As the holidays approach, it's time for Salt Lake Acting Company to enact one of its longest-running traditions and officially become the last theater production of 2011. --- Every December, SLAC hauls out the piano and the extra-bright paint for its annual children's musical, offering a presentation for families to get together and enjoy.
This year, the musical sets sails on the ocean front as SLAC presents How I Became I Pirate, based on the Melinda Long children's book, which was adapted for the stage by Janet Yates Vogt and Mark Friedman. For this interview, we chat with the director, several actors and the musical director about the production and the work they've put into it.
Alexis Baigue, Randall Eames, Darrin Doman, J. Michael Bailey, Shannon Musgrave, Austin Archer & Penny Caywood
Gavin: Hey, everyone. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Alexis: Apart from a few summers spent in my father's homeland, I have lived in Salt Lake County my entire life. When not acting, myself, I enjoy watching theater, opera, ballet and modern dance, chamber and symphonic music.
Darrin: Hi, my name is Darrin. I've been living in Salt Lake City for almost nine years now. I work full-time for the University of Utah Hospital and act/perform around the valley, as time allows. I just finished playing the role of Alan Raleigh in SLAC's production of God Of Carnage. I had a whole week to recalibrate, switch hats and jump back into the theatrical fray as musical director for this show..
Randall: I’m a graduate of Weber State University. I’ve been involved in the arts for most of my life. I play the piano, sing and dance. I love theater because it gives you an opportunity to connect with people on a level that you normally wouldn’t get to. This play is especially exciting because it really is an adventure and we get to take these kids with us and watch their reaction.
JM: A bit about myself, eh? Well, I am a small-town kid. I grew up riding horses, feeding the chickens and playing a healthy dose of any sport in season at the moment. I wanted two things: first, to be a professional football player and, second, to be a cowboy. I made a stab at both of them, but it is apparent that those desires were ill-fated. So I took up acting. Well, it is a little more involved than that.
Austin: My name is Austin Archer and I play Sharktooth in How I Became A Pirate. I studied theater at Weber State University, alongside three of my four adult cast/shipmates. I have also worked for SLAC since 2009 as an actor, when I'm really lucky, and a house manager when I'm just plain old lucky. Either way, it's always a joy working for a professional theater company dedicated to local artists and new work.
Shannon: Hello! My name is Shannon Musgrave. I grew up in North Ogden, I’m a Taurus, I love to bake, and my favorite color is green.
Penelope: When I'm not at SLAC, I'm at my real job as director of the University of Utah Youth Theatre. Youth Theatre is a performing arts training program for young people ages four to 18 that is housed in the Theatre Department and part of the Youth Arts Division for the College of Fine Arts.
Gavin: How did each of you become involved with theater and how did find your way to SLAC?
Darrin: I started out as a musician with formal lessons (piano and voice) from the time I was eight years old. When I was in the sixth grade, I played the title role in a production of Oliver! I liked being on stage, singing and all, but there wasn't much theater happening in small-town Idaho where I grew up. So, I joined band in junior high and played saxophone until I graduated from high school. I pursued a degree in piano performance at Utah State University until a recurring wrist injury mandated a change in my career choice. To help pay for college, I worked as a pit pianist at the Pink Garter Theater in Jackson, Wyoming. One summer, the piano player had a few lines and that led to renewed interest in being on stage as an actor. I've been very luck to be able act and perform as a musician. My first exposure to SLAC was attending a performance of BatBoy in 2003. I saw Saturday's Voyeur in 2004, didn't really get it, but auditioned and made the 2005 SV cast. SLAC is such a wonderful company to work for, I take every opportunity that comes my way -- on the main stage, as an understudy as part of their New Play Sounding Series or as musical director, doesn't matter. I love working at SLAC.
Austin: I knew SLAC would be doing Pirate when the season was announced and I instantly knew I wanted to be a part of it. When shows come along that have bigger-than-life characters in bigger-than-life scenarios, it's hard not to want to step into those shoes and out of your norm. The fact that it is intended for children also presents a rare opportunity to really play and create something real for the target audience, something fun and engaging that, hopefully, takes them on a magical journey that will leave a lasting impression.
