David Fetzer's Theater Revolution | Theater | Salt Lake City Weekly

David Fetzer's Theater Revolution 

The New Works Theatre Machine is shaking up Salt Lake City.

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There’s a lot of theater to choose from in this town—but David Fetzer is afraid that there might not be any for you. He wants to change that with The New Works Theatre Machine, his new experimental-theater company. Its inaugural production, Go to Hell, opens at the Pickle Factory on Dec. 3.

Fetzer, young as he is, is a fixture in the local arts scene. He’s had prominent roles in theater productions over the past few years, like Salt Lake Acting Company’s Batboy and Plan-B Theatre Co.’s The End of the Horizon, as well as SLAC’s current production, boom. He starred in the independent feature-length film Must Come Down by writer/director and former Kayo Gallery owner Kenny Riches. Must Come Down, which filmed around town over the summer, will soon hit the film-festival circuit. He started a rock-folk band, Mushman, with a good friend. The point is, Fetzer likes to stay busy.

Despite his love of acting and performing, though, he doesn’t really like of lot of the theater he sees—not just here in town, but anywhere.

“There is no excuse for boring theater,” Fetzer concluded after an impassioned diatribe. “The theater,” he began, “when done well, is the most effective, engaging form of storytelling and entertainment that there is.” It is the ultimate collaboration of all art forms, he contends. Actors have to work with a writer’s script in front of an artist’s set design to a composer’s musical cues to create something that is living and breathing on consecutive nights. There might be dancing. Singing is common. This is something he thinks people should want to see. And not just the middle-age, older, monied demographic he tends to see when he looks out from a stage. He thinks the rock-show set can be convinced to come out, too.

So, what do you do when you can’t find anyone locally doing the kind of art you want to participate in? Do you cry about it? Do you pick up and move somewhere “cool”? Do you just idly wait for someone else to do it for you?

No. Fetzer has decided to do it himself.

He saw a production in London in 2005 that blew him away. That, in turn, sent him on a tour of American theater through New York City, Chicago, Minneapolis and other cultural hotbeds. Again, he didn’t see a lot that impressed him, but he took away a lot from what he did like.

In Minneapolis, in particular, he was struck by a couple of shows put on by writer/director Jeremey Catterton and his Lamb Lays With Lion theater company. Catterton also happens to be his classmate from the old prestigious arts-academy boarding-school days. You know how it is. When the idea for the New Works Theatre Machine began to take shape in Fetzer’s mind, he called on Catterton to take charge of the first production.

Catterton’s work epitomizes what Fetzer feels is lacking from theater in general and the Salt Lake City scene in particular. Fetzer is looking for “theater that is relieved of the obligation of offering an idea.” He feels that too many of the plays he sees are limited by a particular political ideology that perpetuates a self-congratulatory atmosphere in the theatrical community, which is willing to prioritize “correct” ideas ahead of visceral and immediate work.

Offering an antidote to those sentiments, Catterton turns to film director Stanley Kubrick to articulate one of his core theatrical philosophies: “The truth of a thing is the feel of it, not the think of it,” he says, quoting the late legend.

On this occasion, Catterton has delivered Go to Hell, a loose interpretation of the classic Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice (where the guy goes to Hades to retrieve his bride but screws it up at the last minute). His take is … well, less traditional. The ferryman to hell has a motorbike and vodka bottles hidden all over the stage. The lead couple has a relationship that, far from the pure and tragic love I remember from grade school, is marked by cynicism and material entanglement. On my visit to a recent rehearsal, I heard a lot of talk between Catterton and his makeup team about blood capsules and latex flesh flaying.

This is what The New Works Theatre Machine is all about. You may not like it, but you’ve probably never seen anything like it onstage. And despite all of Fetzer and Catterton’s highfalutin talk behind the scenes—about what theater is, and what it needs, and what it can be—ultimately, they want to entertain you. If you come out to a show from The New Works Theatre Machine, you’ll sure as Hades know that you saw something.

The New Works Theatre Machine
Utah Pickle Factory
741 S. 400 West
Dec. 3-18


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About The Author

Rob Tennant

Rob Tennant is a Salt Lake City freelance writer.

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