Note: The following remarks by DEATH OF A DRIVER Playwright Will Snider originally appeared in the production's playbill under the title "In the Room with Will Snider"

 

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Salt Lake Acting Company and DEATH OF A DRIVER

By 2017, DEATH OF A DRIVER was dead. I wrote the first draft three years earlier and sent it to theaters hoping it would get a production. It didn’t. So I moved on. I wrote other things and filed this one away. Every six months I would reread the script and find myself missing the story of Kennedy and Sarah, wanting to see it on stage, but I didn’t think it would happen.

Then, just before Christmas 2017, I got an email from [former Associate Artistic Director] Shannon Musgrave inviting me to Utah. SLAC was hosting writers to work on plays without the pressure of a final presentation. They called it the Playwrights’ Lab. We were given a week in a room with a team of collaborators to do whatever we thought the play needed. I was lucky to have Patrick and Cassie, the two actors you will see tonight, and Andra, their director. We worked through the script scene-by-scene and staged it in several configurations. All the while I got feedback from Cynthia Fleming, David Kranes, and other Lab artists and made adjustments to the final scenes. By the end of the week, the play was back to life - it went on to have a world premiere starring Patrick in New York earlier this year. And now it’s come home to Utah, to the place responsible for its rebirth. Thank you to Cynthia and everyone else at SLAC for all you do for writers like me. Without the Lab, this play would never have been produced.

The Origins of the Play

“No one has a right to work in a place where their family doesn’t deal directly with the consequences of the work they do.”

I paraphrase words delivered by one of my college professors, Mahmood Mamdani, an anthropologist critical of foreign aid in his home country of Uganda. I listened to him, loved his writing and lectures, and immediately upon graduation violated his dictum. For three years I worked for an agricultural nonprofit in Kenya and Ethiopia that offered microloans of seed and fertilizer to small-scale farmers. We conducted rigorous harvest measurements to determine impact. We ran longitudinal household surveys to determine our effect on health and education.I believed then, and still do, that a good deal of development work is flawed and ineffective, but I felt our methods were different, we were different, I was different. Was I?

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Alexandra Harbold, Kareem Fahmy, and Will Snider at the 2018 Playwrights' Lab

My language back then was the language of management consultants, of tech entrepreneurs, of MBA programs, and the use of this language resulted from, and reinforced, a reflexive anti-government stance, a feeling that solutions to socioeconomic problems were found far from polling stations, often in places that looked more like boardrooms. To me, electoral politics was a sideshow, a competition between elites, the result of which mattered little to the subsistence farmers I hoped to help. Anthropologist James Ferguson takes exception this. In his book The Anti-Politics Machine he criticizes development work for serving state needs above local needs, for being anti-political in the ways it ignores, and therefore supports, the political establishment. The more materially transformational foreign-led work is, the more it “helps,” the more it sustains the political status quo, which, in many places with significant foreign aid, is often ineffective if not outright oppressive. A bad government takes credit for good work.

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Patrick J. Ssenjovu and Cassandra Stokes-Wiley rehearse during the 2018 Playwrights' Lab

But another part of me finds this argument too easy, a case for inertia, for ignoring pressing problems because they should be solved by local politics and therefore not solving them. Bad governments also have the ability to co-opt this anti-development discourse to defend their own legitimacy. And there is no way to close borders completely – the asymmetric exchange of resources, ideas, languages, and people cannot simply end, even if some wish it could. And so how do we go about transnational work ethically? Is there a way? DEATH OF A DRIVER is much more than the dramatization of my own cognitive dissonance around my early professional life, but I name it as one of the animating anxieties in the writing. It’s one way to watch the play – there are many others. This is the story of two people, of what we like to call the “personal,” and the way that this “personal” is transformed and constrained by national, cultural, economic, and gender difference. And I hope it’s not boring.

Thanks for coming.

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Casting has been finalized for A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2 by Lucas Hnath. The sequel (of sorts) to Ibsen’s A DOLL’S HOUSE makes its Utah premiere after a successful run on Broadway that was nominated for eight 2017 Tony Awards.

Nora Helmer leaving her husband and children at the end of Ibsen’s 1879 masterpiece was the “door slam heard ‘round the world.” Fifteen years later, there’s a knock at that same door. Nora’s back. But why? And where has she been?

Stacey Jenson* makes her SLAC debut as Nora Helmer. She has been seen elsewhere in Utah in GIDION’S KNOT (Pinnacle). Jenson is joined by Paul Mulder* (SEEING THE ELEPHANT) as Torvald, Annette Wright (BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON, SATURDAY’S VOYEUR) as Anne Marie, and Rachael Merlot, who is also making her SLAC debut with this production, as Emmy.

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Directing the production is SATURDAY’S VOYEUR creator Nancy Borgenicht, who has been an integral part to Salt Lake Acting Company since 1974. Her previous directing credits at SLAC include 2018’s STAG’S LEAP.

Borgenicht is joined on the creative team by Erik Reichert (Scenic Design), La Beene (Costume Design), Matt Taylor (Lighting Design), Katelyn Limber (Sound Design), and Sara Shouse (Hair Design).

A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2 plays in SLAC’s Upstairs Theatre February 5 through March 8, 2020.  Tickets can be obtained via tickets.saltlakeactingcompany.org, in person at the SLAC box office, or by calling 801.363.7522.

*Member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

 

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Casting has been finalized for Salt Lake Acting Company’s world premiere production of form of a girl unknown by Charly Evon Simpson

Amali is twelve years old, she is wise, and she is fascinated – by A Midsummer Night’s Dream; by her changing body; by the story of the children killed in the woods. With humor, magic, blood, and fire, this play is not your typical coming-of-age story.

Making her Salt Lake Acting Company debut is Amanda Morris*, who plays Amali. A resident of New York City, she was previously seen by Utah audiences in Lyric Rep’s A RAISIN IN THE SUN. 

Daisy Allred, Aaliyah Ann*, and Bradley Hatch all return to the SLAC Upstairs Theatre, having appeared in SATURDAY’S VOYEUR 2019. They play Marina, Charise, and Finn, respectively. Latoya Cameron* (THE CAKE) and Susanna Florence* (PTC’s SWEAT) return to form of a girl unknown after appearing in the New Play Sounding Series workshop production (co-presented by The Davey Foundation) last summer. Cameron plays Ma and Florence plays Dr G/Policewoman.

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The production is helmed by Ars Nova and Atlantic Theatre Company alum Melissa Crespo, who also directed a form of a girl unknown workshop at Westport County Playhouse earlier this year. 

Crespo is joined on the creative team by Shoko Kambara (Scenic Design), Alicia Washington (Costume Design), Jessica Greenberg (Lighting Design), Jennifer Jackson (Sound Design), and Linda Brown (Specialty Prop Design). The production will be stage managed by Jennie Sant*.

form of a girl unknown runs October 16 through November 17, 2019.  Tickets can be obtained via tickets.saltlakeactingcompany.org, in person at the SLAC box office, or by calling 801.363.7522.

 

*Member of Actors' Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

Published in Blog & News