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Gavin's Underground

Saturday's Voyeur 2013

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2013-06-27 - For theater patrons and lovers of Beehive State satire, it's that time of year again to crack out the picnic blankets and bone up on the last year's worth of local mistakes. Salt Lake Acting Company's annual season finale, Saturday's Voyeur, returns to the downtown stage, taking aim at absurdities throughout Utah and beyond, more than likely with its fair share of religious jabs and political baggage. Voyeur has become an institution in the city, so much so that it now has stretched its run over the course of four months, from June 26 until September 1.
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Today, I chat with three of the newest actresses to join this year's ensemble about their careers in theater, joining SLAC and taking part in the Voyeur experience, plus a few other topics. (All pictures courtesy of SLAC.)

Leah Hassett, Connor Norton & Jenessa Bowen
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Gavin: Hey, everyone. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Janessa: My name is Jenessa Bowen, and I am a 22-year-old from Farmington. I have one more year to go to finish my Bachelor's of Science in musical theater at Weber State University, and then I plan on pursuing a pharmacy tech license so that my future as an actress includes having food. I love playing my guitar on the side, and have been playing for five years now. If I were told that I only had one more week to live, I would eat as much steak and sushi as I could, make a short visit to NYC, and then FINALLY see something outside of the U.S. I would also go skydiving ... and get a tattoo ... and hold a baby panda.

Leah: My name is Leah Hassett, I am originally from Sacramento, California. I moved to Salt Lake two years ago for the musical theatre program at the University of Utah.

Connor: Hello, I'm Connor Norton, originally from Reno, Nevada. I will be a junior in the Musical Theatre Program at the University of Utah this fall. I became interested in acting around the same time dance and voice lessons became a part of my life at 7 years old. All three things just meshed together, and it seemed like I couldn't do one without doing the other two. My family has done nothing but support me throughout my journey and I am so thankful for them. I auditioned for the U, in L.A. as a part of the "unified auditions," which is actually where I first met Leah. Being from out of state, finances were a huge concern for me and I am currently on a full-ride academic scholarship at the U, as well as an MTP scholarship. Salt Lake has so much life and culture, being an aspiring actor in this city has been a dream. I first head of SLAC through the U, and auditioned for Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. During the show, I heard a lot of buzz about Voyeur and decided to take a leap and audition. We need to tell a joke as a part of our audition, and I completely gave away the punch line early. I'm guessing my use of profanities when I caught myself was something SLAC liked, and I was cast. This is an experience unlike any other I have had. I need to constantly be on my toes, getting new material all the time, and I have learned so much about Utah culture. Like all of the other opportunities I've had, I am so thankful to be a part of this amazing cast and show.
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Gavin: What got each of you interested in acting, and what were some early influences on you growing up?

Leah: I was always getting in trouble in children's choir for being too animated and moving too much, so I think that's when I realized I needed to move to a performance art that would appreciate those impulses rather than try to stifle them.

Janessa: My interest in acting started with Utah actress Jennie Richardson, who also happens to be my mother.  My love for it sparked at the age of 4, when my mom would take me to her rehearsals at the old Hale Centre Theatre location. She was playing, "Nancy" in Oliver, and I admired her on stage. I knew I had to be up there, too. I was cast in my very first show, A Christmas Carol, that same year. My mother is my greatest influence, but I also grew up watching many classic screen actors, namely: Judy Garland, Kathryn Hepburn, Gregory Peck, Gene Kelly, Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart -- the list goes on. Their ability to tell a story on screen enchanted me.
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Gavin: All of you are perusing theater degrees. What made each of you choose your respective schools, and what's it been like for all of you so far earning your degrees?

Janessa: Weber State was fate for me. I had been interested in attending WSU since I was 15, but during my senior year of high school, I had begun to reconsider the possibility of not attending college altogether and just leave Utah immediately. But later that year, I participated in a theater competition when a friend of mine told me about Weber's scholarship auditions that were happening later that day. I happened to have the exact material on hand needed to audition. Weber gave me a full ride, and since then, my life as an actress has never been the same. Four years ago, I didn't have enough proper training, or the confidence in myself, to try to "make it" as an actress. Thanks to professors Jim Christian and Tracy Callahan, as well as all of my peers, I now have the tools I need to go out there and take it like it's Black Friday. I had a very strong hunch that I should audition that day, and I am SO glad I did.

Leah: I just knew I wanted to move someplace new and do musical theater. My parents both went to the U; my dad as an acting major, so they were very supportive of me carrying on the Ute legacy. I visited the program and loved it and the rest is history.
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Gavin: How has it been for each of you performing around the city on a professional level while still honing your craft?

Janessa: What I love about professional theater is that you are working with many individuals who value every moment of the theaterprocess -- from all walks of life, from every realm of theater, these artists become your role models and targets for inspiration. Honing your craft as an actor is a beautiful journey when you get to share it with actors and designers who live and breathe theater like you do. Performing in as many venues as possible is important to me, because you get the most experience adapting to different theaters and working with different actors.

Gavin: When did each of you find out about SLAC and what were your first impressions of the company?