JM: I grew up in a very musical home, singing, writing, etc. So when I was exposed to the theater late in my high school years, I found an instant bond; particularly with the musical theater. That's when I dropped my pro athlete ambitions and took to the stage. I still write music and perform when I can, though the theater stage is where I feel most at home. And we've had a pretty good run of it the past 15 years. Once it's in the blood, it's very hard to get rid of. Sometimes I wonder if it is an addiction more than profession. If you saw my taxes, you'd conclude the former.
Penelope: I've been doing theater since I was five. I moved to SLC from the Los Angeles area in 1996. I did two stints as a swing for Saturday's Voyeur and in 2005 had the rare privilege of choreographing Voyeur. Last year, I directed If You Give A Mouse A Cookie. I feel really lucky to have found myself working and playing at SLAC.
Shannon: When I was about three, I would make my parents and grandparents laugh with my impersonations of Katherine Hepburn, John Wayne and Ronald Reagan. And then I knew I wanted to be an actor. I graduated from Weber State University’s musical theater program and soon after was lucky to get a part-time box-office position at SLAC. Since then, I’ve performed in three Saturday’s Voyeur and in Go, Dog, Go!, SLAC’s first children’s play, and I now work here full time as executive assistant. I’m in love!
Alexis: I started acting at 16, when I took my first drama class and was cast in West Jordan High School's production of Brigadoon. The first scene I did in class worked so poorly that I could see that I should have stuck with concert choir and left acting to my friends. Brigadoon, however, was deeply satisfying, so I continued to take classes and audition for plays. In 1995, my mother handed me a few pages from the Deseret News, listing all the local theaters' upcoming shows. Astonished to see that Angels In America was being produced, I puzzled, "Where is this Salt Lake Acting Company? They may be a crappy theater and I am too young for the roles, but I have to audition for that play"! I wandered into the Nineteenth Ward House of Worship, a defunct Mormon church in which SLAC took residence, and auditioned for the role of Louis Ironson. The play's directors and executive producers Allen Nevins and Nancy Borgenicht smoked, sat, and studied me. "Have you ever seen Saturday's Voyeur?" "No," I confessed. "We'll give you a ticket," they offered, "if you bring a friend who buys a ticket. We'd like to know what you think of it." I was not called back for Angels In America, but my fellow thespian Scott C. Morgan and I went to Saturday's Voyeur. I was shocked, thrilled, and delighted. I could not believe what I was watching. I auditioned a year later and was cast. Acting in Saturday's Voyeur was the most delicious, dangerous fun. I got to play: the Village People's Native American, Dame Edna Everage in a cotton-candy wig, a boy scout, a missionary, etc. It ran for 10 weeks; I wanted nothing more than for it to run another 10. Instead, I've acted in Saturday's Voyeur, off-and-on, for 10 more summers since then, plus Good Morning Juliet and, at long last, as Louis in SLAC's 2010 revival of Angels In America! How I Became A Pirateis my 14th production at SLAC. I have spent more hours at the Nineteenth Ward House of Worship than all other churches, put together.
Gavin: Penelope, how did you first come across the play and what were your first impressions of it?
Penelope: I came across this script a couple of years ago in my annual season-selection search for the U of U Youth Theatre season. Although I love pirates and think the source material is great, it has too many parts for adults so it doesn't suit the needs of my particular theatre program.So, when I was asked to direct and read the script and listened to the music for the first time, I couldn't wait to start working on it. I was so excited about the first rehearsal. I just knew we were going to have a great time.
Gavin: How did the opportunity come around for you to direct this for SLAC?
Penelope: I got lucky. Every director, choreographer, musical director, etc., hopes to get a call and hopes to be available when a good project comes along. Being asked to direct a children's show for me is a great honor. The producers at SLAC treat the children's-show slot just like everything else on their season. They want a high-quality, professional production, where all of their patrons, ages four to 94, will leave the theater feeling like a book came to life before their very eyes and they got to be a part of it. I know that for some young people, this will be the first show they ever see. I want that experience to be a magical one for them and I truly understand the importance of that moment.
Gavin: For the actors, when did you first find out about the play, and what were your thoughts after reading it?
JM: Penny called a couple months back and mentioned How I Became A Pirate. I love children's theater. I have three children and jump at the opportunity to do a show they can see and enjoy. So I immediately said yes to the project. I adore Penny, and this experience has been so wonderful. She is vibrant and witty; such a pleasure to be around.
Randall: When I read the play, I knew that this was a project that I wanted to be involved with. I had a few other job opportunities in line, but I was really hoping that I would get this one. At first, I thought the script was a little cheesy, but there is so much charm and warmth in the script that it makes up for it. Every time I read the script, I just get excited and want to go on an adventure.
