Salt Lake Acting Company: A Year With Frog & Toad | Buzz Blog

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Salt Lake Acting Company: A Year With Frog & Toad

A chat with the cast and crew behind the annual children's play

Posted By on December 3, 2014, 4:28 PM

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As 2014 slowly comes to a freezing conclusion, those of you who grew up cool kids and ended up having cool kids of your own are probably looking for some kind of shared entertainment that doesn't revolve around being disappointed by TV “mid-season finales,” or whatever excuse they make to take a two month hiatus. Thankfully, Salt Lake Acting Company has you covered with their sixth annual children's production running from December 5-27. This year the company will present A Year With Frog & Toad, an adaptation of the Arnold Lobel books and characters, complete with musical numbers and some added life lessons on friendship. Today we chat with four members of the cast, as well as director Penelope Caywood, and SLAC's Kid Connection PJ Caywood, about the production. (All pictures courtesy of SLAC.)

Nate Waite, Logan Tarantino, Terry Lee McGriff, Jenessa Bowen, PJ Caywood & Penelope Caywood
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Gavin: Hey everyone, first off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Nate: I am 23 years old. I am technically a sophomore in college though I didn’t attend this year. I started performing when I was eight and have had a strong love for the performing arts since then. I love music and play the guitar, piano, and drums. My favorite color is blue!

Logan: I am a graduate from the University of Utah's Actor Training Program and I am a bell hop at Little America Hotel. I do birthday parties for children from time to time, dressing up as Spider-Man, pirates, Harry Potter, etc. I love acting! For fun, I like to freestyle rap, usually while I'm driving.

Terry: I am a California native, I moved to Utah about two and a half years ago to study acting at the University of Utah.

Jenessa: Well, I'm a 23-year-old munchkin addicted to everything theatre, playing and teaching the guitar, eating sushi, Sonic's cranberry limeade and mini M&Ms. I see myself exploring the world doing what I love most: performing. I graduated from Weber State University in April of this year with a Bachelors of Science in Musical Theatre. Other than living up in Ogden while I was going to school, I've spent most of my life living in Farmington. I've been an actress passionately since I was 4 years old, but have been working professionally for the last five years or so. I love performing for children, it is a joy so unique that you must experience for yourself if you wish to find it. I also really love The Salt Lake Acting Company. It's not a plug or promotion, it's just simply the truth.

Penelope: I'm the director of the Youth Theatre program at the University of Utah. I also adjust the faculty for the U's Department of Theatre, specializing in youth theater in theatre education.

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Gavin: What have each of you been doing in local theater over the past year?

Logan: I was Lysander in A Midsummer Night's Dream at Salt Lake Shakespeare and I was Jean-Michel in La Cage Aux Folles at the Grand Theatre. I also had a senior project that I wrote and directed and acted in at the end of the spring semester of 2014.

Jenessa: In February, I was in my last college production as Sara Waybourne in Picnic at Hanging Rock. It is an original musical that Weber State was the first to fully realize and stage after it was workshopped in Washington DC. After graduating, I played Dead Docent and the dreaded Gayle Godzicka in SLAC's Saturday's Voyeur 2014 from June until September. We start rehearsing in May, so it's a production that takes a third of a year to stage. I was recently a part of the Intermountain Health Care educational tour, Live Well. The show tours elementary schools along the Wasatch front, sometimes beyond, to teach kids how to live a healthy life through skits filled with music, dance and comedy. A year ago around this time I was in SLAC's children's show, The Cat in The Hat, and I'm so incredibly happy to be doing the children's show again.

Penelope: Over the past year, I have directed two Youth Theatre productions, one which was a world premiere.

Terry: In the past year I have appeared in Avenue Q at The University of Utah's Babcock Theatre, Hairspray and Spring Awakening at Midvale Main Street Theatre, and The Color Purple at Wasatch Theatre Company.

Nate: This June through July I was in Children of Eden at Centerpoint Legacy Theatre in Centerville playing the role of Cain. I also performed at Lagoon amusement park for their summer show and on through Frightmares! I also had the awesome opportunity to be involved in two short films for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

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Gavin: Penelope, when did you first learn about it and what did you think about being brought on to direct this show?

Penelope: I produced and directed this play in 2010 for Youth Theatre, it was a large cast with young people ages 8-18. I developed a great affinity for the piece then. I thought the stories were sweet and the music quite challenging. I joked around with other Youth Theatre faculty about casting ourselves in the show and touring it to schools. So, I felt incredibly lucky to be asked to direct the show. The show makes me happy. Working on this piece with five professional actors is a huge treat. These particular actors are darling, they are collaborative and hard-working, so it's been a joy.

Gavin: Considering the material, how challenging was it to bring this kind of children's play to the stage?

