Photo: LmSorenson.net

Austin Archer, a Salt Lake native and New York City–based actor, playwright, choreographer and musician, is preparing to present his Plan-B Theatre Company–debut play, JUMP. Archer is one of the recipients of the grant for emerging artists from The David Ross Fetzer Foundation, which has led JUMP to be produced Plan-B Theatre Company. JUMP is a journey grounded in thrill and curiosity. It all begins during a skydive and follows the kinship and grief of four newly connected lives. Taking place post-incident, the play unravels stories of before while moving through the future of discovery and complex interactions.


SLUG: What is your background as a playwright?

Archer: JUMP is my fourth full-length play. Now, I have written six full-length plays … I know it’s not a lot, so I feel very new to it. I started writing plays in high school. None of them were ever very good. Then I took a playwriting course in college that was one of my favorite classes. I loved it so much I took it three times. It made us write. We had to come in every week with a new 10-minute play. This same kind of exquisite pressure (stealing a term from Anne Bogart) reminds me of how I don’t know if I would have written JUMP without the deadline a month and a half away. I was working in Salt Lake as an actor for six or seven years nonstop and I didn’t have time to write. I write music as well, and my music took a break … It wasn’t until I moved to New York that my writing came back because my acting work slowed down a lot, naturally, as I entered a larger market. So I just started writing a lot more. I wrote a couple albums of music, a few plays and I’m writing another right now.

Austin Archer. Photo by: Lisa Hassett
Austin Archer. Photo by: Lisa Hassett

SLUG: How did you start writing JUMP?

Archer: JUMP started in my head as an idea that I was talking to Carleton Bluford about. I initially pitched it to him, asking if he wanted to co-write this with me. Eventually, he came to me and said, “That sounds like a you thing.” I tabled the idea until the grant came about. It started with the idea that I think it would be cool to see a skydive onstage. I think it’s a sort of a backwards way to write a play—to start with an idea of something you’d like to see onstage that’s not very in-depth.

SLUG: How did you become associated with Plan-B Theatre Company?

Archer: I’ve known Plan-B for years. I’ve had friends that have written with them and acted with them. I always wanted to do shows with them as an actor, but [Plan-B Artistic Director] Jerry Rapier, likes to reach out to people he’s interested in working with. I was never able to get in through that avenue, but with their association with the David Ross Fetzer Foundation, which gives this grant away each year to two emerging playwrights to produce two plays. You not only get your play produced, but you also get to be a part of Plan-B’s Playwright’s Lab. It’s a group of local playwrights who are all more experienced and smarter than me, who I get to listen to. We give constructive critiques on what we think could be better. It’s really valuable for writers to get together like that and be able to hear their work, and then get feedback from people who have been doing this for a long time. At least for me, I’m one of the youngest in the room, so it’s a cool thing.

SLUG: Does the storyline of JUMP apply to the story of the Davey Foundation?

Archer: It doesn’t apply to the play, but I did know David Fetzer. I started working at Salt Lake Acting Company as an outside house manager in ’08 or ’09 and he was acting in a play there called Boom. I was enamored by him, but we never got around to working together or hanging out as much as I would have liked. I was pretty heartbroken when he died and it affected the whole, entire theatre community. He was such a bright and inspiring voice. He did so much. He wrote so much. He really kept such a motor running here. I think it is such an amazing tribute to someone like that to set up a foundation like this. This is exactly what David would have wanted, to get money together for other emerging artists.

SLUG: Who’s in the cast and who are some key members of the production team?

Archer: Matt Sincell is playing Erick. He’s quickly becoming one of Salt Lake’s favorite actors, for good reason. Nicki Nixon plays Michelle. She really made the character come to life. She’s a very human actor that’s very honest, very real. Teri Cowan is a powerhouse actor, and she was my first choice for Abby. Darryl Stamp, playing Phil, really brings a level of comedy to the show that it needs so that it’s not so heavy. Alexandra Harbold and Robert Scott Smith with Flying Bobcat are whizzes at doing a lot with little. I’m excited to see the actualization of the set design by Cara Pomeroy. I think the sound design is going to be a big element in this show, too.

SLUG: How does JUMP relate to your work as an artist in general?