Shannon: After it was chosen for SLAC’s season, I read the book it’s based on and I thought it was adorable and fun and would make the perfect musical for SLAC’s littlest patrons.
Alexis: I found out about the play when SLAC announced that they were producing it. I dashed to the library, checked out Long and Shannon's children's book,and loved it. I found Vogt and Friedman's script a surprisingly entertaining read. I could not wait for my adorable nieces and nephew to see it. My sister Francine has seen my acting a half-dozen times and her husband, Adam, once. They boycott my work and avoid conversation about my thespianism, but allow me, on occasion, with their supervision, to take their kids to children’s shows, such as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Go, Dog. Go!, Mary Poppins and the like, even Ballet West’s Carmina Burana and The Four Temperaments. A year ago, my entire family, to my elation, came with me to SLAC’s If You Give A Mouse A Cookie. I have explained to little Aspen and Bentley, “You know The Salt Lake Acting Company, where we saw Go, Dog. Go!? Well, I act on that stage in other plays.” I don’t think they get it. In April, my parents purchased tickets for the entire clan to opening night of How I Became A Pirate! Thus, I wanted to be cast this play more than almost any other that has come my way.
Gavin: What was it like for each of you auditioning and eventually getting the part?
Shannon: It was very exciting to be offered the part and I was so happy they chose to have a GIRL PIRATE!
Alexis: You should have seen me, literally jumping and skipping with delight outside of Café Marmalade, when Keven Myhre called to offer me a part. I am sure that everyone who saw me leaping with joy thought I had lost my mind. They could not have understood this job means Francine and Adam will, once more, see me engaged in that I am most passionate about, and Aspen, Bentley, Colter, and Dahlia will see me for the first time!
Austin: The process has been a delight. I had worked with all of the adult cast in previous shows so we're all friends, and we all love each other. They're also all really good at their job so that never hurts. The two boys playing Jeremy Jacob have impressed me since the first day of rehearsal and continue to impress me with their work ethic, preparation and overall commitment to their craft at such a young age. Penny Caywood, our fearless directress, is a seamless communicator of vision. She does it while maintaining such a calm, collaborative, and incredibly fun rehearsal environment, and that is such an invaluable thing to have in a director.
Gavin: How has it been for each of you fitting into these roles and interacting with each other?
Randall: I love playing with this group of people! With the exception of the boys, all of the actors are close friends of mine that I have worked with in the past. It is so inspiring to me to watch our two young men who are playing the role of Jeremy Jacob grow and take chances. They are so fun to with act with. I love the honesty and sincerity that they bring to the show. This is every actor’s dream: to be able to produce great theater with those you love and love being around.
Austin: My personal process of developing the character Sharktooth, one of the most feared pirates in the Seven Seas (next to Braid Beard, of course) but also a "sensitive guy," has given me more qualms than one would imagine for something where leaning into stereotype is kind of encouraged. I've been trying to find a comfortable way to growl when I speak, for one, but I'm not sure a completely safe method actually exists. I kind of feel like Christian Bale as Batman, slowly grinding my vocal chords into sandpaper. Also, I want the character to be real in the eyes of the children who see the show. I don't want them to be aware they're watching an actor playing dress up. Theater can be real for them, so I feel tasked with making sure it isn't anything less, and that's a challenge in and of itself. But I feel like we are in a good place right now, and that we have ample time left to play before it's show time.
Shannon: It’s a blast playing with this crew. Pirates are so big and uninhibited, so having done Saturday’s Voyeur with a lot of these mateys has helped a lot!
Alexis: It has been terrific fun to explore the voice and movement of a pirate. Playing with my Saturday’s Voyeur fellows Austin Archer, Randall Eames, and Shannon Musgrave is wonderfully familiar, and I love pillaging with our newcomers J. Michael Bailey, Fynn White and Michael Tao.
Gavin: Darrin, how did you become part of the production, and how has it been for you bringing the music out in this production?
