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SLAC: Angels In America



As the start of the '10-'11 theatre season slowly approached, Salt Lake Acting Company knew that being the first production of the season would come with some challenges, especially after coming off the successful run of Saturday's Voyeur just a few weeks prior. But the group was up for the challenge, and in picking what would be the first official production of all the companies in town, they went with one that is as reflective of society today as it was nearly twenty years ago.


--- The Tony Kushner classic Angels In America delves into the emotional turmoil and political hot-wires of what many in the gay community were having to deal with during the mid-80's, with a slight fantasia vision and near prophecy blended into the two-story arc. With issues and emotional ties that strike just as hard as they did upon its inception, the play itself serves as a reminder than the more some things change, the more they stay the same, both in the stubbornness of society and the will to overcome. For this interview we chat with director Keven Myhre, as well as three of the play's actors: Lucas Bybee, Alexander Bala and Nell Gwynn. Chatting about their experiences with the play as well as their thoughts on local theatre. (All photos by Thom Gourley)

Nell Gwynn (left), Lucas Bybee (middle), Alexander Bala (sixth down on left) and Keven Myhre

Hey guys, first off, tell us a bit about yourselves.

Kevin: Hello, my name is Keven Myhre. I am the Co-Executive Producer and resident Set Designer at the Salt Lake Acting Company. I am also the director for SLAC’s production of Angels In America.

Nell: I have been in Salt Lake City for six months. I started professionally in Miami, and was in NYC for ten years. I moved here to be with my boyfriend, and we will be married in May.

Lucas: My name is Lucas Bybee, I'm from Cache Valley and I went to college at Utah State University where I studied theatre.

Gavin: What inspired each of you to take an interest in theatre?

Lucas: I took a theatre class in high school where one of the assignments was to learn a monologue. I chose the Yorick speech from Hamlet and I just fell in love with not only the speech, but with Hamlet in general. From there I got a job as a stage hand for the Ellen Eccles Theatre and knew that this was going to be the path for me. So I enrolled at USU and started taking some theatre classes.

Nell: I joined up in high school. I worked backstage and wanted to be in the International Thespian Society, and we had to audition for a play. I auditioned for Steel Magnolias.

Kevin: When theater is in your blood, the inspiration rises from just about anything around you.

Gavin: Keven, how did you come to be a director for Salt Lake Acting Company?

Kevin: I had been working at SLAC as the Producing Director for four years when Allen Nevins and Nancy Borgenicht asked me to direct Richard Greenburg’s Three Days Of Rain. The rest, they say, is history.

Gavin: What made you choose Angels In America for the season opener?

Kevin: To commemorate SLAC’s 40th year, we wanted to pick a season opening play that encapsulates our mission, vision and reason for creating art. Angels In America was the perfect play to fit the bill. It is a critically acclaimed, epic work. Tony Kushner’s words retain their relevance today. His script covers a broad range of issues including racial tensions, discrimination, immigration, healthcare, corrupt government, human faults and, ultimately, redemption. Society struggles with these issues as much today as it did in 1985.

Gavin: How was it for you researching the play and figuring out how you were going to present it?

Kevin: I first saw
Angels In America in Vancouver, British Columbia. It was an emotional evening of theater that has stayed with me for years. I also worked on the 1995 production of the play at SLAC as Set Designer. I was very familiar with the script and characters before beginning work on this production. Re-reading the script only deepened my understanding of the intricacies of the intertwining story lines.

Gavin: For the cast members, what was it about this particular play that caught your eye to audition for it?

Alexander: When I heard that SLAC was producing
Angels In America, I was instantly interested in auditioning. SLAC is such a great theater and I knew that they would do justice to this amazing play. Also, as an actor, one is always looking for good material and this play is considered as one of the best plays of the twentieth century so it really was a no-brainer.

Nell: I came to see Charm when I first arrived in SLC - I met Cynthia through a mutual friend via email before my arrival, and she asked me to audition. I never would have known and that makes me feel so lucky.

Lucas: It really is one of the greatest contemporary pieces ever written, Kushner has such a keen way with words and the play address so many different important topics from religion, politics, sexuality and so much more. One you here that somebody is doing it and especially when that someone is SLAC you have to audition.

Gavin: What was the audition process like for each of you and what was it like getting the part?

It was my first audition in SLC and I was impressed! After seeing Charm, I really wanted to work at SLAC. I hoped they would like me. When I got the part, I knew it was a great decision to come here.

Lucas: I was, quite frankly, terrified. I had spent the last year doing almost exclusively film auditions and such. I didn't feel prepared for a theatre audition but I gave it my best and here we are.

