One of the final productions Salt Lake Acting Company has to show us before they get all Voyeur this summer is a little ol' play that has some fine accolades behind it. --- 4000 Miles is a dramatic production featuring a young man on a bike trip trying to escape his current situation, who ends up having an unexpected extended stay with his grandmother in the West Village, forcing them to re-examine their lives and try things neither is fully comfortable with. This Amy Herzog play was named Time's “Play Of The Year” that same year in 2013.
Today, we chat with several actors (Shelby Andersen, Hye Soo and Joyce Cohen), both of the show's executive producers (Cynthia Fleming and Keven Myhre), and director Adrianne Moore about the production leading into opening night. (All pictures courtesy of SLAC.)
Shelby Andersen, Joyce Cohen, Cynthia Fleming, Keven Myhre, Lily Hye Soo Dixon & Adrianne Moore
Gavin: Hey everyone! First thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Shelby: My name is Shelby Andersen and I'm from Salt Lake. I graduated from Weber State University last spring in musical theater and now I work full time at SLAC.
Joyce: I've been in the business for almost forty years. I manage to work here and around the country. I live here and in NYC.
Hye: Hey! I'm Hye Soo, I'm a mom to one adorable three year old, a theater teacher and an actor in between.
Adrianne: I’m a freelance director and dialect coach and voice over artist. I'm also on the faculty in the theater department at Utah State University. I’m from New Zealand originally and lived in Australia and England before coming to the U.S.
Gavin: What have you all been up to over the past year in local theater?
Joyce: In terms of my most recent work, I was in PTC's Other Desert Cities in January and in February I worked at the New Play Summit at the Denver Center Theatre.
Adrianne: Let’s see... I have worked a lot for SLAC over the past year. I directed How To Make a Rope Swing for the company last spring and then coached dialects for Venus In Fur, Good People and Grant & Twain. I directed a reading of Debra Threedy’s play Wrestling With Angels for Pygmalion and directed Candida at Utah State.
Hye: I performed with the Grassroots Shakespeare company last summer and then in the fall I was in the musical, Avenue Q at the U of U.
Shelby: I was in In The Heights at Hale Orem in the fall, then jumped right into Road Show with Wasatch Theatre Company, and the day after 4000 Miles closes, I start rehearsals for the Broadway show at Lagoon!
Gavin: Cynthia and Keven, when did you first come across 4000 Miles and what were your initial impressions of the play?
Cynthia: We are fortunate to have the most amazing audience, mostly comprised of season subscribers. They love and embrace "new work." When someone appreciates "new work," it usually means they have bought tickets to a play that they have never heard of or seen before. They trust Salt Lake Acting Company and know that the play will be a high quality adventure. So our job is to honor our audience and present great new plays, period. Now, about 4000 Miles, Amy Herzog is a celebrated young New York playwright. We have read many of her plays and love her depth of characterization and concise writing which is laced with unexpected humor. In 2010, After The Revolution was produced at Playwright’s Horizon in New York and Amy was given the New York Times Outstanding Playwright Award. 4000 Miles is its successor. 4000 Miles was a 2013 Pulitzer Prize Finalist and was named Time Magazine’s Number 1 "Play Of The Year." This play falls into the category of Great New Plays, period.
Gavin: What made you decide to bring it to SLAC for this particular season?
Keven: When choosing plays for a season, we make sure our subscribers have a diverse and entertaining experience. So far this season, we indulged in sex and power with Venus In Fur, looked at the "haves" and "have nots" in Good People, explored friendship and courage in Grant & Twain and will have compassion as a 91-year-old grandmother and her 21-year-old grandson find their way in today’s world in 4000 Miles.
Gavin: Adrianne, what were your first thoughts on the play and what made you decide to direct it?
Adrianne: The character of Vera was so fascinating. I loved that fact that although the playwright doesn’t ignore the concerns of old age. Vera is certainly frustrated by her physical limitations and “not being able to find my words”–she is full, bold and has opinions about a whole range of things quite unrelated to her age. Amy Herzog talks about her own grandmother, on whom the character of Vera is based and her concern about “the way that older people can just disappear” and her sense of her own grandmother's “fight to remain present and relevant.” Leo rather reminded me of my own son and the relationship between these two is really intriguing. And the writing is lovely – so subtle.
Gavin: What kind of approach did you take in putting the production together knowing it would be for mature audiences?
Adrianne: Oh, I don’t know that it made any difference. I mean, the actors say the lines as written by the playwright, and as the director, I want to follow the playwright’s intention, so I think the approach is really pre-determined by the decision to include it in the season. Of course, there is some latitude where stage directions are concerned but for me it’s always about honoring the playwright and finding the particular world of the play.
Gavin: For the cast, what were your initial thoughts on 4000 Miles after you first read it and what drew you in about the story?
