local theatre season is already in full swing, with a number of
original and classic plays on the way starting the February. But as
we patiently wait for all of those to kick off, today we're taking a
look at a new company that caught everyone off guard.
--- Dark Horse Company Theatre started producing works this season out of Park City, starting off without even a solid budget or a full crew, the company did everything (including acting) on a volunteer basis. Producing two successful plays out of the Egyptian, and with a third on the way they've pretty much secured a second season for themselves and proven that community driven theatre still works! I got a chance to chat with the duo in charge, founding members Daniel Simons and Ginger Bess, about starting up the company and the work they've done so far, along with their thoughts on local theatre.
Daniel Simons & Ginger Bess
Gavin: Hey guys, first off, tell us a bit about yourselves.
Ginger: I am a local professional Equity actress and Voice Teacher at Weber State University. I have performed in regional theaters across the country and have been involved in all aspects of theatre--down to cleaning toilets.
Daniel: We are local, do it all professional actors, musicians, technicians, designers and anything and everything else in-between. We do what it takes to stay alive in this fickle industry. We are both graduates of Weber State University (where we met) and have since traveled the country mostly as actors from coast to coast for the last ten years frequently and finally stopping back in Utah to continue doing what we love.
Gavin: What inspired you to take an interest in theater?
Daniel: As a farmboy from Idaho, I have no idea what pulled me in. I should be driving tractors but somehow instead got into the arts. I think it all started with an intense interest in music. What else are you going to do in rural Idaho but find a radio? Music found a way. Starting out as a singer, I eventually found acting and musical theater as a satisfying outlet. In the meantime I developed an interest in design, carpentry and all other aspects of live theater. Something about it continues to draw me in in spite of it’s monetary difficulties.
Ginger: As long as I can remember I have loved the arts. I used to write and perform my own plays in grade school. My inspiration comes from those old movie musicals that my parents would watch on TV.
Gavin: What were some of the first productions you took part in and what was it like for you back then?
Ginger: My first lead in a play was "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" in High school and I played Millie. There was no turning back from there. I had found my own version of crack.
Daniel: I played the child "Porter Rockwell", a schoolyard bully in show about the early Mormon prophet’s bodyguard and henchman when I was just a kid and other than a few random high school plays didn’t do much until about midway through college where things took off for me at Weber State University and Utah Musical Theater. I did more than my share of the prerequisite Utah show "Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat", which I think pushed me toward the more edgy non-traditional style of theater which we now strive to do.
Gavin: Before the company started, how did the four of you originally meet?
Daniel: All of our paths had crossed in one way or another through the local theater scene, both as working actors and as technicians. From Weber State to Park City we shared the stage in many different capacities.
Ginger: We had all been actors in local productions together. Mostly at the Park City Egyptian Theatre.
Gavin: How did the idea for Dark Horse originally come about?
Ginger: We got to talking one night and realized we all wanted to fill the void of not having a place to do edgy musical theatre. Not to mention the fact that there was so much talent here not being used.
Daniel: Necessity. A growing number of very talented artists were and still are trying to fill a shrinking number of positions in a struggling theater community. With several prominent companies going under and the rest flooding the market with the same style of watered down, crowd pleasing, money makers, there was a void to fill and we just took action on what was an obvious need in here in Salt Lake City.
Gavin: What steps did all of you take in getting everything set up and delegating tasks?
Daniel: We sort of just jumped in with both feet and got to work, doing our best to handle the overwhelming task of starting a new theater company in a struggling economy. We are still very new and are working to find the balance between art and business. We know how to create and sell a good show but are only just beginning our company’s education in the business world. As we grow we will hopefully be able to make the connections and hire the needed staff to handle all the challenges of a start-up arts company.
Ginger: It took a lot of meetings at mine and Daniel's house--we realized we all had the tools to actually make this work.
Gavin: Given the selection of theaters in Utah, why did you choose the Egyptian Theatre in Park City?
Ginger: They made us an offer we couldn't refuse--plus it was the best location for this particular time slot.
Daniel: Also necessity and knowledge. We all have worked in that space for many years and know it very well. With the Egyptian Theater Company, as it were, facing layoffs, financial debt and staff restructuring there was yet another void to fill. They no longer had the producing power that made them so popular in the last decade. Simply put, the theater needed bookings, we needed a space that fit our style and financially it was a great relationship to help us get our start. It paid off with short but sold out run of THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN TEXAS.
Gavin: What was the process like in choosing the plays you'd be doing for this season?
Daniel: It takes a lot of research, debate, dialogue and reading. We want to find the best fit for an audience longing to see something fresh and different.
Ginger: We would brain-storm at meetings--it was easy to agree on projects that just fit.
Gavin: I understand a number of people immediately came to help volunteer. What was it like having so much help to get the productions running?
Ginger: It was overwhelming and amazing to see how many people believed in what were were doing and wanted to help us succeed. We definitely couldn't do it on our own. Now if we could just get a big sugar-daddy donor we could really establish ourselves--so if you know anyone...
Daniel: It was amazing and honestly absolutely necessary. We wanted to set up a company of artist all sharing the company equally including earnings. Without sponsorship, or eligibility for government arts funding the profit margin for theater is little to non-existent. We make very little money but what we get we pass along to those that are willing to build this thing with us. Although we pay what we can, it is not much and we do have an amazing group of people who believe in the type of art we are making. Each actor, designer and technician is very, very important to us and we would not exist without their undying efforts.
Gavin: What was it like first getting that first run with BEST LITTLE WHORE HOUSE IN TEXAS off the ground?
Daniel: It was incredible. It was exhausting but invigorating. So much work went into making it happen but such an amazing group of people who gave it all to bring that show to life. It was so worth it. To do that size of a show out of the gate as a new company was insane and probably should not have been attempted but we wanted to hit the ground running and make some noise. That we did. It was great.