Janessa: I heard about SLAC through Weber State when a few of my friends were involved in Voyeur in 2010, and more and more continued to be involved each summer following. Auditioning for Saturday's Voyeur had been on my to-do-list since then for just the right time, and this summer was finally the right time for me to audition. My first impression of SLAC was how impressed I was by the faculty's professionalism: their organization, their management, and most of all, how well they treat everyone. I have never felt more secure, and taken care of, by any other theater company. Everyone is so helpful, giving and understanding.
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Gavin: What did you think about Saturday's Voyeur, and what made you decide to audition for it?

Leah: Last year, I saw the show with my parents and loved it. I went to the audition on a whim, not expecting anything. I was pretty shocked to find out I was in the cast!

Janessa: I saw Saturday's Voyeur for the first time last summer, and I had never laughed so hard in my entire life watching a stage production. I just thought to myself, "YES -- a theater company and an audience that isn't offended by everything, isn't afraid of new work and who won't do something I have seen 14 times"!

Gavin: What was the audition process like, and what was it like for you to become a part of the cast?

Janessa: The audition process was challenging. I have had maybe two other auditions where I was asked to bring in an audition selection of my own creation. Each of us had to research a letter to the editor of the Salt Lake Tribune and make a character out of it. Every single person at the auditions and callbacks was loaded with talent and had something special to offer. The dancing section of any callback is where I feel the most vulnerable, but it was extremely fun with SLAC. Being a part of the Voyeur cast had been a dream for me for a few years, and getting the call that I had been cast was like Julie Andrews singin' about the hills. I had gotten an amazing job, with an amazing company, and I would be working with some of my dearest friends.
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Gavin: How has it been for each of you learning these roles -- some multiple roles -- and finding the humor behind all of them?

Leah: I've learned that you can't look for the humor in a character, you have to look for the honesty and the true part of the character that people can connect to, and that's where any humor comes from.

Janessa: I play one of the docents -- the tour guides -- of the COB. There are three of us, and we all have to be in sync with each other: our gestures, the way we angle our heads, where we stand on stage, how we dance, even the inflection in our voices, where we point our feet and how we hold our hands. We have to say quite a few lines together, and at the exact same pace. If we don't pull it off together every single time, the comedic timing doesn't land. So, to insure that we are the most hilarious tour guides ever, the three of us have spent hours and hours making sure we move and speak as one. We are still finding discoveries every day to add on to our characters, and trying to perfect them as much as possible. It's been VERY challenging, but also very rewarding.

Gavin: What was it been like interacting with each other and the rest of the cast during rehearsals?

Janessa: We have SO MUCH FUN together. Rehearsals aren't a chore for us, they are a joy. We work hard, but we find time to laugh and get to know more and more about each other every day. There will be some stress every once in a while, but that's healthy and not unusual. We all love each other and don't let it turn into animosity. We hang out outside of rehearsals, have pot lucks, go out for drinks -- all that good stuff. We get three 10-minute breaks during rehearsal, and this is when we get to mess around and wreak havoc!
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Gavin: With all of you being new to the company, how has it been working together with all these experienced hands and learning the ropes behind this specific show?

Leah: All the actors and creative team are so supportive of one another and help guide us newbies through the process. This show is definitely a different experience from any more traditional musical experience and I have been so appreciative of the support from my castmates.

Janessa: I have worked with a few new works before where I have had to roll with the punches, so I came into the process with some preparedness. A scene or dance number could be learned in one particular style or direction, and then the next day has to be relearned in an entirely different one to make it a stronger show. I may be a little green to Voyeur, but I love learning all the ropes so that I can be an upstanding "Voyeur-ite." It's making me a stronger actress to have the ability to adapt with the entire company. We all make an amazing team.
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Gavin: What's your take of adding to the legacy of Saturday's Voyeur and knowing the kind of reception and audiences you'll have going into the coming months?

Janessa: I am beyond thrilled to perform for a Voyeur audience. SLAC's audience is open to all kinds of theater, and is so giving of their energy to the actors on stage. No one is afraid to let loose, and have a good time in the theater. I plan on returning the favor to those who come see the show. Voyeur is about tradition, and the joy of laughing at ourselves and our very quirky Utah culture. I plan on letting loose and having a grand ol' time, too!

Leah: It's so fun to be a part of something with such a huge following and that means so much to the community. I just hope I can add to the fun and help make Voyeur an awesome experience for our audiences!
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Gavin: What are all of your thoughts going into opening night?

Leah: It's pretty nerve-racking performing a show that has never been seen before, and also very exciting.

Janessa: There is, of course, the usual nervousness and butterflies, but it's a good sign. When I feel the butterflies, I know I'm anxious and ready for an audience. As long as I don't forget a solo line or lyric, I'll be one happy panda. I would much rather prefer falling on my face all night than forgetting a line or lyric, because falling on my face just affects me; forgetting a line or lyric affects everyone.

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

Janessa: I'm going to finish my last fall semester at Weber State, and, of course, involve myself in more shows for the rest of the year. What can I say? I'm a theater addict.

Leah: All sorts of fun! In October, I will be performing in Fame with the Grand Theatre, and in February, I'll be playing Amalia in She Loves Me at the U, along with my fellow Voyeur castmate, Connor Norton!
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Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

Janessa: Come see me, and fellow Voyeur-ites Kalyn West, Austin Archer, and Elena Dern in Utah Reparatory Theatre Company's production of Rent. It runs September 20 through October 6 at the Murray Theater.

Connor: To "plug a show," I will be playing Illona Ritter in the U's production of She Loves Me in February.


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