Salt Lake Acting Company: Rapture, Blister, Burn | Buzz Blog
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Salt Lake Acting Company: Rapture, Blister, Burn


After launching one of the most impressive season openers this year, Salt Lake Acting Company will be jumping right into the fire with Rapture, Blister, Burn. The Gina Gionfriddo play explores gender politics at their core, examining two lives where one took on a high-class public life and the other went for towards the family life. With the play premiering at SLAC just a week after the USU debacle with #GamerGate and Anita Sarkeesian, the play gives an open look at modern feminism and questions the position that you can only head down so many roads. Today we chat with cast and crew of the play as they head into a month-long engagement, which will end on November 16. (All pictures courtesy of SLAC.)

Keven Myhre, Adrianne Moore, Janice Jenson, Nell Gwynn, Tracie Merrill-Wilson, Jeanette Puhich & Robert Scott Smith

Gavin: Hey everyone, first off, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Nell: My name is Nell Gwynn, and I've been a local actress here for almost five years now. This will be my sixth production at SLAC!

Tracie: I’m a Jersey girl who was lucky enough to fall in love with Utah theatre, Utah mountains and a Utah hottie (blind dates CAN work out!).

I’m a freelance director and dialect coach and voice over artist. I ‘m also on the faculty in the theatre department at Utah State University. I’m from New Zealand originally and lived in Australia and England before coming to the US.

Janice: I'm Janice Jenson, Stage Manager of Rapture, Blister, Burn and Associate Producer at Salt Lake Acting Company. In the past year, I've stage managed most of the SLAC productions, including Saturday's Voyeur.

Jeanette: I've been a professional actress for about 25 years. The last 20 years have been spent in Salt Lake City. I've enjoyed a wonderful career here! I'm happy to be back home at SLAC after a bit of a break from theatre!

Robert: Hi Gavin. This is Robert Scott Smith and I'm playing the role of Don. I grew up in Idaho and found my way to Utah, via the Actor Training Program at the U of U. From there I ventured to San Diego and received my MFA from the Old Globe Theatre. I've spent my time since then between SLC and NYC, finally landing in SLC.


Gavin: What have each of you been doing in local theatre over the past year?

Tracie: This past spring I had the pleasure of performing in Rings at The Grand Theatre. I’ve also been fortunate enough to be involved in some wonderful readings this past year with Pinnacle, SLAC and Pygmalion, as well as some “living room” readings with local playwrights.

Robert: Last year I was in Good People with SLAC; the Stage Manager for The Grand Theatre; with my own company Flying Bobcat Theatrical Laboratory we collaborated with NOW-ID on Feast, a dance theatre devised work which we performed at Saltair.

Jeanette: I've been out of the loop for about three years. I've been in the "Muggle World." However, I have had the chance to do several play readings with my playwright friends including Julie Jenson, Mike Dorrell and Larry West. I also performed in Brenda Sue Cowley's five-minute play, Seeing Red at the Tip Your Hat benefit at the Salt Lake Acting Company this past spring.

Adrianne: I have worked a lot for SLAC over the last year. I directed 4,000 Miles for the company last spring and coached dialects for Venus and Fur, Good People and Grant and Twain. I was the voice and text coach for the Utah Shakespeare Festival this fall and I did the dialect coaching for an AMC pilot, Galyntine, that was shot in Alpine.

Nell: This is my first play since last year's Good People. I have done some pretty terrific film and industrial gigs throughout the year, including Your Right Mind, where I play Vice-Principal Darlene in a scene with Katherine Heigl. It's directed by Aimee Canaan Mann. That was a great day.

Gavin: Keven, when did you first come across Rapture, Blister, Burn and what were your first thoughts on it?

Keven: Gina Gionfriddo is a writer whose work I’ve been following for a while. I first read her 2004 play After Ashley. In 2010, I read Becky Shaw, which won an Outer Critics Awards for best play and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in playwriting. Rapture, Blister, Burn was first produced in 2012 and got a lot of positive press. I got a copy to read and the rest is, as they say, history.


Gavin: What made you decide to bring it to SLAC this year?

