SALT LAKE CITY — As Salt Lake Acting Company opens up its newest play, Good People, I got the chance to talk with executive producer Keven Myhre about the process of choosing the play. I also asked about some of the other various aspects of SLAC that I have always wanted to know. Truthfully, I was very excited to do this interview. Having seen the play the night before—and already being a huge fan of what SLAC offers to Utah audiences—I couldn’t wait to get into Keven’s mind on what makes this successful theatre company tick. Here’s what he had to say:
UTBA: First off, I wanted to say that I saw Good People the other night, and I really enjoyed it! I really thought it was a beautiful, beautiful play.
Myhre: Yeah, I have enjoyed David Lindsay-Abaire‘s writing for years now, and this is just really a wonderful script. I’m just so happy we were able to get the rights to it.
UTBA: Is this the first play by David Lindsay-Abaire that SLAC has been able to do?
Myhre: No, we did Kimberly Akimbo and Rabbit Hole. I directed both of those productions.
UTBA: Speaking of plays you’ve directed, my first show I saw at SLAC was The Caretaker and it is still one of the best theatrical experiences I’ve ever had. I really, absolutely enjoyed that.
Myhre: That was just a terrific experience with Matthew [Ivan Bennett] and Daniel [Beecher], and they did just a fantastic job with that production. I have a great job!
UTBA: Yeah it to be surrounded by such great people to collaborate with, I’m sure.
Myhre: It really is, it’s fantastic.
UTBA: What goes in to choosing a season up at SLAC?
Myhre: I keep constantly doing research on plays: reading reviews, reading feature articles, and just kind of keeping up online with tidbits of information that keep creeping up about plays. For example, I had read pre-publicity articles for Good People before it opened. And I thought, “I want to read it as soon as I can get of copy.” So, it’s always been in the back of my mind. Then we apply for rights, and sometimes get turned down initially; I had tried to get this play on the two previous seasons. But for the last two years, we’ve just had a windfall of getting good plays. So it’s constant reading, and we do world premieres as well. We’re always trying to find a new good play, and one that sticks with you. We read a play several times, asking am I interested in it still? Especially with contemporary plays, which can become dated very quickly.
UTBA: That’s true, I mean, if you look at a play like The Mercy Seat, for example, just due to the specificity of the time period, [the World Trade Center attacks] it has a different amount of relativity to it as time goes on.
Myhre: Yeah, and you know where it really struck me was with our 40th anniversary and trying to find plays that were done in the 1970’s when we first opened to see if any of them were still relevant. That’s when I really started thinking about that, how plays with such contemporary issues need to have a universal appeal underneath them.
UTBA: With that in mind, what drew you to choosing Good People? Was it what were talking about before? Or were there other elements as well?
Myhre: Initially what really got me was after hearing so much in the news how hard it is for people over 50, how the recession really hit them, how difficult it is for them to find a job, and how devastating it is for them. But what nudged me over the edge was that element of our lives that is random. We have to work for things, but it doesn’t mean everything always lines up for us. That element of chance, of gamble, of do I do this and will it turn out?
UTBA: I think that’s a lesson that people who practice the arts understand really well. I mean, so many times we take these gambles, and these choices that we really don’t know if they’re going to work. But we still hope our instinct leads us the right way.
Myhre: Oh yeah. Every play is like a leap of faith. We just kind of fall in love with the piece, we try to gather a group of people together to make it happen, and theres no guarantee that anyone will come see it or that all the pieces will fit together. It’s that constant regrouping and moving on.
UTBA: One thing I love about SLAC is that as I walk through I see all these art pieces from local artists, signs for new play readings, and work by local authors. I get this sense of nurturing. Not only in theatre, but of the community in general. Are there other things that SLAC does that people may not be aware of that help foster a sense of community in the arts?
Myhre: We are a community organization, and we hopefully to give back to the community in various ways. For Good People we partnered with the Women’s Resource Center at the University of Utah. They have a program called “Go Girl” that empowers underprivileged girls from seventh to twelfth grade to continue their education. It was just such a perfect fit with what this play says about the choices Margie [the main character] makes, or has to make of not being able to continue her education.
UTBA: It sort of gives that father looking out the window, that sense of somebody to help.
Myhre: I just loves that reflection she has of Dr. Dolan, that he doesn’t even recognize any more—
UTBA: He thinks that he’s made this all himself, when it’s really so much about all the people around him that he was lucky enough to have there.
Myhre: Exactly. Besides that, we have other things we do for the community as well. We have eight free shows for Title I schools around the Salt Lake Valley. Title I schools are schools with lower income family. So hopefully it creates a gathering place of ideas, where the community can share. We had a woman at one of our panel discussions come and say she had seen Venus in Fur a month ago, and she was still thinking about it and wanting to discuss what the play had invoked in her.
UTBA: I think that’s what good theatre does, even if it’s not necessarily the most spectacular or entertaining when it is first performed. When an audience is not able to digest it automatically but can then think about it as the days go on and see it in their daily lives, that’s when you have a good piece on your hands.
Myhre: That’s absolutely true.
UTBA: Just one more question to bring this back to Good People before I let you go. What you would say it the biggest reason to come see this piece?
Myhre: I would have to say that it is a great study in what makes a good play. I think it’s just such incredible writing of how the playwright sets up everything. I’m just amazed that as I’ve seen it in rehearsals I’ve noticed how he says so many things over and over through the different characters, and he’s able to build humor out of the different perspectives as it filters through the play. In that first scene, he’s able to get the stories from people we never see on stage, but they are so intricate in how the play unravels.
UTBA: That’s true. That’s the biggest thing I left the play with. It has so much depth to it and so many layers, and that idea of these repeated stories but from so many different perspectives. I agree, I think that’s what’s really special about that play.
Myhre: It’s just such a great study. For whatever reason, he just nails it.
The same can be said of SLAC’s production. They perfectly hit the nail on the head by adding this fantastic play into their season, but knowing now what goes into creating their great work, the reason is pretty clear. SLAC knows their stuff, works hard, and leaves themselves open to catching the right people at the right moment for the right project. The result is more than good, it’s magic.