Stage Parents 

April and Mark Fossen fit theater into a busy everyday life

click to enlarge April and Mark Fossen
  • April and Mark Fossen

Ah, the glamorous life of an actor: the thrill of being in front of an audience, the joy of being recognized for your passion and devotion to your work ... and the part where you're making sure you've planned your schedule so you know who's helping the kids with their homework.

Theatergoers in Utah may recognize many of the faces on local stages from multiple productions over the years, but what's less widely known is that for a majority of those talented performers, acting is an extracurricular activity. When April and Mark Fossen plan for their participation in a local production, for example, there's a whole life of logistics outside the theater to coordinate—with their day jobs, with their kids and with each other as a married couple.

April was a young would-be actor living in the California Bay Area in 1994. She met Mark, a then-Chicago resident, at the California Shakespeare Festival, where both were cast as apprentice actors—though their initial meeting was something of a charming coincidence.

"My mom lived in California, and I went out to visit her," Mark says. "There was this audition for the apprentice company at CalShakes, and I thought, 'I can write it off on my taxes if I do an audition.' ... The first show that season was Romeo & Juliet, so we always like to say that we met during Romeo & Juliet, but we were not playing Romeo and Juliet."

Adds April, "We weren't even understudying Romeo and Juliet."

After the festival, Mark relocated to California, and ultimately they married. Their frustrations with the acting life in the Bay Area started to wear on them, however, so they moved to Pennsylvania for four years, where they had their two children and had all but retired from theater. They eventually came to Utah 11 years ago to be closer to where April's family lived, "with no intentions of going back into the theater," April says.

But then, as if by design, April ended up on the Eagle Mountain Arts Council, producing a couple of small shows—which, Mark says, took place "in a middle-school auditorium ... with folding chairs." Not long after, April discovered auditions for Plan-B Theatre Company's 2006 24-hour SLAM production through local actress Christy Summerhays. Discovering Plan-B, Mark says, was what got them back into the theater, which neither of them thought would happen.

Getting back into theater isn't quite so easily done when you're trying to squeeze it into everyday adult life. In addition to the usual responsibilities of parents—the Fossens' daughters are now 14 and 11—April works as an accountant for KUED/KUER and Mark works from home full-time as a web designer.

But the Fossens have figured out how to find time for their passion.

"We probably shouldn't be doing too many shows in a year—that part we haven't figured out yet," Mark says with a laugh. "In general, one of us is in rehearsal 48 weeks out of the year. The times that we're both at home for ... like, a week together, are pretty rare."

They see more upside than downside, however, both living the after-work theater life. They regularly attend the opening night of one another's shows, and then, according to Mark, "We stay up"—"Until 2 in the morning or something," April interjects—"with a bottle of wine, and just hash everything out. And that's part of what works: We understand what it's like when you come from a show and just need to process everything and get it off your chest."

And they both also insist that they can be completely honest about one another's productions. April and Mark burst into laughter when Mark mentions his dialect in last season's production of Clearing Bombs as an example. "His dialect wasn't very good," April says. "And I said it."

Scheduling has often required that they rarely work on the same production, but they'll be collaborating more this year. In the springtime, they'll act together in Plan-B's production of The Pilot Program. And coming up this month, Mark will direct April in the Utah premiere of the Pulitzer- and Tony Award-winning August: Osage County—a joint production of Utah Repertory Theater and Silver Summit Theatre Company—and they'll also team up for two performances of Love Letters during that run.

It's a schedule that becomes more possible as their kids get older, and they start to envision the role theater plays in their future—roles they'd love to play opposite one another, such as Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, or whether it might be possible to devote themselves to theater full-time.

Maybe "10 years in the future," April says, "where there isn't quite as much pressure to have a certain salary level or benefits level."

Or, Mark adds, "When you're not always buying new clothes or ... paying school fees."

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