BWW Interview: A Vanguard Theater in a Conservative Utah County?
Kacey Spadafora firmly believes in contemporary, innovative theater. And he's selected perhaps the most conservative county in the deeply red state of Utah to begin a bold theater county.
Because he believes Utah County theatergoing audiences need an alternative to JOSEPH ... DREAMCOAT, the most frequently produced musical. (A most prominent community theater company has staged the Biblical story retelling five times and the director has been involved in at least 13 productions.)
An Other Theater Company, as the group has been christened, will include plays with LGBT+ themes, characters and authors, along with plays written by women whose voices are seldom heard from.
With Mormon Church adherents making up a whopping 84 percent of the its population, Utah County not surprisingly conservative. The church's all-male hierocracy instruct its gay believers to be celibate, and married same-sex couples are removed from membership roles. Feminism is a shunned topic, with wives pledging to follow the counsel of their husbands in temple rituals.
Yet An Other Company shows promise. Lead by an enthusiast group of young, recent theater-studying university grads, with Spadafora and Taylor Jack Nelson as artistic directors, the company exceed its recent $6,900 Kickstarter goal, to the tune of $8,211.
According to its mission statement, the company pledges to focus on "under-represented" playwrights and topics, planning to stage in its eight-show season at least three shows by women authors and two plays per season with LGBTQ+ themes and/or main characters as well one play by an LGBTQ+ author.
Beyond its 150 financial backers, the company has one important enthusiast. Megan Gutierrez, director of the state's largest audience-member Meetup group, Utah Theater Lovers: A Community of Our Own Where Audience and Stage Connect, is counted among An Other Company's fans.
"In my mind, theater is meant to do two things. First, challenge the way people view the world and provide different perspectives. Second, allow people to explore and relate to themes and characters they may identify with" Gutierrez says. "For these reasons, diversity in theater is essential, and An Other Theater is brave enough to offer this to an audience that typically doesn't have the opportunity to experience a lot of variety. I couldn't be happier."
Congratulations on your Kickstarter success.
Spadafora: Thanks. We couldn't be more thrilled!
Beyond the Kickstarter contributions, what indications do you have that conservative Utah County is ready for adventuresome theater?
Spadafora: For several years I've noticed within the theater community that the conversation about which shows people were most excited to do were the types of shows that no one was doing. Conversations backstage would inevitably turn to the exciting theater people had seen while in New York or abroad, and it was always followed by "of course, no one would produce it here."
I started to wonder why not. The thought was that it wouldn't be successful, but as I looked into it, it seemed to be more that no one had really given it a good go. More risqué shows in Utah County have been usually relegated to small stages for student-produced shows, and what was most remarkable about these was that they always seemed to be well attended. Shows with small budgets, not advertised by the schools, being put on just for the love of it, with little to no outside exposure were getting audiences.
There is an audience for this kind of theater in the area, they're just used to having to drive to Salt Lake or hear about a small show through the grapevine rather than having it provided to them. We're here to change that.
What modifications will you be able to make to the mall storefront space you've selected for your performance space to make it suitable for a theater?
Spadafora: With the Kickstarter money, we were able to raise from our donors' generous contributions, we'll be able to transform the retail space into a small blackbox-style theater. The space as it stands now is more or less a blank, rectangular canvas. We'll be installing theatrical curtains to define a lobby space, a performance area, and a backstage. Within the performance space, we'll be installing theatrical lighting and audience seating to create a small, intimate space for our shows to come to life.
Give a preview of each show in your premiere season and tell me what excites you about staging each?
Spadafora: VANYA AND SONIA AND MASHA AND SPIKE is one of the funniest plays I've ever come in contact with. Typically, humorous plays need to be off of the page for me to give anything more than a chuckle, but when I first read this one, I had to put the book down several times from laughing too hard. It's the perfect show to kick off the season as it has a lot to say, but says it while giving the audience a hilarious night.
A DOLL'S HOUSE has always been one of my favorites. I think the story of Nora resonates just as much today as it did then. Though feminism has come a long way since the door slam heard around the world, there are still many aspects that have a long way to go, and looking at them through the Ibsen's lens will be an exciting prospect.
FAT PIG raises a topic that I have always felt is underrepresented in media, that of prejudice against individuals whose bodies our society tends to deem less worthy because of their weight. It's a daring play written by the brilliant Neil LaBute (a former Utah resident, no less) that doesn't let the audience off easy by providing them a warm and fuzzy catharsis.
ANGELS IN AMERICA: MILLENNIUM APPROACHES is simply brilliant. Personally, what draws me to this play is its humanity. It pairs together a group of the most seemingly clashing and irreconcilably opposing people and has them ultimately meet each other with empathy and understanding in the face of their own deepest fears and the unknown. It's a play about healing, which is what we need, particularly now.
SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR is a unique and interesting semi-meta look at the art of theater and applies the metaphor to the entire experience of life itself. Our brilliant literary manager, Katrina Luthi, is working on her own adaptation of this script which is so rarely produced despite its importance to the theatrical canon.
NEXT FALL is one of my favorite plays. It was actually the first full-length play I directed and is very near and dear to my heart. Geoffrey Nauffts examines the delicate balance of opposing views in a relationship between an atheist and a devout Christian which is heightened by the fact that the couple is two men, one of whom is still deeply closeted to his family. Finding a civil balance between the religious and the nonreligious, and what both can learn from the other is what draws me to this thoughtful, touching, and funny work.
HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE is a heart-wrenching look at the inappropriate relationship between a young woman and her uncle's abusive relationship with her. For me, this is the work in this season that touches on a topic that is wildly uncomfortable and wildly important. It's arresting and daring, and we are going to work hard to do it justice on our small, intimate stage.
THE DRAG, originally written and performed in the 1920s, is an interesting and exciting piece of theatrical history. Penned by Mae West, the original run of this play was considered profane and the cast was arrested. Somewhat tame by today's standards, this play was astonishing and shocking when it premiered, and its a noteworthy work in the LGBT+ theatrical canon.