Archer: JUMP is probably the most spectacle-ridden show I’ve ever written, in terms of the pace of the show. I think it’s got about 16 scenes in it, which is a lot for a four person show. My two favorite playwrights are Annie Baker and Tony Kushner and I think that I live between them as far as influence goes, between spectacle and naturalism. One of my plays, Marty Has Cancer, is mostly just people relating to each other. But I also wrote a play called Day In Age, and there’s this giant no-eyed monster in all three acts.


JUMP premieres April 5 and runs through April 15 at Plan-B Theatre Company at 138 W. 300 S. Archer points out that “Plan-B is notorious for selling out really early,” he says. “It’s the only company in the country that produces entire seasons by local playwrights.” Tickets are now available at planbtheatre.org. For April 4 preview-night assets, make a $20 donation to Craft Lake City: Go to craftlakecity.com/blog.

Photo courtesy of Sharon Kain

Salt Lake City’s Repertory Dance Theater and long-term collaborator Zvi Gotheiner, a New York City–based choreographer, teamed up once again this year to create Dancing the Bears Ears. “In 1990, we started commissioning dances based on Western landscapes to bring awareness to the fact that we live in this extraordinary place on earth,” says RDT Executive/Artistic Director Linda Smith on the beginning of the dance company’s partnership with Gotheiner, who was RDT’s very first commission back in 1993. “We took [Gotheiner] to Bryce Canyon right off the plane from New York, and he made a piece called Erosion,” says Smith. Since then, Gotheiner has returned to Utah about every year. This spring, Gotheiner, Smith, RDT company dancers and a group of Gotheiner’s own dancers from his company, Zvi Dance, travelled to the newly claimed national monument Bears Ears. Introduced to the land by three Navajo guides through the nonprofit organization Utah Diné Bikéyah, the group was taken through what they deem a life-changing journey.

Photo courtesy of Sharon Kain
Photo courtesy of Sharon Kain

“This piece was conceived in a different capacity, maybe even more than 10 years ago, when Linda and I were thinking about a project between our companies,” Gotheiner says. “She had an idea about sacred land and water, which is an interesting topic, because it brings together issues of the Southwest and Israel,” where Gotheiner is from. He also considered this project to be an “interesting starting point for research for the relationship of land and human,” he says. “We went to the desert for a week. We were assigned some amazing people as guides by Utah Diné Bikéyah. The beauty of the land, with the history of the people and the deep wound that is coming from the Native Americans from being persecuted and dislocated … It was intense.”

Smith elaborates on the powerful experience. “We took the time to really see it, take it in, experience it,” she says. “It had a healing effect, and I think the dance will really reflect the kind of experiences we had. We walked. We hiked. We listened, and we would also improvise to develop material based on the landscape.” The deep involvement within the land and the emotional richness of the experience gave Gotheiner and RDT plenty of material to work with for their new dancework. “In Bluff, we were invited for an evening of food, dance and introduction, and the community there wanted us to share our dance as well,” says Gotheiner. “We improvised in a circle, and I put it in the piece.” According to his description of the choreographic process, “there’s a relationship between taking moments from the ongoing journey, and signifying them, to then be a theatrical moment.”

From RDT's visit to Bears Ears.
From RDT’s visit to Bears Ears.

RDT and Gotheiner often collaborate with composer Scott Killian. “He is creating, as we speak, a new piece for Dancing the Bears Ears,” says Smith. Gotheiner and RDT created the piece without music, and Killian, whom they have been creating with for several works over the past several years, “projected the piece in front of his synthesizer and composed as he watched it.” Listening in on the entirety of the process continues to give hints at the magic that will be, as Smith hopes, “a piece that will affect people,” says Smith. “The piece will want people to think very carefully about what they value and what they want to preserve.”

A point that both Gotheiner and Smith emphasize is that the new piece itself is not created in an attempt to latch onto any certain political statement, though the land can certainly be seen through a couple of different lenses: “There are people that find the land sacred, and people that see it as an opportunity for development,” says Smith. For Gotheiner, he hopes “to facilitate consciousness, and that the people that see it get drawn into the issue for a second and meditate on it.”