Darrin: Penny and I have known each other for some time. Years ago, we shared the stage in a production of 1940's Radio Hour at he Grand Theatre; odd times. I've musically directed three productions for her Youth Theater at the U program, as well. Keven and Cynthia, co-executive producers for SLAC, have known me as a performer for a while and had me do some music for a fundraiser and their production of Clean House. It was certainly the melding of these three brilliant minds that resulted in me being part of the production. I'm very flattered to have been asked to be the musical director. Penny and I work very well together so bringing life to the music was a joyful process. Penny makes my job easy with her astute understanding of words and movement needing to go together. I don't have to worry about ragged cut-offs from the singers because Penny can always work step or gesture into her choreography that marries perfectly with the lyrics and end of a phrase. I'm in musical-directing paradise here.
Gavin: How has it been for all of you working with this production and adapting it to the SLAC stage?
Alexis: Great! If there is one place on Earth where I have the experience of being at home, it is SLAC.
Darrin: In a word, it's been delightful working on this production. Each member of the cast is brilliant and hard-working. The script is very clever and the music is just plain old fun. Penny is the bomb as director. We have so much fun and so many laughs during rehearsals, I almost feel guilty for getting paid. ALMOST!
Randall: The stage at the Salt Lake Acting Company is such a great space. It’s a very intimate room, but you still get the benefits of a proscenium-style stage. It feels like the audience is always right there with you, which is really important for this show because every child in the audience in the audience is Jeremy Jacob in a way. Even though in the play we are taking Jeremy Jacob, this is really the first adventure in theater for many of the kids and it’s important that they feel like the show is about them, too.
Shannon: It’s been really fun watching the set go up. The designers and painters have photocopies from the book taped on the walls and it’s really cool to see how much our set looks like the book. It’s very bright and big and so much fun to play on!
Gavin: What are your thoughts going into opening night?
Penelope: I hope I can achieve a nice balance in the show so that both children and adults will be equally entertained. And I can't wait for my four-year-old daughter and her friends to see the show. I'm excited to share with her what mommy has been doing every night.
Darrin: Diction, diction, DICTION!
Randall: I am so excited for opening. I can’t wait until we actually have kids in the audience. As I said before, the show is really about the kids. We can’t do it without them. We need them just as much as they need us. I hope everyone with a child in their life comes to see this show. It’s going to be a great experience. Even if you don’t have a kid, come on out, you’ll have a great time!
Shannon: There is nothing like playing to a house full of children. Everything is so real and exciting. It’s magic.
Alexis: I fear that if Francine and Adam learn that I am acting in this play, they will refuse to see it, too, so I have kept my casting secret. They will enter SLAC on opening night, anticipating that I will sit next to them, not sail onto the stage! Gods willing, they will not read this and everyone will be astonished as I dance on with the rest of my pirate crew!
Austin: I can't wait to do this for the children and experience the magic of theater coming to life firsthand. I think it's gonna be a wild ride and a pretty darn good time for the whole family!
Gavin: What can we expect from all of you over the rest of the year and going into next?
Randall: As for my next project, I’m not sure what’s next. I’m hoping that I’ll be fortunate enough to keep getting jobs that will help people see the bright side of life.
Alexis: You can expect that I will be begging to work on Saturday’s Voyeur, again.
Darrin: I'm currently looking for my next project and am entertaining offers from any of you big producers out there reading this. In the meantime, I will happily enjoy my evenings at home and singing with the Utah Chamber Artists.
JM: As for the rest of the year? I am taking a bit of a break. I am attending school for graphic design at the moment -- something I would have done 20 years ago had someone told me in college that a technical skill might be conducive to a more abundant financial existence as an actor. The next couple of years will be swallowed up in that process, so this is kind of a goodbye for a time. I am sure that I shall crave the performance aspect, but my wife and kids will assuredly appreciate my being home more. Much like the the theme of this show, "No matter where you are or where you might roam, it's good, always good, to be home."
Shannon: Lots of holiday baking. Also, I’m in the process of applying to grad school, so we’ll see …
Penelope: I will be directing and producing the next Youth Theatre show at Kingsbury Hall called There's A Monster In My Closet, which goes up in March, and then gear up for Theatre School Summer Camps.
Gavin: Asidefrom the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Shannon: Shopping local for the holidays!
Darrin: Utah Chamber Artists has a Christmas concert on Dec. 13, 7:30 p.m. at the Libby Gardner Hall on campus at University of Utah. That day is Santa Lucia Day and we are premiering a new arrangement by Barlow Bradford of that familiar Italian song. Please join the celebration.
Alexis: Visit LandmarkeEucation.com and register for The Landmark Forum, immediately.
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