Plan-B Theatre Company is celebrating 25 years of producing new, relevant, and socially conscious plays for sold-out Utah audiences. Part of Plan B’s involvement in serving its community through art are the producing partnerships for new work by local playwrights like the Lab (originally a partnership with Meat & Potato Theatre Company), the Script in Hand series, and the David Ross Fetzer Foundation for Emerging Artists. The Davey theatre grants started last year with Plan-B’s world premiere of Mama by Carleton Bluford and continued with a week long workshop and staged reading of Katherine Vondy’s The Fermi Paradox at Salt Lake Acting Company. Continuing both the legacy of Plan-B’s commitment to new work and the creative vision of the late Mr. Fetzer for whom the foundation is named for is Booksmart by Rob Tennant, another grant winning play premiering December 3rd. Booksmart is a timely tale of the woes and inequalities faced by retail workers during the holiday season. This comedic commentary is the first by playwright Tennant. Here he shares some insights on his process and the horrors of his own customer service days.
NOTE: Since the run initially sold out, six seats have been added to each of the regularly scheduled performances and a performance has been added on Sunday, December 13 at 5:30pm
. Tickets at http://planbtheatre.org/booksmart
Booksmart is a dark comedy about relevant economic and cultural concerns. Why or how did you choose a play as the right format for this story?
Playwright Rob Tennant
TENNANT: Sometimes these things choose us. These are themes that are important to me and I’ve been writing about them across media for a long time. The script that became Booksmart actually began its life as a web series that was never produced. As a writer, I feel it’s important to never truly abandon any idea, it may be useful in a different form later. I found this story was well suited to transfer to the stage mostly for practical reasons: its simple setting and short list of characters. Also, the stage gives ideas room to breathe, and the ideas are the heart of this play.
Describe your process. How does an idea become a play for you?
TENNANT: I’ve kind of touched on that already. For me ideas that I have laying around on my hard drive or in notebooks bubble up when I need them. This was the first play I’d ever written. When I saw the call for submissions for the Davey Foundation, I saw it as an opportunity to try something I’d never done before and get something produced. I didn’t actually think I’d get selected of course, it was more of an exercise. I’m very fortunate that events proceeded the way they did.
Who or what are your major artistic influences?
TENNANT: Kurt Vonnegut, David Foster Wallace, Wes Anderson, and Margaret Atwood.
Booksmart is based on your personal experience in customer service. How much of what ends up on stage is taken from that experience?
TENNANT: A lot, though certainly not verbatim. But the texture – the details – are authentic. The characters certainly aren’t based directly on real people, but the sentiments have all been shared by real people.
What is your craziest customer service story?
L-R: April Fossen, Tyson Baker, Joe Crnich, Sarah Danielle Young, Anne Louise Brings
TENNANT: When I was 18, Jason Alexander once mocked me to my face because it was only my second day on the job and I didn’t know where the bathroom was. “Welcome to the team!” he said.
That is a pretty fantastic “craziest” story. How, if at all, do those “larger than life” moments influence your artistic life or process?
TENNANT: I don’t know that they do any more than the smaller moments. I would never put that moment or something inspired by it in anything I wrote. The smaller moments are what matter to me. The details that get the atmosphere right. I hate it when a story or a script includes a moment that strains credulity and the author’s only defense is “but it really happened.” My response is “I don’t care. Then make me believe it.”
The David Ross Fetzer Foundation for Emerging Artists Davey Theatre Grant provided the opportunity for Booksmart to be fully realized on stage as well as for a workshop experience with the Plan-B Playwright’s Lab. What has been the most educational part of that experience?
TENNANT: Being part of the Lab has been amazing. Being welcomed into a group of such talented writers was very intimidating at first, but I’ve been able to learn a lot by watching them develop their work with the group. I listen a lot more than I talk.
What has been the most rewarding component? What has been the most difficult?
TENNANT: Going to rehearsal and seeing everyone working on MY SHOW is something I still can’t get my head around. The first time I saw the set I thought, “Yes. That’s the place in my head, and now it’s here.” The most dificult has just been time. I have a big-boy job and a wife and an almost-two-year-old and carving out even a few hours a week to write (or re-write) is very challenging. I’m lucky to have a partner that is very supportive and understanding as artist herself (she danced with RDT for 8 years before our son was born).
What excites you about the live theatre process?
TENNANT: I love the collaboration. I love that other people involved in the production see my work differently than I do, and that’s ok.
What kind of plays or production do you gravitate to as an audience member?
TENNANT: Anything that’s well done. Execution means more to me than concept.
What would you like to do or see more in Utah Theatre?
TENNANT: Frankly, I’d like to see less Utah and more Theatre. Because we have a unique culture, I think a lot of original work feels it has to address uniquely local issues. Not that those issues shouldn’t be addressed, there’s a lot of very good local talent doing just that, but I’d like to see more original work that acknowledges that we aren’t just weird little Utah off in own corner, but equal partners in a larger conversation.
Do you have any advice for young theatre artists?
TENNANT: Keep your eyes open for opportunities. They rarely look like you think they will.
The Plan-B Theatre Company world premiere of Booksmart
runs December 3-13, 2015, in the Studio Theatre at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center located at 138 West 300 South in Salt Lake City. Performances are Thursday and Friday at 8 PM, Saturday at 4 and 8 PM, and Sunday at 2 PM. Information and tickets at planbtheatre.org
. Additional information about the mission and outreach of the David Ross Fetzer Foundation for Emerging Artists can be found at thedaveyfoundation.org.
L-R: April Fossen, Anne Louise Brings, Tyson Baker, Sarah Danielle Young