Hye: I was immediately drawn into Leo. I couldn't understand his process and at the same time, I felt super empathetic toward his situation. The fact that each person wanted each other to fulfill a certain expectation and yet they couldn't was somewhat heartbreaking but real.
Shelby: When I read it, I immediately had a connection with it. I felt like I totally understood Bec. I was really drawn to her. I knew right away that I wanted to audition.
Joyce: I first read this play after a conversation with playwright Julie Jenson. I had heard about it but never seen or read it. I ran into Julie at a book reading and signing at the King's English for a collection of short stories by David Kranes.
Gavin: What was it like for each of you auditioning and eventually getting your parts?
Joyce: At a signing at the King's English for a collection of short stories by David Kranes, Julie suggested I take a look at the role of Vera because SLAC was going to be producing it and she really liked the play. I knew it was being done around the country so I did indeed get a copy when I got back to NYC. I fell in love with the play and with this marvelous woman I now get to bring to life. I was in NYC when SLAC held auditions so I asked them if I could submit a "taped audition.” I learned the scenes from 4000 Miles that the producers and director wanted to see. Then I set up my camera, got a fellow actor to read the other characters behind the camera, and shot the scenes. Once uploaded to Vimeo, I sent them along to the SLAC producers and Adrianne.
Shelby: I had a really good time auditioning, and it was a really smooth process. It was an audition that I worked hard at and even though I don't like to admit this during the audition process, I really wanted the role. Let's just say I was thrilled when I got the call.
Hye: My audition process was great, everybody was very friendly. There aren't many Asian actors around here and so the pickings are slim. Haha. No, but it was really nice to see other female Asian actors during auditions. It's kinda nice to know that you weren't just the only option, that you were a choice.
Gavin: How was it for each of you growing into these roles and figuring out your characters?
Hye: Amanda is so different from me that at first I didn't like her. She kind of put me off. It almost felt like putting on a coat that you're embarrassed to wear. Now I have a fondness for her. She has this vulnerability that's quite beautiful and yet she's flashy and quite ostentatious. She's been really fun to play.
Shelby: It's definitely been a challenge. Bec is unlike any character I've ever played; she's got a lot going on in her life and she's really struggling, but she isn't a victim. She's strong. Every day I'm figuring out more and more about her. It's been a really good challenge for me.
Gavin: Being only a cast of four, how has it been putting on the play together and interacting?
Joyce: It has been a great joy to work on this play. All of the young actors in the show are talented, disciplined, and committed to working hard. What more could anyone want?
Shelby: It's been interesting because I haven't spent much time with Hye Soo yet! So I'm excited for when we get into runs and all four of us will be there.
Hye: The cast and crew have been so lovely to work with. It's really been a supportive environment. I have loved getting to know everyone and soaking in all their talented goodness, it's been nothing but a positive experience.
Gavin: How has it been working with something for a mature audience only compared to works where it's suggested or family friendly?
Shelby: It really hasn't been different from any other process – I just say the F word a lot!
Hye: So far I feel I've only done shows that are for a mature audience... so I haven't been able to compare, well I should say nothing comes to mind as of late. I'd say no matter if it's for a mature audience or if it's family friendly I'd treat it with the same devotion, it's a good story and that's what we are here to do, that's our job, to tell the story.
Gavin: What are all of your thoughts going into opening night?
Adrianne: Well, it’s always a mixed experience for me. I’m delighted that audiences are going to experience this lovely play and I’m thrilled with the work of the actors and designers but after opening it really belongs to them and my job is over.
Hye: I can't wait for opening night. It'll be nice to have an audience. It's like a dance, the actor and the audience, you know. The audience plays just as big of a role as the cast does.
Shelby: I'm pumped! I'm really excited for this show, and I want everyone to come see it. It's a beautifully written piece with complex and interesting characters.
Gavin: What can we expect from all of you over the rest of the year?
Shelby: I'll be singing and dancing all summer at Lagoon, plus a few auditions coming up!
Hye: I will be teaching theater at Alianza Academy and hopefully will be working on some more shows, whatever I can manage with work and my son. Gotta try and balance it all out.
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Shelby: Tell your friends and family about 4000 MILES! It's going to be a wonderful show. Also come play at Lagoon this summer!
Cynthia: SLAC will present A Loss Of Appetite by David Kranes, April 25 to 27. Family, friends and fans of David’s will gather for this special event. We look forward to shining the light on David’s work and we thank him for his many years of inspiration. Directed by Robin Wilks-Dunn, A Loss Of Appetite features Anne Cullimore Decker and Patrick Tovatt.
Keven: SLAC is proud to host Tip Your Hat To Equality, a special fundraiser for Restore Our Humanity on May 5. Arts organizations from our community will come together to create hats for creative auction pieces, playwrights will write short plays, and various artists will donate work. The Salt Lake City arts community has a big heart and we are honored to lend our time and energy for this remarkable event.
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