Dancing the Bears Ears will premiere Sanctuary at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center on Oct. 5–7. The evening also features Tower by Andy Noble, premiered in 2015, and Ghost Ship by Eric Handman, premiered in 2007. Noble and Handman also explore the human relationship to place: Smith describes Noble’s Tower as a metaphor open for all interpretations of a storm; and in Handman’s Ghost Ship, there is a cascade of falling rice, a symbol tied to tradition.

Before the performances, RDT and Utah Diné Bikéyah will host a free panel discussion, Sacred Land, Sacred Waters, on Oct. 4 at Impact Hub Salt Lake. For tickets to Sanctuary and more programming information, visit rdtutah.org.

MotionVivid | Breanne Saxton, Brian Gerke, Stranger Kin

VAULT!, described as “an intimate studio showcase of contemporary dance,” premiered in the afternoon of Aug. 5th. Hosted by Nichele Van Portfleet and sponsored by loveDANCEmore, the show also supported work by several other local artists, including Justin Bass, Michael Crotty, Dan Higgins, Daniel Mont-Eton and Breanne Saxton with Eliza Tappan. Set in the round inside one of the studios of The Marriott Center for Dance, the showing was more relaxed and unconventional. After live pre-show music from Casey Van Portfleet, an afternoon of raw and unfinished clips and excerpts of full evening length pieces began.

Saxton enters the performance space with a mic and introduces herself as well as a child. Within a casual interaction considering the space set for performance, Saxton and the child bring a lighthearted conversation to a close, beginning the movement of the opening work of VAULT! . As the child is then given the mic to read a book by Dr. Seuss, Saxton enters the open space with the mic stand. This first section created by Saxton and Tappan begins introducing the audience to the roughness and split seams of Instantaneous.

While the story is being read, the audience views Saxton tumbling around and navigating movement with the mic stand. The object remains still enough for her to grasp onto it and to avoid the structure of it with struggle as she slithers through it. It travels with her, too, as she investigates climbing and stepping through movement with this separate object. The piece soon cuts into this experience of exploring the structure of the tripod shaped mic stand, with a monologue of grief, making amends, dreams and goals. It’s a sharp transition, however, the conversation at the beginning of the piece gave it a foundation. A song from Saxton at the Piano in the corner of the studio cuts into the talk, ultimately arriving that the work never intended to be solid. The framework and performance of Instantaneous is intertwined, as it is non-performative and personal. Which proves to be successful to me.

MotionVivid | Breanne Saxton, Brian Gerke, Stranger KinCrotty’s work shown in VAULT! features a duet that is described as a “first glimpse into his developing work, Pohly and Jones”. This new work to be developed by Crotty, recent MFA graduate from The University of Utah is to explore “how varied points of view can co-exist without either being compromised”. In this glimpse, two women frolic into the space. Choreographically in unison for most of the piece, the two are confined to this binary in movement of standing strait up on two feet or rolling on the ground. The movement of flicking up bent legs with subtle shifting of the chins along with smirks and smiles carries the two through what appears as a motif in the work. In this work in progress, I was not able to successfully recognize the two different viewpoints exploration stated in the press release, however I did see an underlying narrative in this duet that is specific to a what is typically feminine in performance as a movement quality.

Mont-Etan adapted a solo from his recent show Homeward to the round setting in the studio. The title of this excerpt, Home as Body, presents conceptual thoughts about the relationship between home and body. Mont-Etan surfs the roundness of the performance space in this solo. No movement is particularly stark, however, where he goes in the space is. It becomes distinct when he is traveling versus arriving. Drifting with circular movements, occasionally spoking limbs out from his center, he lands in spaces in close proximity to audience members. In these places he gets pulled back into a search of some kind. I interpreted Home as Body as an ever shifting, openly lived experience that was to be defined by the viewers.

Bass brought to VAULT! a solo entitled, Four or more, performed by Luciana Johnson. The designated performance area was set with a rug, a coffee table and a glass vase. Johnson very lightly moved through being stuck in crooked positions of her spine to Kiss Me by Sixpence None The Richer. Around the little living room style set, Johnson flickered in energy a bit within her serene movement experience. On one leg almost flying backward she caught her balance, returning to captivating the audience with a contrasting force from her eyes. This new solo has a literal “evening” vibe, and Bass is planning to develop it into a full evening length work.

