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Gavin's Underground

SLAC: The Exit Interview

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2013-04-08 - Before the Salt Lake Acting Company gears up for their season ender, they've got one more production up their sleeves, looking to comedically entertain you before they sing their way out. The Exit Interview, currently working its way across the globe in a rolling network premiere, puts a professor through one of the most probing and nerve-wracking departures from his profession that explores politics, religion and sexuality. Today, I chat with director John Caywood, as well as three of the actors from the play about their experience with the premiere. (Photos courtesy of SLAC).

John Caywood, Darrin Doman, Marin Kohler & Cassandra Stokes-Wylie
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Gavin: Hey, everyone. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Darrin: Hi, I'm Darrin. I play the part of Richard Fig. Poor guy just got pink-slipped because of budget cuts and has to go through an exit interview. When not onstage, I work at the University of Utah Hospital. I also enjoy international travel. I've been on a quest to see the seven new wonders of the world -- six down, one to go. I plan to visit the Coliseum in Rome this summer to complete my goal.

Marin: I will be graduating from the University of Utah with a BFA. from the Actor Training Program, as well as a minor in international studies this summer. I hope to be involved with an internship during the upcoming year, and then go on to earn my M.A. and maybe even a Ph.D.

Cassandra: I’m originally from New Mexico and graduated from the Actor Training Program at the U.
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Gavin: What have you all been up to over the past year in local theater?

Marin: I haven't really been up to much aside from The Exit Interview. I recently completed my senior project to earn my degree, but other than that, most of my year has been filled trying to finish up my minor. I'm happy to be back, though!

Cassandra: Most recently, I played Roxy in Pygmalion Production’s Cheat. Last year, I was Mrs. Givings in its production of The Vibrator Play, and Elizabeth Proctor in The Grand Theatre’s production of The Crucible.

Darrin: I have been really lucky this past year, as far as theater gigs go. I pushed the limits of my comfort zone as a classically trained pianist when I did rehearsal accompaniment for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson at Salt Lake Acting Company -- a rock musical. I took a little break and then returned to SLAC to be the musical director for Click, Clack Moo: Cows That Type. Good times. I am over the moon to announce that my part in The Exit Interview completes all requirements for me to join Actor's Equity Association, the union for professional stage performers. Yippee!

Gavin: John, when did you first learn about The Exit Interview, and what were your first impressions upon reading it?

John: Keven Myhre called and described it as a candidate for the season and asked me if I wanted to read it. He gave me very little to go on in terms of his impressions background of the play, etc. I was interested in reading it and was hooked at a specific point in the text with one particular stage direction. "In this reality Dick pops off his..." I won't say what. But the brazen theatricality of this idea made me an instant fan of the play. I read the rest of it and was delighted to find that the entire play is highly theatrical.
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Gavin: What made you decide to come on board to direct it for SLAC, and how has it been working with the cast and crew?

John: Being a fan of the play from first reading, when it became a part of the season and I was asked to direct it I did not hesitate to take the assignment. At this point, I only have time for one or, at the most two, productions a year and I always enjoy working at SLAC. There is a feeling of nurturing that comes from the staff. And I like the fact that the entire staff -- administrative, production and executive -- are involved in the process. So, it really is a company production, where everyone puts their hands on and supports the project. That feels really good.

Gavin: Being that this is a rolling world premiere with few other companies producing it, what kind of a challenge is it for you to produce something faithful to the script while setting a standard for others to look at?

John: Being faithful to the script is never an issue with me, whether a new play or a script that already has a production patina. You are correct that there are no photos or reviews or other producers or directors to learn from. But, theoretically, there are enough clues from the playwright in the text that the company can create a credible production that an audience will enjoy and other companies can use as a base of ideas. I think looking at the work of the other companies that are producing The Exit Interview simultaneously will be a great deal of fun for all of us.
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Gavin: For the cast, what were your initial thoughts on the play when you first read it?

Cassandra: The first time I read this play, I laughed out loud. I knew immediately it was something I wanted to be a part of.

Darrin: I thought it was fun, WAY quirky and even WAY MORE edgy. When you’re staring at cheerleaders, a big gun and blood splatters on the cover of the script, you get a hunch it's going to be an wild read.

Marin: The cheerleaders at the beginning of the play do not lie -- this play is offensive. After my initial reading, there were things that I really liked, and there were things that, you guessed it, offended me. I think that this play is something that hasn't been seen before. Very few people could tell you who Bertolt Brecht was, and even fewer ever bothered to read past Mother Courage and Her Children. It is a very European style of theater, which either works or it doesn't. I think the thing to remember about this play is that Brecht's aim was to bombard the audience with ideas and questions, and then force them to come up with their own answers. That is something we as a modern audience aren't used to doing on the level that Brechtian-inspired theater demands, and something that can be extremely frustrating at times; indeed, this is part of what I found offensive. Some of the questions asked deal with issues that are very sensitive to me, and the lack of an answer from the playwright made me mad because I think there is an answer to the problem. The thing I had to sit back and remember is that other people will be thinking the same thing when they watch it, and if they get mad and talk about it, that is where change begins.

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

Marin: The audition process was a lot of fun because we all knew the play was something unique, a theatrical experiment that you don't see often. We all really wanted to do it, and I'm just so grateful that I got the opportunity to.

Darrin: Auditions are always a little nerve-wracking. The producers at SLAC are really terrific about helping actors feel welcome and at ease, though. I also enjoy the different energy and interpretation that comes from the same scene when you read it opposite different people.