Penelope: I have such a great team on this production that any challenge I encounter, I have an army of helpers to solve the issue. From Darrin Doman, expert musical direction to Keven Myhre's delightful set and props to Kevin Alberts' creative and youthful costumes to Jesse Portillo's exciting lighting design - I really feel that all of us are working together to enrich and enliven the story. The team is amazing and I haven't even mentioned Janice Jenson, stage manager extraordinaire, Annie Brantley, her assistant stage manager, Shea Madsen the sound designer, and the producers who are like mentors to me.

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Gavin: For the cast, what made you interested in auditioning for this show?

Terry: I know quite a few actors who have performed in SLAC's children's shows over the past few years. They loved working at SLAC and being directed by Penny, which definitely inspired me to audition for the show. I am also happy to have the opportunity to share the magic of theater with children. I saw my first production when I was 17 years old, and it changed my life. Hopefully, this show can be inspirational for somebody!

Jenessa: Here were the three largest factors that made auditioning for this play a no-brainer: First, I love children's theatre, it's the best kind of theatre to do during the holidays. Second, I love working for SLAC, easily the best theatre I've ever worked with. Three, I love Penny Caywood, I'm convinced that no one knows how to direct children's theater better than she does. She's a delight inside and outside of the rehearsal process.

Nate: It has been a joy being Toad. He is so much the opposite of me that it has had its challenges. But I truly enjoy the youth like nature of the story. It makes bringing Toad to life that much more of a challenge but also that much more satisfying.

Logan: When I heard the title I was excited because my mom and I had read Frog & Toad books when I was a kid. I had never heard of the musical version of it though, so I just did a little research from that point on.

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Gavin: How were auditions and what was it like for you getting the part?

Jenessa: Auditions were completely smooth and organized. Each actor was asked to prepare an already selected story from one of the Frog & Toad books: Shivers. We were asked to make it come to life through storytelling and animated choices through movement and voice. If the actors brought the elements the producers and director were looking for, they were called back to sing a song from the show (Getta Load-a Toad), work in groups, and learn and dance some choreography. When I found out I got the part, I was in my car. I giggled with excitement for a little bit, and then blasted my stereo singing at the top of my lungs.

Logan: To be honest, I was so scared at auditions because the musical side that we had to sing was super high, it's the "Snail With the Mail" song and my voice couldn't quite hit the note. Also, I was barely keeping up with the choreography that Penny was creating for us to learn. So after callbacks I got a call that I was cast as Frog and I couldn't believe it! I was so excited because that was the part that I wanted! So I was and am pretty stoked.

Nate: This show has been so much fun to do you can’t help but be friends with the rest of the cast. Especially my relationship with Logan! I didn’t know Mr. Logan before this show at all. But after interacting like best friends for 3 weeks now it’s like we have always been that way! If you can be in a show like this, that is so full of life and positive energy, and not walk away with a new best friend or two, you got problems.

Terry: Auditions for this show were quite different than any other audition I've attended. Instead of preparing a song or a monologue, we were given a selection from one of the Frog and Toad books and asked to bring the story to life. For callbacks, we were given a solo song as well as a group number, which served as a harmony test. We were also divided into groups and acted out the same story we prepared for auditions. When I learned I had been cast in the show, I was ecstatic. This is my first professional show, so I had to call my mom and my grandma and share the news with them, which sounds a bit silly, but I feel so blessed to be able to make money doing something I love to do.

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Gavin: How has it been for each of you adapting to these roles and adapting classic characters?

Nate: The most enjoyable part for me has definitely been the rehearsal process. We have laughed so hard at times. Whether from sheer exhaustion or just the plain hilarity of the show, I never left rehearsal bored. Tired? Ya, I’d leave tired, but never bored!

Terry: The fact that people who have grown up with these characters will be seeing the show makes me a little nervous, but also excited! We've worked with Penny on bringing these characters to life in a new, fun way, while staying true to the characters that are known and loved.

Jenessa: It's always a little tricky having to find 5 distinct characters for one show, but once you find each of those different personalities, it is NEVER boring. I have so much fun finding out how I want my character to walk, how their voice sounds, even what they like or don't like to further propel more discoveries. Bringing Young Frog to life is going to be so awesome for our audience who has read the books to experience, because they'll get to see an idea of what Young Frog looks like along with his mom, his dad, and seeing Young Frog's encounter with the Large and Terrible Frog (Old Dark Frog from the book) right on stage! Audiences who have never seen the musical will get to hear Frog and Toad's voice and their experiences come to life. In the books the mouse, lizard, moles, and squirrels do not speak or have a large appearance, unlike the musical. It's fun bringing life to animals around Frog and Toad that would communicate in their natural environment outside of what you see in the books. The birds, turtle, and the snail, on the other hand, do communicate with Frog and Toad in the book. The musical has made them much more prominent characters though, and you see them consistently throughout the show- they have dialogue and sing and dance! The same goes for the other animals.