Van Portfleet developed Stranger Kin, a duet between Saxton and Brian Gerke, alongside the mentorship of Doug Varone. Varone, a prevalent New York based artist held a one of a kind workshop for choreographers entitled DEVICES. Stranger Kin, the culmination of this mentorship and workshop, is described as “ a physical meditation on the variety of infinite ties we experience through our various, most intimate relationships”. The work unquestionably explores exactly that.

The piece begins and continues to alternate through solo moments between Saxton and Gerke. Solo moments, or moments of separation between the performers of Stranger Kin signify a volatile moment in their partnership is to follow. Both bodies are pushed to limits when it comes to length in movement, as limbs extend and spiral into the ground with great strength and effortful poise. After bouts of interlaced limbs and forceful presses and pushes between the two, moments of being unraveled particularly stand out as forceful as well, although physically milder. The relationship becomes so clearly defined as it’s own being that solo moments change the environment. The experience of Saxton and Gerke, moments of aloneness, ass slapping, impossible reaching and interdependence between each other is highly physical and transcendent of anything mundane. The work profoundly dives into all of the possibilities of what makes up intimacy.

Shortly after Stranger Kin’s Salt Lake City premiere, the duet was premiered at Gibney Dance Center in New York City. All proceeds from VAULT! went towards funding Stranger Kin’s travel to New York.

Photo courtesy of Fringe Festival

Salt Lake’s third annual Fringe Festival comprised eight days, more than 40 shows and 200 performances. The Fringe Festival is held in several states across the nation and internationally as well. It works as a platform for any performance artist to share work with no requirements and no censoring. I had the chance to see Rakan’s debut performance of Phantom Map, Katelyn Killian’s Great Salt Lake Moves and Dan Higgins(_______)”.

Rakan, a group that had yet to perform, introduced themselves at the Fringe Festival with Phantom Map, a combination of original script and Butoh. Held in a dark room at The Fringe Factory, Rakan describes this performance as “a journey from dark to light told through theatre and the Japanese dance form Butoh.” Phantom Map clearly reveals itself as a tale of life and the in-betweens, using a Buddhist perspective for narrative structure infused with a Japanese dance form. They also included their own fictional scripting that allowed for literal interpretation. The script centers parts of the narrative on a riverboat in another time and place, in a home that is perhaps more contemporary, and in the fully abstract sections which took on Butoh to display The Bardos, the place after death and before life.

Black shields across each of the performer’s eyes; hooded, draping cloaks of bright red, and black gloves with finger extensions bring the audience to a mystical place. The costuming provides a few cues, distracting the eye from automatically identifying the performers as human. Their movement seems to be an eerie form of worshipping or greeting toward the still performer in white with a metallic mask. Slithering across a grid pattern, or map, a still dancer in white remains stable. Their presence within this stance gradually becomes distorted. Slight movements of the head accent the sinister facial expression of the mask. The dance revisits this place later with even more of a sense of a void and mystery in the air. I interpret this place as The Bardos.

Lights off mark the end of each scene and the beginning of another. The second scene incorporates text and attaches a literal meaning to work out the puzzle of what happened before. Breaking the fourth wall, the performers take the audience onto a riverboat. A woman referred to as “master” raises her limbs as she speaks, as if to suggest that moving the body and speaking are symbiotic acts. A poet tells parts of his story to this “master,” which reveal that his character is potentially dangerous. Anxious, another begs her, falling to his knees for her to tell him what she knows about time. She speaks with a strong demeanor that refuses to break—which, in this case, would be to share all of the knowledge that she holds. Her character in this scene becomes particular and tenacious. Through the contrasting character’s development and her commitment to the role, she embodies the knowledge that she may know in Phantom Map’s world with the understanding that she can’t control it.

The piece switches between life as we know it and The Bardos. It carries details of each that support the narrative and promote comprehension of the entirety of the piece. The one in the mask remains a mystery, as well as an anchor across the travels of the piece. The piece ultimately presents moments in life and death and an experience in-between with movement that results from the dreamlike environment. The movement of the performance becomes a tool to investigate the concepts of the narrative. The tale proves to be successful in clarity—however, as

the characters succumbed to battle, loss and desire in Phantom Map, my emotions did not follow.