Keven: It was obvious, quite quickly, that Rapture, Blister, Burn was the perfect play to produce at SLAC. It’s a fast-moving comedy, cleverly crafted and focuses on characters who are trying to re-live their “glory days”. It’s a very relatable story; especially considering the youngest character in the play ends up being the voice of reason. Who hasn’t experienced similar irony?

Gavin: Adrianne, what did you think of the play when you first read it, and how was it coming on board to direct?

Adrianne: Well my first reading of any play is a rather narrow one. Yes I came away from the first read of this play really intrigued by the ideas discussed and by what a very well-crafted, smart, funny play it was but it was on subsequent readings that I appreciated the wonderfully drawn characters and the relationships. And honestly it wasn’t until I heard it read by actors that I really got it. Sure a play will read well, or not, and you do make decisions based on this initial read but the play really starts to unfold for me once the actors get their teeth into it. There were aspects of this play that I hadn’t seen, as recently as two days ago when the actor made another discovery and I saw a side of the character I hadn’t noticed up till that time.


Gavin: Considering the content, what was it about this play that stood out to you most and made you want to work on it?

Adrianne: For one, it’s great to see important topics like feminism, gender roles, pornography, social media, differing generational approaches to the women’s movement, the politics of academia and reality TV discussed in a play. What’s so brilliant about this play is the way these themes are woven through and discussed in the context of the characters’ needs and current preoccupations. It’s this particularly personal response of the characters to these themes that lures the audience into finding their own connections to the material.

Gavin: Janice, you're the stage manager for this production. What was it like for you coming on board and helping put this play together behind-the-scenes?

Janice: I started rehearsal for this show right after coming off of the long run of Saturday's Voyeur, so it's a nice change of pace to focus on a straight play. Working on Rapture Blister Burn has really struck a chord with me—one of the main themes is that women should be free to choose their own destiny, whether it be as a career woman or a housewife. For me, this is a personal experience: coming out of college, I had a boyfriend who asked me to stop working in theatre and desperately wanted me to be a housewife. I tried everything I could to make the relationship work, but I knew deep-down that I wasn't meant to be a housewife and I yearned to work in theatre. When I decided to choose my own path, rather than have a man choose it for me, that was a defining moment in my life as a woman and as a feminist.


Gavin: For those unaware, what kind of work have you put into this show and what additions and nuances have you added that people might not notice at first?

Janice: My responsibilities during rehearsal include keeping track of props, writing down where the actors walked onstage, and coordinating all the scene changes. There's a lot of little things that have to be worked out in rehearsal: Where does that beer can come on? How can we get that bowl offstage the best? It's a lot of trying to make sure everything is as efficient and smooth as it can be and adjusting as needed. During the run of the show, I make sure all the props & set pieces are in place and during a performance I tell the techs when their cues happen to make sure the show is consistent. One of the coolest parts about my job is that if I'm doing it right, an audience member shouldn't be able to notice my work—you just experience a clean, smooth show as a result.

Gavin: For the cast, what were your first impressions of the play and how was it for you auditioning for it?

Nell: My first impression of the play was that it was good, the script really moved. I also thought it was very straightforward. Only in rehearsal did I realize how nuanced and dense it really is. She leaves so many choices open to the actors when it comes to their overall stories. It's pretty fun.

Robert: I'm not interested in hiding something from the audience, I'm interested in hiding it from the other characters. First impression, I didn't seem the humor and now it's quite clear. Auditioning is about making choices, right or wrong. It's about being open to other actors and finding what connections you can make in the moment. You hope that those choices work for the director and you get the job. It's completely out of your control if you get cast. The only thing in your control are the choices that you make before you walk into the room and the ability to be flexible when your scene partner is giving you something unexpected. Listen!!

Tracie: The play raises a lot of questions regarding “what if’s” for the characters in their forties, and what kinds of lives they might have had if other choices had been made. I was stunned by how much that resonated with me, and incredibly impressed with Gina Gionfriddo’s writing. A play that can make me gasp, tear up, and laugh out loud is a play I want to be a part of. Like most auditions, it was nerve-wracking, but it was a thrill to have such strong material to play with!

Jeanette: The audition was fun! I actually auditioned for a different role. I did not expect, in any way, to be cast as Alice, but I have embraced the challenge!


Gavin: What have you each done personally to help bring these characters to life and flush their personalities out?