Logan: I just mainly have found my character to be a little classier and more proper than I am in everyday life. I have read the books and I have found Frog to be a classy and cool-headed character. He remains calm in trying situations and he is very nice to Toad. The same is true in the musical version of the script, so that's what I've looked for to bring to the stage.

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Gavin: How is it for each of you interacting with each other and bringing the play to life?

Terry: Working with this cast and crew has been amazing. It's such a high energy show; I think it takes a special group of people to bring it to life. As a cast, I think we work together well and have a great cohesive energy. We are lucky to have Penny as a director. She's great at creating theater for children without alienating the adults who will be seeing the show with their children.

Logan: First off, I am so glad to be working with such funny, nice, talented actors and I wouldn't where I am in the show without their inspiration and help along the way. They make me laugh all the time and are a pleasure to play with every day. It feels easier to bring my character to life because I have my fellow actors who do a great job at creating a different world to act in.

Nate: I am looking forward to having an audience! There is a new energy that comes into a theater when an audience is there. It seems to add that last bit of life into any piece.

Jenessa: This cast is so open to experimenting their character choices with each other that when we interact, our characters grow and become more intricate as we play off of one another. It's exciting every day we have rehearsal. We have all become so close during this process. I look forward to being with them every night because they are my dear friends. We all love performing and don't see it as work. Even though we get frustrated occasionally, out of breath and wondering where the water is, I think it's more than safe to say that we are all having a blast being a part of this show.

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Gavin: What's been the most enjoyable aspect for you in this play?

Nate: I wish I knew what I could expect for the rest of the year! Haha, hopefully, I’ll be able to get more jobs performing. I will be returning to school for the Fall semester next year so I can finish my degree.

Jenessa: I believe that children's theater is one of the most challenging genres of theater. It requires an incredible amount of heightened energy, and the responsibility to make out-of-this-world situations and characters just as believable as everyday situations and people. I enjoy a challenge. I enjoy being pushed and growing as an actor. An audience filled with children is also the greatest audience to perform for. We are making magic for these kids.

Logan: The most enjoyable part of me taking part in this play is the challenge that it gave me and the hard work paying off. This play is fun and challenging, and every day I am proud of the work that our entire SLAC crew is doing on this show.

Terry: We have had the opportunity to travel various elementary schools and libraries to perform a few numbers from the show and read stories from the Frog & Toad books. Those have been the most enjoyable and rewarding for me.

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Gavin: PJ, how have you enjoyed the play and how do you think other kids will enjoy it?

PJ: I think that you should really see the play because it's really really good. The song "Cookies" is my personal favorite. Also, if you are thinking about seeing the play just do it. It expresses the four seasons with Frog and Toad. It's really funny and cute so go see the show. I think the snail character is my favorite. Logan, who plays Frog, is really weird – in a good way.

Gavin: How has it been seeing your mom and this cast work together?

PJ: It's been fun and cool. It's just kinda cool seeing behind the scenes because, I don't know, it's what most kids don't get to see and it's really nice. When my mom gives notes she's really direct. She doesn't joke around. She looks the actors in the eye and she talks to them.

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

Terry: I'm just excited to share this show with an audience. We've worked hard on it and I think we've got something special.

Nate: PARENTS. Just because we advertise this as a children’s show doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy yourself. This show has one of the cleverest scripts I have ever read. You will not be bored when you come, you will laugh and you will cry (yes, you will cry) and you will walk away wishing you were 7 again so you could have sit up front on a little mat with the rest of the kids! This show will not disappoint!

Jenessa: CAN'T WAIT! That's it.

Logan: I can't wait for kids to watch the play with their parents or adults and having laughter on both spectrums. I think the play caters to both audiences and I am excited to use the audiences energy to further bring the play to life. I am confident in our team and I have enjoyed the ride so far.

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

Jenessa: Leaving Utah is my biggest hope for this coming year. If stars don't align for that to happen though, you better believe I'll stay busy with theater. I'll also move out to Salt Lake in the meantime until I can move.

Logan: I am going to start trying to work with film and television as well as audition for plays around Salt Lake. I have nothing planned just yet.  I would like to give a shout out to my family and roommates, as well as my church buddies, for supporting me and being inspirations.

Terry: I don't have anything lined up at the moment, but I'm sure I'll be popping up in various shows around the city!

Penelope: I will be producing and directing a new youth theatre musical in the spring, Great American Tall Tales, with book by a very talented local playwright, Nicholas Dunn, and music by me.

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