Killian, solo creator and performer of Great Salt Lake Moves, describes the work as a “movement piece that combines art and science to greater understand and explore the beauty and phenomenon associated with The Great Salt Lake and the salt it produces.” Recorded sounds of rain used in the work suggest that it is an attempt to replicate one of the environments in Utah. After introducing herself as the performer with a simple but impenetrable stance as the lights come up, she begins an interesting process that soon becomes tedious. There are a few bottles of salt lined up across the wide dimensions of the Dumke black box, and the floor is dusty. With no detectable intention, Killian turns over the first bottle and allows the salt to pour onto the ground. Each bottle is the same size with the exact same kind of opening, so the visual suggests how the salt lands can quickly become palpable for the audience. As she continues to apply more salt to the ground, the larger pattern she is creating across the floor also becomes predictable, yet we watch. This process of Killian’s remains somewhat ritualistic and bound.

As the piece progresses, it becomes clear that the application of salt is complete, and Killian begins to explore the texture of the boxes and lines of salt with her heels and her toes. I begin to see that each box she “drew” onto the marley represents a different movement by which she explores salt and dance. She starts with sliding her feet into the lines, blurring them a bit and moves through the pelvis and torso, limbs and then her whole body replicating the images of the lines in the boxes.

The climax of the piece doesn’t include any hint of play with losses of grip, nor tactile experimentation with the salt consciously poured across the floor. The choreography suddenly jolts forward through the blurred lines of salt with jumps, turns and leaps. This arbitrary technical dance movement reduces the amount of play, which turns the salt into more of a set rather than a medium used in the movement exploration. The salt becomes an experience that is already discovered rather than an active process of discovering. This is clear—however, it is an unfit and drastic change. Once the piece is complete, Killian invites the audience to take a chance to play in the salt themselves. The performance is a casual venture into movement with an earthy medium.

Higgins’ new work is a development of fictional, eerily abstracted storytelling crafted alongside rigorous attention to the cadence of movement and silence. As a nonlinear narrative following dark forces, this piece contains omniscient suspense generated by beaming, drone-like noise that continuously fuels drifting bodies through the space. While Higgins is somewhat frozen in his mysterious character at a table, the dancers soon become defined as extensions of the focus on the table. The group seems to be walking, running and getting from point to point with no external mention or acknowledgment of each other. Gradually, a chase filled with quick advances toward one another and a motif, a performer’s crippled hand raising toward the sky, arrives between movers. There is also no acknowledgment from any of the performers of the audience, which definitely guides the work into a more separate place filled with wonder.

A tense environment arises the second the audience walks in and sees Higgins at a table. I naturally reacted to it by trying to assemble the rest of the picture in my head. Higgins, the storyteller, consistently leaves us with clues, hints and ambiguous evidence of a painful event of some kind in the center of it all. Higgins loudly and clearly says the mysterious lines about wolves and being eaten, but any exact decipherability becomes impossible. Pieces of information that could be held onto to fully assimilate a fixed narrative consistently slip away. The images of the drifting and chasing bodies in the space leave for the next moment, providing more questions.

The table that resides in the center of the black box has a scarf on it resembling a tablecloth. It’s whipped, held, thrown and placed on bodies and on the ground at various moments, highlighted during duets. I am left questioning the motive of those that take the scarf or what the scarf might symbolize. It flows to and away from the table and throughout contrasting partnerships. Two men arrive into the space together, and a chase with specific points of pause transforms into touches and subsequent collapses. The scarf is thrown into the middle of it all, ending up laid out on the ground. Another duet occurs, and the scarf covers the face of a dancing body, gets thrown out of the space and retrieved. What does it represent and why does it cover and dance side by side but also gets thrown out? While the choreography comes and goes beyond the setting of the table, Higgins rattles it and pushes the suspense. He alters the volume of the story, and his strange body language heightens the feeling that something is going to happen and that it is dark, absurd and unthinkable. The piece works successfully with physical force and uncertainty, which is definitely understandable and engaging. However, I never quite caught onto understanding the interest in the scarf or its intention.

Each year, the number of artists in Salt Lake’s Fringe Festival increases. Growing since 2015, the two weeks in Sugar House were filled to the brim with performances from local dancers, actors, poets and more. I saw ventures into unknowns, play and obscurity.