Cassandra: Auditions were a lot of fun. It’s always interesting to read with a variety of people, to see their take on things and to have that opportunity to play.
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Gavin: How has it been for each of you fitting into these roles and discovering these characters?

Darrin: Richard Fig is a bit of a nerd, works at a university -- scratch that, WORKED at a university -- has been to Wyoming on vacation and can sure channel his inner lounge singer, so we had a lot in common right from the start. Ha! I just hope not to be forced through an exit interview any time soon. Kidding aside, I've had good fun exploring Richard's distaste for small talk and how that might affect interpersonal relations or impact conversations with new people. John, the director, is really great at helping us base our character choices and stories in truth. His input is truly invaluable and the result, for me, is a fully realized, fleshed-out character. I think the audience will really identify with him -- there's a little bit of Richard in all of us.

Cassandra: Playing several roles in one play is always a great challenge. Whether you’re that character for 30 seconds or in a 10-minute scene, you want to make choices for the person so they are, hopefully, different than you and different from the other characters you’re creating. Some come really naturally and some you have to spend a little more time thinking about.

Marin: Personally, I have had a lot of fun. It is always such a challenge to play multiple roles, and to truly make each one unique. Some were definitely harder to figure out than others, and it always seems to work out that those are the most fun to play.
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Gavin: What has it been like for all of you interacting with each other and bringing the play to life?

Cassandra: I have really loved watching the other actors play and make choices with these characters. We’ve had a great time and I’ve learned a ton from watching them all work.

Marin: The cast has been great to work with. It is a very ensemble show, so we have all been there for each other for 99% of the process. They are all a great bunch of people, and we have all had a blast doing this.

Darrin: I feel like the luckiest of cast members. I believe I am the only one to have scenes with everyone else in the production. It's been a true joy getting to know new cast mates, as well as re-connecting with folks I've worked with in the past. It doesn't take long to develop a sense of family and become attached to/protective of one another.

Gavin: Going back to it being a rolling world premiere, how much pressure is there on all of you to put forth a production that is faithful to the script and represents the body of work well?

Darrin: Funny thing, I had never heard of The Exit Interview before I auditioned, yet my stepfather swears he knows the play and has seen it. Cracks me up. I make an effort to construct a fresh take on a character every time I'm in a show. This has been no different from a method standpoint. I make choices based on clues the playwright gives me about the character and not on a previous portrayal of the character. Working on a script by a living playwright is pretty nifty. When a question comes up, the producers are able to e-mail or text the playwright and get an answer in a couple of days; not that we've had many questions. Still, it makes me wonder how different the theater experience would be if we had the same connection with Shakespeare or some of the other great playwrights. It makes me think of a scene near the end of the show where there is a text exchange with God. Unlimited text with dead people, fictional characters and deity? Sign me up for that mobile plan, eh?!

Marin: I don't think it is anymore stressful than any other show I've done. You always strive to do the best you can and do the story justice. I've heard that the playwright will be there opening night, and I already know that is going to be stressful. You want to make sure the playwright likes it!

Cassandra: I wouldn’t say I feel pressure about this play being a rolling world premiere. It’s very exciting to know you’re part of something brand-new, but, like any play, I think you honor the words of the playwright, make choices and listen to your director. It’s liberating to know there aren’t any set ideas about how these characters should be played.
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Gavin: How has the experience been for everyone on this production, especially having it be a comedy with some interesting subject matter behind this particular interview?

Marin: I think what we have really strived for in this production is to ensure that everything is done in good taste. The humor provides a vehicle, as well as a relief for the truly dark ideas behind the play. Furthermore, the comedy only works when we are not commenting on the characters. There are a lot of seemingly two-dimensional caricatures floating around, but making sure that each one of our characters was based in reality is what makes it funny. We are merely presenting you with ideas; it is not our job to comment on the characters or action of the play, it is the audience's. That way, they can come to their own interpretation and solution, and that is what Brecht would have wanted.

Cassandra: We’ve had a great time exploring the comedy in this show, but we’ve also talked a lot about some of the darker issues it addresses and how they relate to our world everyday. I think what’s so great about this play is its ability to address those issues and then give you a little comedic reprieve so you don’t feel overwhelmed by the bigger themes.

Darrin: This play hits on a lot of hot-button/sensitive issues. But, it does it in a way that makes you think, producing a laugh at times and a bit more of an "oh, snap" reaction at others. I hope people don't take it too seriously. If audience members are willing to take this wild ride with us, they are bound to have a good time with a few snap-to reality-check moments. Dark comedies are a trick to pull off successfully. It keeps an actor on their toes, for sure.
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Gavin: What are all of your thoughts going into opening night?

Cassandra: I’m really excited for opening night. I can’t wait to hear how audiences respond to this play. You hit a point when you need people in the seats and I think we’re all ready for that!

Darrin: I hope the audience laughs. Oh, and no wardrobe malfunctions.

Marin: I hope it rains!

Gavin: What can we expect from all of you over the rest of the year?

Marin: A group of friends and myself are trying to put together some devised theater pieces to be done at various locations are the valley. Be on the lookout, SLC!

Darrin: Hmm, let's see. Saturday's Voyeur 2013 is already cast, so I can't do that. I'm hoping to re-join the Utah Chamber Artists, after a one year hiatus playing at SLAC and earning my equity card. Their upcoming concert season is going to be amazing. And then, they will be touring Europe in the summer of 2014.
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Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Darrin: Come see The Exit Interview. Bring friends!! It's going to be a good time.

Marin: A short film I recently did entitled Paracosm, directed Josh Hilton and produced by Miah Bowen through Argonaut Media.


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