Jeanette: Well, first of all, there are 4 fantastic roles for women in this play! That was what first drew me to it. It's well written and very funny. I'm always a fan of funny! I was also intrigued by the subject matter, which led me to read books by Betty Friedan and Phyllis Schlafly (yikes), and even Dr. Phil (super yikes)! I realized that I had forgotten how much my foremothers have done for me and for all women. It was humbling to look back at the amazing women who fought so hard for us.

Robert: Research. Personal experience. Experimenting in rehearsals with different tactics. If I don't know what I'm doing, as the actor, then it shows in the performance. Specificity is has been the key. Then I work on listening to the other actors and being in the moment.

Tracie: Re-reading the text multiple times is key. I know that sounds obvious, but it is amazing what more you can discover, even after reading the script a dozen times. It’s also been fascinating to read and research the various people and texts discussed in the play. You can never have too much information! Plus, it’s incredible how playing with physicality, voice, costumes (thank you, Brenda!!) and make-up (thank you, Cynthia!!) can inspire and inform additional choices.

Gavin: How has it been interacting with each other and bringing the play to life?

Nell: This cast is fantastic, and because the play hits personally for each of us somewhere, we've become a (I'm biased) kick-ass ensemble, and this is my third play with Robert Scott Smith and I have to say that working with him onstage is one of my favorite things in the world.

Jeanette: As actors, we all have a different process when we create a new role. I personally do a lot of writing about my character. For example, I basically wrote Alice's biography. It helped me to find out who she is.. I am playing someone who is 20 years older than me, so I've had to put myself into the body of a 70-year-old woman, figuratively speaking. I've also had to think about how Alice moves. I've added some subtle physical characteristics to her so that I might be believable as a 70-year-old woman (we'll soon find out how that works out)! We have had marvelous rehearsal experience. I've just been in heaven watching my fellow actors create! They're all amazing and I learn so much from them each day. I'm serious. Like I said, I've been out of the loop for a while, so I am just so grateful every minute that I am in the theatre, onstage, backstage, in the basement rehearsing. This is my first chance to work with Adrianne Moore, and I love her direction. She has guided us all through this process so well!

Tracie: An absolute joy. This is a fun, funny, clever group, so there has been some really compelling working rehearsals and a lot of laughs.

Robert: It's a killer cast and everyone has brought their A-Game! I'm interested in character, story and a challenge. This play has all of that and more. I'm intrigued by the conflict of Don, his lack of motivation combined with his potential to be a success in his own right. How often do we question our own career and current relationships and wonder 'what if'? With Adrianne we've been very clear from the beginning to focus on what these characters want from each other. That's what makes theatre engaging. Watching characters go after something and the tactics they use to try an accomplish that objective.


Gavin: What are all of your thoughts going into opening night?

Tracie: Please let acting karma be kind.

Nell: I cannot wait for an audience. We're gonna burn it down.

Jeanette: Bring it on!

Robert: At this point, we are ready for an audience and build on that relationship.

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

Tracie: Currently, I don’t have anything lined up, so I’m open to being cast. Anyone? Anyone?

Robert: With Flying Bobcat, I'm working with the Red Fred Project to develop a theatre piece based on a children's book called Climbing With Tigers in December. I'll be in Plan-B's staged reading of Marry Christmas, a benefit for Restore Our Humanity. In April/May I'll be in Julie Jensen's Mockingbird for Pygmalion.

Jeanette: I will be starting rehearsal for Julie Jenson's Christmas With Misfits for Plan B Theatre on November 17! It's a must see!!!!

Keven: We have another reading in our New Play Sounding Series on November 10 at 7pm. It’s called Bull Shark Attack, written by Troy Deutsch. The title alone should be reason enough to attend.


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

Nell: I'm in a short film called Monsura is Waiting. We've played 19 festivals, won the Best Fantasy Film prize at the Mexico Int'l Film Festival, and a silver Remi Award at the Houston Int'l Film Festival, and I was nominated for best actress right here at the first ever FilmQuest Film Festival

Tracie: Outside of the play, SLAC, and all of our other amazing local theatre, I’d have to push Shape Pilates in Sugarhouse. Thanks to Shauna Hall at Shape Pilates, I have the stamina to pull off rehearsals on top of my full-time job. And show more of my legs than I choose to in my everyday life.