Plan-B Theatre Company already kicked off its 20th season in a brilliant way, taking the unconventional road with the play She Was My Brother. Receiving stunning reviews and sold-out shows over its run. But as the year changed over there was question as to what would follow up such a provocative production. It became only fitting that one of the company's most prolific writers contribute to the milestone season, reaching back into his prior works for inspiration and presenting one of his finest plays to date. Not to mention being directed by one of the company's founders and performed by three of its strongest leading women.
--- Mesa Verde explores the story of two estranged sisters, reunited as one takes ill, allowing a final point in their lives to air grievances with each other. The two growing up with their mother, discussing how she taught them to live life, the way she died, and overall examining the hardships of broken relationships. Today we briefly chat with playwright Matthew Ivan Bennett, director Cheryl Ann Cluff, and the three actresses featured in the play. Since we've chatted with all five of these people before in some capacity, we'll be changing it up a bit today.
Matthew Ivan Bennett, Cheryl Ann Cluff, April Fossen, Chrisy Summerhays & Teresa Sanderson
Gavin: Hey everyone, first off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Matthew: I once dabbed my eyelids with Vapo-Rub in order to cry onstage. It was a comedy, so I don't think it's cheating.
April: I'm an actor and a mom, and an accountant for KUED/KUER.
Chrisy: I'm an actor and always have been. Nobody warned me against choosing acting as a career... so here I am still doing it, miraculously. Grew up in Salt Lake, fifth of eight children, left for New York at 19 to study acting... and the rest is history.
Teresa: I'm a wife and mom (both my kids are getting married this year!) and I volunteer a lot in my community.
Cheryl: I’m 45 a half crazed wife and mom of 4 and 2-year-old kids. My hobby used to be Plan-B Theatre Company (which I co-founded with Tobin Atkinson in 1991) while I worked for Intermountain Healthcare for eighteen years. Now that Plan-B is pretty much my full time job (aside from kids), I like to admire my bead collection and in my spare time - once in a while - actually make a necklace or something.
Gavin: Given this is Plan-B's 20th anniversary season, what was your first Plan-B production?
Matt: My first Plan-B production was a ten-minute play called Must Have Been Cold that I wrote for SLAM 2005.
April: My first Plan-B production was actually SLAM 2006, doing the original, 10-minute version of Mesa Verde.
Christy: My first full production with Plan-B was Aden Ross's Amerika. It was also a 3-character play set in a small space...don't know if that means anything. Oh wait - I was in the first SLAM in 2004!
Teresa: My first Plan-B production was Stage Directions as part of an evening of one-acts called Pushing The Envelope, way back in 1993.
Cheryl: The very first Plan-B show was Out Of The Frying Pan: An Evening Of One-Acts (A Need for Brussels Sprouts by Murray Schisgal and Mimosa Pudica by Curt Dempster) in 1991. I am embarrassed to say I do not remember much about this show other than we did it. I do remember Tobin wanted me to dye my hair dark brown (my character was Irish) and I wouldn't.
Gavin: Matt, this is your fifth full production at Plan-B - talk about that and how Mesa Verde came about.
Matt: When I shuffled in for SLAM 2006 (Plan-B's 24-hour theatre event) I was shown a black-and-white projection of an ancient, wooden ladder reaching through darkness to a square of light. That image was the seed of Mesa Verde. My partner at the time had been through ovarian cancer, and more recently a cyst scare, and I found my own fears about it slopping on the page. When she was first diagnosed she didn't want to talk about it much and I feigned optimism and pushed down the worry. With Mesa Verde it broke free. I'm indescribably honored to be produced again at a theatre company as energetic and integral as Plan-B. Mesa Verde has been simmering for almost five years. Like Cold, it began at SLAM, and was subsequently workshopped, but Mesa Verde has gotten considerably more love from a variety of talented artists. Both April Fossen and Teresa Sanderson have provided me with feedback at major turning points, and of course Jerry Rapier and Cheryl Cluff have challenged me and have remained supportive as the text (and I) matured.
Gavin: Cheryl, what motivated you to take on directing this particular play? What's it been like to take the play from the page to the stage?
Cheryl: Uh, Jerry did. I had been directing the annual Radio Hour for the past five years and we decided to give that a rest for a bit. Then he said he thought I should direct Mesa Verde. The thought of directing a full production where actors have to actually MOVE AROUND THE SET scared me a little so I decided it was a good idea. Plus, I really liked the idea of a play with all female characters being directed by a female. We also have a female stage manager. Go Girl Power!!! That's not to say that the play isn’t accessible for males as well. I think anyone, male or female can relate and see parts of their own families and themselves in this play.
Gavin: What was the audition process like for each of you and what was it like getting the part?
April: I had hoped from the time of SLAM 2006 - it was an incredible and intense day - that it would get a full production and that I'd get to be a part of it. But there was never a guarantee that I would. So, it was thrilling to actually be cast.
Christy: I was asked to participate in a reading of the play and was offered the role of Tamara. Getting the part was awesome! I mean working on any well written play is a pleasure, but working on a new piece that's never been produced adds another level of excitement.
Teresa: It was the luck of the draw for me at SLAM 2006. When auditions rolled around for the full production nearly five years later, I was too old to play the role I originally played. Cheryl had read other actresses for the Goddess but she and Jerry asked me to audition and I was cast! I feel lucky to be involved.
Gavin: What's the interaction been like for you in rehearsal?
April: I love these women. The characters and the actresses. The characters are certainly flawed, but I love who they are. The actresses are amazing to work with. I feel like the little sister just because I admire Teresa and Christy so much.
Christy: It’s been fun to talk about chick/mom/sister/daughter stuff - serious female bonding going on in rehearsal. And getting to know all of these ladies on a much more personal level has been a delight. From the minute I knew who the director and cast was to be I was excited to be a part of this play. My high expectations have been reached and exceeded. These women have been great and facinating and present at every moment... a lot like the characters they play.
Teresa: I read a lot of Native American legends and stories. All of them pointed me to the Spider Woman so that's the jumping off point for the Goddess. We lost my husband Barry's mother to cancer in 2008. I had the privilege of spending those last months with her. So, honestly, at times it has been a little too close. But it's also been a pure pleasure.
Cheryl: It’s been fun to talk about chick/mom/sister/daughter stuff - serious female bonding going on in rehearsal. And getting to know all of these ladies on a much more personal level has been a delight
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