BWW Interviews: Director Mark Fossen on the Utah Premiere of AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, honored with the Pulitzer Prize for Drama and five Tony Awards (including Best Play), will be staged from August 15 to 31, in a co-production by Utah Repertory Theater Company and Silver Summit Theatre.
The production will inaugurate Salt Lake's newest theatre venue, Sugar Space Warehouse Theater River District, at 130 South 800 West, Salt Lake City.
Director Mark Fossen shared with BroadwayWorld his passion for the play, this production, and the Utah theatre scene.
1. How did you become involved with Utah Rep and Silver Summit's production of AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY?
I fell in love with AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY when I first read it a few years ago, and it's been on my mind since. It's a daunting proposition, though: a big set, a huge amount of props and costumes, and a cast that is both big and deep-all the roles require great actors, top to bottom. I had been approached by Silver Summit at one point about the show, but the timing was not right. I hated to pass on the opportunity to work on a play I love so much, but I just wasn't able do the schedule. Then when they came back in a collaboration with Utah Rep? A second chance, with a schedule I could do...and with Teresa Sanderson already committed to playing Violet? How could I refuse?
2. Why do you think the play is such a critical and audience favorite?
It is a new classic. In a way, I don't even mean "classic" it terms of quality-though it has that in spades. It is a classic in its structure, in its bones. It recalls Miller and Williams and O'Neill, and all the great classic plays that shaped the American theatre. It's a story we love watching: an unhappy family with secrets finally brings those dark secrets into the light. We love the fireworks of the family drama, the way we can talk about generations of Americans and how our history as a people is inscribed in our history as families.
It's also devastatingly funny, and brings back a spectacle to the stage-I think we enjoy that it's not a 2-3 character drama, but a sprawling, multi-generational drama with a cast of 13 and scenes that fill the stage. We don't see those plays anymore because they are difficult to produce, but Tracy Letts had a great theatre behind him (Steppenwolf) that allowed him to write his vision.
3. What do you feel are the play's major themes?
The more I work on the play, the more I find in it. It's deliciously jam-packed with ideas, and rewards repeated reading and viewing. It's asking a lot of questions about families and how they work. Is there something special about a family, or is it-as one character says-"just people ... accidentally connected by genetics"? What does it take to drive a family apart for good? What happens as it all dissolves? What does it take to keep it together, and is it a price everyone should pay? I don't know there are answers in AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY, just questions about us and our families and how it all works.
4. What is it about this particular production that makes it a must-see for local audiences?
Besides the fact that this is a Tony and Pulitzer Award winning play that is making its Utah debut, the reason to see this is, without a doubt, the cast. The Weston family is full of deeply drawn, rewarding characters who require amazing actors, top to bottom, to give them life. We've been blessed to work with an outstanding group of actors on this show, a cast that one Facebook friend of mine called "the All-Star Game of Utah theatre." To see a whole cast of Salt Lake's best working onstage together in a balanced ensemble is not an opportunity that comes along every day. If I wasn't the one lucky enough to be working with them on it, I'd be the first one in line to see what they will do!
5. Why is it important for people who have already seen the recent film adaptation to see the story play out on stage?
Theatre is live; we're all in a room together. Film is "them," up on screen and they don't know we're there. Theatre is "us," and we're all in this room together experiencing the story alike whether we're actors or audience. There's an immediacy that does not come across on film. Also, if you've seen the film you know it's a great script. Like any classic, this is something you can experience again and again, and see new things each time. I haven't seen the movie-most of us haven't-so we're looking at these characters fresh, seeing how they speak to us that live here right in Salt Lake with you.
6. What are your favorite past experiences as a theatre practitioner?
My favorite memory is actually from after a performance of HENRY V, the first production I did in Salt Lake. I had worked in San Francisco, Chicago, and elsewhere but didn't know much about the Salt Lake scene. I remember leaving after shows through the lobby, and both Anne Decker and the late Tony Larimer introducing themselves to me, noting they hadn't seen me before, and then welcoming me to Utah theatre. I had no idea then what legends they were, and it still resonates with me today. I love our community here: we're a family that may, at times, give the Westons a run for their money...but we're family nonetheless. Anne and Tony's greetings still inspire me to be a better, more gracious member of the community that will welcome new family members with open arms.
7. What are your favorite past experiences as an audience member?
There have been many, but one always stands out. After moving here, living in the far suburbs, my wife and I came to see the 2005 revival of HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH at Plan-B. All of the sudden, we were in a packed theatre full of what immediately felt like "our people." Then Aaron Swenson as Hedwig started to sing "The Origin of Love"-based on the same Plato text my wife and I had used in our wedding ceremony-and we both knew that we wanted to work with these people. We were both fortunate enough to do so. It's not often you can point to a moment so specifically as "life-changing"...but that moment was.
8. Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Salt Lake is chock-full of great theatre, with new and exciting companies seemingly popping up daily. There is wonderful work to be seen here, created by a community of artists that are passionate about what they do. It's tempting to dismiss the scene as endless JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR DREAMCOAT revivals, but nothing could be further from the truth. There is outstanding theatre here, and it's only getting better.
AUGUST: OSAGE COUNTY contains mature themes and strong language.
Photo Credit: Alex Weisman/Ice Wolf Photography. Teresa Sanderson as Violet Weston.