SALT LAKE CITY — As Plan-B comes to an end of its very successful season dedicated to playwright Eric Samuelsen, I had the opportunity to talk with Christy Summerhays, an actress in the upcoming production of 3. While the piece chooses a potentially polarizing subject to explore, after talking with Summerhays I can’t wait to see what audiences think of this world premiere production. Here’s what she had to say:
UTBA: As the “Season of Eric” wraps up with this production, what are your thoughts on this year? Do you feel dedicating a whole season to a single playwright has been successful?
Summerhays: I think it’s been fantastic! I started the season off playing the part of Mrs. Alving in the staged reading of Eric’s translation of Ibsen’s Ghosts. This was really great because we got to see another side of Eric. I had known his original works but had never worked on any of his translations. I always knew Eric was a versatile but this showed me and many audience members a side we hadn’t seen before. He also directed the piece which was a plus because of his vast knowledge of Ibsen, his culture and time period. Each of the following plays has shown a different side of Eric. He has a great sense of curiosity about the world at large and the workings of the human heart and mind.
UTBA: As an actress working on a show with a local playwright, tell me a little bit about your process in working with Eric. How actively involved was he? Does the process differ in handling a new work?
Summerhays: The process does differ initially because we have the playwright present to pose questions to directly. This give us the opportunity to make changes and bounce ideas and thoughts back and forth, which is very rare in theatre. More often than not you are performing a piece that has been done many times before and the words are set in stone. Doing a new play gives you the chance to offer input. Eric is always eager and willing to listen to our point of view. He has a collaborative spirit, while also having a very strong point of view about what he is writing. Very few things were changed before we started rehearsals because Eric had spent a great deal of time with these plays. But once we get into rehearsals, he leaves and we’re left to flesh it all out, just like any other play.
UTBA: What’s it like working on a show with such a small cast? Are there things that are made easier or harder with such a small cast size?
Summerhays: A small cast can be fun because you get to know each other very well. The down side, especially with a piece like this is you never get to breath! You are on stage the entire time, there are a tone of lines to learn and things to remember…it takes to a great deal of concentration to be on stage for an hour and a half. Also, I’m sure it could be a nightmare if you have a cast of three with one person not pulling their weight. I am fortunate to be working with two fabulous, generous actors.
UTBA: Tell me a little bit about the character you play.
Summerhays: Well, I play many characters. Each play has a main character that we play, and then a bunch of smaller ones to fill in the story. I play first a “typical” suburban mother, then a less typical , outspoken Mormon woman who is part of jury deciding on a “community standard” for decency in her community, and finally I play a Mormon woman who married a gay man. Each character is fun and interesting, and very different from each other. There are many challenges to playing more than one character in a production. All I can say is you spend a great deal of time working on it—and you cross your fingers—and you stay up nights thinking about it. (oh…and you have a good director to help guide you)
UTBA: What sources did you draw from in developing your character for this play?
Summerhays: I always draw from many sources to understand a character, ranging from people I know in my life to my own personality and experiences. I was raised in Utah and am an active Mormon woman, so I had a lot to refer to.
UTBA: How do you think audiences will respond to the piece?
Summerhays: I think audiences will respond differently depending on their own experiences and background. But that’s always the case isn’t it?! What I like about these plays is that they have universal themes that anyone can relate to. They are set in a predominantly Mormon culture, but Eric has done a good job not writing caricatures. My hope is that audiences will respond with compassion for the human experience and relate to the characters on a personal level because of that.
UTBA: What do you hope audiences take away from this production?
Summerhays: I hope they’ll come away with a better understanding of how we should treat each other. Eric is good at pointing out the injustices, and cruelty we are capable of because he is so sensitive to them. I hope the audience will want to be kinder and gentler with each other after seeing this play.
UTBA: Is there anything you want to tell potential audience members before they come see the show?
Summerhays: I would want to tell them to get ready to have a good time. This is a show that will make them laugh and make them cry and it’s gonna be a fun ride.