each project is different and unique -- hopefully. But plays/projects all have the same thing in common whether one or dozens of actors are involved. What we do is a collaboration, you need and depend on the contribution of all the artists. It becomes the Truth of many minds. It is a team sport.

Gavin: What are all of your thoughts going into opening night?

Keven: I've already got my gifts for opening night, that's for sure. Don't tell Morgan or Ted, but it's a big bottle of Ginkgo Biloba for both of them -- just kidding.

Morgan: I hope that my fly is zipped up before I go onstage on opening night -- on every night!

Ted: I'm already looking forward to having the audience in the house to fill up that last piece of the puzzle, the electrical pulse they bring; their presence, will be the icing on the cake for me, so I'll be jazzed about that.
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Gavin: What can we expect from all of you over the rest of the year?

Morgan: In the near future, we are in the continuing process of working with arts groups, the city of Helper and all of Carbon County in building audiences, picking a season, managing a theater, and educating everyone and anyone who will listen to our message; The arts are an important and indispensable part of our lives.

Ted: I'm a free agent, so I can expect to be anywhere depending on where I may get cast, but my going plan is to head out to San Francisco to live and work there for a bit once Red wraps up. I'll also start recording The Study's first album this year, which is exciting, and I'd like to have a few of my new plays, In The Potential and The John & Nancy Givens Memorial Rec Center read and work-shopped, as well.

Keven: The rest of the year? Yikes, I can barely think ahead to the next show! Speaking of which, that would be one week after the opening of Red. That's when SLAC will be opening a show in the chapel space, Dottie - The Sister Lives On. Don't miss it!

Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Keven: Yes! The gallery show that coincides with the run of Red features the art of Maureen O'Hara Ure. She is a fabulous local artist. Forgive any possible bias, she taught one of my college art classes, which helped me along with my career path in design/theater. Her art will hang in the hallway and green room. Come a few minutes before the show and enjoy, or be sure to take a few minutes after the show to appreciate her artwork. Maureen will also be part of the panel discussion on Feb, 26 at 4 p.m. Plan to attend!

Morgan: Other than what I have already plugged? I would like to say this: We are all responsible for this world we live in. Wake up, get off the sofa, turn off the TV, and do something! Start with your neighborhood and see where it goes from there. If you don't, shut up, get out of way and watch us all either get flushed down the toilet or, hopefully, we all make some changes about how we live our lives.


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