Ginger: I have to say that one was all about Daniel. He basically wore every hat. We were also very fortunate to have the most talented and hard-working cast. With the best attitudes! I can't emphasize enough how important work ethic and attitude are in this business. Everyone sacrificed a lot! I don't think Daniel slept for two months--at least not until the show as open.
Gavin: Was it a challenge doing A NEW BRAIN from there, or had you gotten past the learning curve by then?
Ginger: I think every show has it's own battles. A NEW BRAIN was a beautiful show with a lot of talent but wasn't as well known. Therefore--was not as well attended.
Daniel: I think this show was our learning curve. As the honeymoon ended and we had to switch gears and take a new approach to put on a beautiful but lesser known show in a time of year that is notoriously much more difficult to do. The cast and crew faced new challenges and although it was a great show that was well received it was not well attended and we continue to learn from that as we approach another huge show like REEFER MADNESS.
Gavin: Since then two of the founding members have departed. What led to them taking off, and how have things been going with you both running it?
Ginger: I think it just came to a point where the reality of what an overwhelming task we were undertaking was taking a toll on all of us. It is one of the scariest things we have ever done--with all four of us living on actors' salaries trying to financially front a new theatre company in a failing economy. That type of thing can be hard on any relationship.
Daniel: Things have been going well. Like Ginger said, there is so much pressure and sacrifice in building something out of nothing. Stress leads to conflict and although there has been some, realizing our differences and making the right choices for the good of the company has been essential in it’s survival. In some ways it is easier with fewer responsible parties and in other ways their talents will be sorely missed but the work done to get this thing off the ground greatly appreciated by many, many people.
Gavin: In April you'll be performing REEFER MADNESS. How is the planning going for that production?
Ginger: I am very excited for Reefer! I think audiences are going to be surprised how much fun this show is. It also addresses a lot of political issues that we are facing right now. It is amazing how true the saying the more things change the more they stay the same! We have a fantastic production team: Director: Christopher Glade, Music Director: Trevor Jerome Witcher, Choreographer: Cory Alan Heaps. We are lucky to be surrounded by so many talented people.
Gavin: Do you have any plans at the moment for the following season or will you be playing it by ear as to what happens next fall?
Ginger: We are pretty sure we are going to be able to do THE LAST FIVE YEARS in the Fall. Right now we pretty much have to go show to show--until we get the funding we need. There is a lot of tricky negotiating up until that point. One of our goals is to be the first theatre in the area to do RENT. That would take a lot of funding though--so we will see how it goes. If we are going to do something of that magnitude we want to go all the way.
Gavin: A bit state-wide, what are your thoughts on local theater, both good and bad?
Daniel: I believe that Utah has a very strong theater scene but it’s one that does not provide a lot of variety or financial stability for it’s artists. Utah has some of the best talent in the country. I would just like to see more opportunity for audiences to see a wider variety of shows and by doing that help more artist make a living by being in these different shows at different theaters.
Ginger: I think there is something here for everyone--which is great. On a selfish note--I wish there were more places for local Union actors to work and make a living. Hopefully in the near future our company can be one of those places.
Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to improve it?
Ginger: Yes- we can all help improve local theatre be getting out there and supporting the arts. That way everybody wins.
Daniel: Go see it. Tell your friends. We really need to recreate the classic culture of a night out at the theater. Also financial support is very important, theater does not exist without donations.
Gavin: What are your thoughts on the big push to “bring Broadway” to Utah?
Daniel: I think our tax money would be better spent supporting local companies whose only difference in ability is budget. Most touring shows that come through town are only selling us the idea of Broadway with producers who take advantage of low cost non-union actors and charge the “uneducated” theater goers for a full professional experience when in reality it is not. Although there are some local companies doing the same thing, I believe we can improve our own local economy by building up local arts organizations. So much talent is wasted in Utah because people don’t know that they do actually have more than one or two choices in live theater in Utah. You can get so much more for your money if you try something new.
Ginger: I think it is a comical notion and I wonder if people really even know what "Broadway" means. Does is mean: bigger names, better talent, or just a higher ticket price?
Gavin: Do you feel like local high schools and colleges do enough for their performing arts departments as of late?
Ginger: I do feel like we put a lot of energy in our educational arts--that shows in the talent that is produced here. But I think we can always do more.
Daniel: I don’t know much about the high school scene but more money for teachers and education is always necessary. There are some excellent performing arts departments in Utah colleges, some with very specific strengths. A couple that have it all. Always worth checking out.
Gavin: What can we expect from you both the rest of the year?
Daniel: We will be applying for government grants and funding as well as looking for sponsors and other financial backers to stay alive. If we do this then a few of the shows we would like to do include THE LAST FIVE YEARS, RENT, SPRING AWAKENING, one more undecided play, and a few offbeat surprises that we are keeping secret. We are also taking suggestions to find out what people want to see. So give what you can and we’ll give you what you want.
Ginger: To work our asses off to stay afloat. Definitely do put on a show you don't want to miss.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Ginger: Come see Reefer of course! Please help a budding theatre company stay alive and give us your support. We can't do this without your help. Go to our website for any type of donations. We are having a Valentine's Day themed Fundraiser at Club Jam on February 12th, 8PM-Midnight. Lot's of love and hate songs sung by amazing local talent,pictures with cupid, and sexy treats.
Daniel:Yes, the monthly cabaret night at Club Jam, A Special Love/Hate Valentines, as well as some upcoming promotional shows like "Rock For Reefer” which will feature local bands and artist to help promote the actual show REEFER MADNESS all of which help us raise the desperately needed funds to hopefully produce another season of shows. We’re also looking for sponsors and advertisers.