Alexander: Auditioning is always a little uncomfortable, similar to standing on the playground and hoping the cool kids pick you to be on their team. For this production that was compounded because I knew that there would be wide spread interest from other actors within the community. I just tried to keep my expectations in check. I was elated when I got the call from Keven Myhre telling me I was cast.

Gavin: What has it been like fitting into these roles, and what challenges have you met in bringing out the character and perfecting your performance?

Lucas: I honestly don't know where to start, this play is so epic you have to remind yourself to take a deep breath and relax and try to take it one step at a time.

Alexander: Playing Joe Pitt has been wonderfully challenging. Kushner created such complex characters that are all having these incredible peak experiences, that gives an actor a great deal to work with. In creating the character I primarily try to be true to what is on the page and to the vision of the director. Keven Myhre has been very helpful to me in finding Joe. Also I have been fortunate enough to be able to talk with people in the community who have been through some of the same situations and struggles that Joe is experiencing. The biggest challenge for me has been experiencing the emotional journey that this character undertakes. Joe is physically being torn apart by the circumstances of his life and his inability to live authentically. That is a tough road to travel day after day.

Nell: I love my roles. My characters manifest as pure support for the heroes of this play and I love that. I also get to play onstage in some great scenes with wonderful actors, playing beautifully written characters. It's pure pleasure.

Gavin: How has it been interacting with each other during rehearsals and full performances and watching the play come together?

Nell: I feel so lucky to be starting in this community. The people are amazing - as the play comes together, I feel so proud to be a part of it.

Alexander: The rest of the cast have been wonderful to work with. I have really enjoyed watching what they have done with their characters and the bold choices that they are making. I think it is going to be a great show.

Lucas: Well the cast is really in a league of it's own everybody has been an absolute pleasure to work with. We have bonded together as a family and when your doing a play of this magnitude it really helps take the edge off so to speak.


Gavin: Considering the content and history of the play, how has it been for all of you bringing the play to life on stage, and trying to live up to the expectations it brings?

Kevin: My aim as director is to live up to the potential of the script of Angels In America, making the show our own, rather than reduplicating any previous productions.

Lucas: At the end of the day you have to go out there and give it your best, expectations aside.

Nell: I try not to think about that and just do my job. Obviously, you want it to be the very best it can be - the material is amazing.

Gavin: Going into opening night, what are your overall thoughts on the production?

I think it will be great!

Nell: I'm proud to be a part of it

Gavin: Moving state-wide, what are your thoughts on local theater, both good and bad?

Call me a cock-eyed optimist, but I think theater is alive and well in Utah. The challenge becomes retaining our audiences in a changing society where newspapers (up to now, our main source of advertisement, pre-show articles, reviews, etc.) are failing and social networks and the cyber world keep people from looking outside their homes for entertainment. Thankfully, there are active and popular blogs (we love you Gavin) to help fill in the seats. As for bringing Broadway to Utah, I think we can do better. The talent of actors and other theater artists in Utah is immeasurably broad and deep. I prefer to promote local first. We should think about sending Utah to Broadway and the rest of the world. For example, SLAC has commissioned new work that has gone on to be produced in New York and London. Many people don’t know that
Angels In America is being revived and will be running simultaneously in New York and Salt Lake City. The “big apple” has nothing on the “big beehive”.

Nell: I am excited to explore this more as I live here longer. I think the quality of the talent and vision here is incredibly impressive, as is the audience. It's inspiring!

Lucas: I love dark contemporary theatre and I always wish I could see more of it, I'm not big on musical theatre but that's me.

Gavin: Is there anything you believe could be done to improve on it or make it more prominent?

Martin McDonagh, Stephen Aldly Guirgis and more local playwrights stuff would be great to see more frequently in Utah.

Nell: It would be great if there were more theatres offering Equity contracts and maybe more collaboration with the coasts, but there is always time for growth! SLC should be bragging about its arts scene to everyone.

Gavin: What's your take on the push to bring “Broadway to Utah” and the steps being taken so far?

I wish I knew more about this!

Lucas: It is what it is.

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

Kevin: Get your tickets now for the staged reading of
Angels In America -- Perestroika. Moreover, we’ve already started rehearsals for our next production, Boom, by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb. Come Christmas, we will be in production of If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, more children’s theater at SLAC following a very successful run of Go Dog, Go! last year.

Lucas: I'm doing a film called "Shades Of Treason" written by Loren M. Lambert and produced by Rob Diamond, which I think will be a very provocative film.

Nell: After Angels closes, I will be focusing on Kathleen Cahill's play, The Persian Quarter at SLAC. World Premiere!


Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?

The Persian Quarter opens in February 2011 and is going to be fantastic! I am so excited to do this new play, and again, very proud that I was chosen to represent the work and collaborate with such talented people.

Lucas: Two films. "Peloton" directed by John Lawrence and "Shades Of Treason" directed by Rob Diamond.

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