Keeping the Ogden Family Close: Good Company Theatre to Produce The Jungle
The Good Company Theatre is owned by Alicia and Camille Washington and is quickly becoming a jewel of Ogden’s—and Utah’s—theatre community. Building off of what Alicia calls “the freedom in the north” inherent in Ogden’s somewhat removed location, Good Company set out with a mission to provide a missing and necessary voice to their surroundings: “to develop and promote high-quality, eclectic theatrical productions and events, forging new relationships between audiences, performers and spaces in the process,” says Alicia of their foundational principles. The company carries this eclecticism into each of the unique shows they produce, as well as their inclusive casting principles.
The theatre’s website explains that they will “not assume the neutrality of a certain person or type over others when casting,” a principle that highlights Good Company’s quest for authenticity. Their 2019 season has seen Camille and Alicia produce a gamut of shows in varying formats and with varying subject material. The new historical approach to a broadway anthology in You Bet Your Black Ass, Broadway; experimental and intimate stage plays like Constellations or The Children; and careful explorations of complicated social issues in Ripped, opening later this year. While each production is a different artistic and ideological venture, it all stems from a similar desire on Camille and Alicia’s part to innovate away from the traditionalism that can often plague theatre.
“I [Alicia] wanted to produce contemporary works that told the stories of marginalized people to a new wave of theatre goers.”
Good Company Theatre opened its doors in 2012 as a response to the culmination of a growing frustration on the part of Camille and Alicia. “During my time onstage, both locally and regionally, there was always something missing—I was telling someone else’s story, or the only way I could get a leading role was if I played a slave, a mammy or a stereotypical characterization of a black woman,” says Alicia. “I wanted to produce contemporary works that told the stories of marginalized people to a new wave of theatre goers.” After beginning with a few one-off pop-up shows that worked against these stereotypical practices, Good Company Theatre is now stationed in a more permanent location on Wall Avenue and “is the only independent theatre in the Mountain West created, owned and operated by Black women,” says Alicia.
What started as a passion project has now developed into a real institution. While there were expected challenges—such as funding, marketing and more sinister, racist assumptions that “literally any white man associated with us was in charge, that there was some ‘Oz’ behind a curtain and we were just there to sell tickets and concessions,” says Camille—Good Company has asserted their own vision and has been met with overwhelmingly positive reception from their cohorts and patrons. “Actors, technicians, artists and audiences, they’ve all been really open to what we do from the beginning,” says Camille. “Theatre in Utah is dominated by the musical. For folks to respond to the contemporary plays, unknown chamber musicals and one-off cabarets that we produce is really gratifying and motivating. It’s why we keep pushing ourselves to do more.”
“Labor exploitation and the horrific treatment of immigrants to the U.S. are just as timely today as they were at the peak of industrialization.”
On this path toward a more nuanced approach to theatre lies Good Company’s upcoming workshop production of The Jungle, co-written by Nathan Dame and Robert Baumgartner. Based on Upton Sinclair’s famous novel, the musical follows Jurgis, an Eastern European immigrant, as he attempts to find safe employment, security and happiness in early-20th-century Chicago. “We became even more convinced that adapting The Jungle was a good idea when the 2016 election unexpectedly revealed the book’s political relevance,” says Dame. “Its two big social issues are immigration and socialism, which are exactly what 2016’s outlier candidates—Trump and Sanders—forced into the national discussion.” Camille echoes this unfortunate continuity of the narrative’s relevance, explaining her draw to produce the musical: “The music is exciting and the story is ripe for telling,” she says. “Labor exploitation and the horrific treatment of immigrants to the U.S. are just as timely today as they were at the peak of industrialization.”
While the prescience of The Jungle easily lends itself to a contemporary interpretation, Dame and Baumgartner asserted creative license in order to help update the more outdated aspects of the narrative and help transition the work between media. “The novel consists of just one implausibly bad thing after another that happens to this poor family,” says Dame. “So, a big challenge was developing a sense of causality and drive from one event to the next, and narrowing it all down to something manageable in stage time.” He and Baumgartner add that the arc of the novel’s lead woman, Ona, embodies stereotypical views on “virtuous young ladies.” The duo felt that this wouldn’t fit the approach of the progressive theaters and schools they’re trying to market the play to, and made appropriate adjustments. “We think everyone will be pleasantly surprised with the outcome we wrote for her,” says Dame.
“[Returning to Ogden] feels right and it feels like a big deal for some reason.”
Dame grew up in Ogden, and has since moved to Brooklyn. Describing the experience of having his work return to Ogden, he says, “It feels right and it feels like a big deal for some reason. I’ve always kept up with my friends who have made their artistic lives in Ogden and Salt Lake, and have frankly been envious of the community that they were able to develop.” The Jungle has a seven-show run at Good Company Theatre from Aug. 2–11, with one ASL showing on Aug. 10. Head to their website, to find more information on the show, as well as the rest of the theatre’s 2019 season and an August announcement concerning their 2020 season.
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