You know that feeling you get sometimes when you watch one of those old classic movies, like It’s A Wonderful Life, or The Philadelphia Story, or Bringing Up Baby? Where everything is softly lit, and everyone’s hair looks gorgeous, and your heart has that kind of sweet ache of longing and hope? That’s what I felt last night at Last Train to Nibroc.

It’s a short play, and it’s the oldest story in the world, where a boy and a girl meet by chance and spend the next part of their lives dancing in circles around what they feel for each other. There’s courage, there’s fear, there’s heartbreak and misunderstanding and flirtation and humor. It’s everything you want from a charming romance.

The year is 1940, and charming U.S. soldier Raleigh is on a train, somewhere west of Chicago. He takes an open seat next to May, whose sometimes prickly exterior hides a romantic and compassionate heart. The rest is history. The roles of Raleigh and May are played by An Other Theater Co members Bryce Lloyd Fueston and Laura Elise Chapman, whose recent marriage in real life adds some extra sparkle to their onstage chemistry.

And that’s exactly what I needed last night. Something sparkly. While our own lives don’t have the backdrop of a world war like May and Raleigh’s do, most of us are fighting a few wars of our own. It’s been a truly exhausting year, with a pandemic, an earthquake, a windstorm, an ongoing fight for racial justice, and an election that has a Supreme Court justice hanging in the balance. And the things that normally bring us comfort—time with loved ones, theatre, movies—have some intense restrictions.

While our own lives don’t have the backdrop of a world war like May and Raleigh’s do, most of us are fighting a few wars of our own.

At An Other Theater Company, we knew that producing theatre in the “usual” ways would endanger our entire community. We also strongly believe that COVID-19 precautions are a racial issue, an LGBTQ issue, and an issue of income equality. Members of marginalized groups may not receive the kind of adequate medical care they need if they become infected.

Theatre is not safe unless there is adequate distance and/or mask use for EVERYONE, actors and technicians included. But we also strongly believe that the arts are a vital part of being human. Live theatre can be a healing and strengthening force in challenging times. We couldn’t offer that in our usual home in the Provo Towne Centre Mall. So we moved into the parking lot. We cast two actors who live in the same household, grabbed our masks, and spent weeks figuring out how to get the sound of their voices into car radios and headsets. We rehearsed outdoors and over Zoom and found a new way to tell an old story.

And it worked. Good heavens, it worked.

Watching May and Raleigh's "will they won't they" story unfold under the open sky made my hopelessly romantic heart sing. I was transported to all of those magical romantic moments that so many of us either long for or treasure. I was 19 and walking with a boy under a starry sky on a warm night. I was smiling at that girl at summer camp, certain that she was holding my gaze just a few seconds longer than necessary. I was filled with butterflies and fireworks and longing, and watching Last Train to Nibroc, I felt, for just a little while, a respite from the chaos of 2020. I drove away from the Provo Towne Centre Mall parking lot feeling a little bit lighter, a little bit more whole.

There isn’t anything particularly challenging in Last Train to Nibroc. Raleigh says something that hurts May's feelings. May misunderstands Raleigh. Letters are exchanged, festivals are attended, porches are sat on. The play isn’t sharply political or a work of deep social commentary. But it is important. It is a simple reminder that in times of uncertainty and grief, to love is a defiant act of hope.

If you'd like to purchase tickets to see Last Train to Nibroc, or learn more about our COVID guidelines, click here.

Leadership and Policy Changes at AOTC

Since our initial statement expressing support of the Black Lives Matter movement, we have remained largely silent. During this time we have been reflecting on An Other Theater Company as an organization and community and taking note of the areas we must make improvements in order to truly move towards fulfilling our mission of inclusivity.

Though much of the state is currently working towards a full reopening of all economic, social, and artistic activity, we must recognize that because COVID-19 affects BIPOC individuals at a much higher rate than white individuals, this pandemic is not only a health issue, it's a racial issue. BIPOC individuals are statistically less likely to have affordable access to healthcare or the luxury of social distancing due to their current employment. Because of this, An Other Theater Company has no plans to reopen until we can be certain that all members of the community, not only those in positions of privilege, can enter our doors without endangering the lives of themselves or those they love. We have no specific timeline on this, but currently suspect it will last through the year.

We look forward to continuing the conversation of racial justice and how we intend to do our part in our community theater here in Provo.

Though we have always strived towards inclusivity regarding women's issues, sexual identity, and gender expression, these experiences are not and never have been exclusive to white, non-disabled, hearing, neurotypical individuals. BIPOC, disabled, deaf, and neurodivergent people have long been excluded from the theatrical narrative and we must recognize that our feminism and queer-positivity is hollow unless it is intersectional.

Today we are announcing the artistic and administrative changes we are making.

Firstly, it is with great excitement that we are announcing that Shelby Noelle Gist will be stepping into the role of Co-Artistic Director of An Other Theater Company!

Shelby Noelle Gist is a proud Black graduate of Utah Valley University’s theater program and was awarded “Outstanding Student” of the graduating class of 2019. She has directed many productions in Utah and upstate New York, produced shows with UVU's theater club TAG, and consulted with multiple high schools and other productions. Along with her talent in directing, she has also led different Race and Diversity trainings, was Vice President of UVU's Black Student Union, and was a cofounder of ‘PROJECT BLACK GIRL’. She is incredibly excited to join this company and to roll up her sleeves and do the work.

Shelby is a passionate, brilliant, and talented artist and leader and we couldn't be prouder or more excited to welcome her into her leadership role at AOTC. We are certain that with her leadership, our company will be on a positive path towards more fully achieving its mission.

Kacey Spadafora, who has held the position since the company first opened three years ago, will be stepping down from this role. Taylor Jack Nelson will be remaining as Co-Artistic Director with Shelby and together they will be guiding the company forward towards its artistic goals. Artistic Directors are responsible for season selection, hiring directors and designers for productions, guiding the company's community outreach and messaging, and much more.

Kacey will be remaining in his role of Co-Executive Director along with Taylor where the two of them will continue to oversee the day-to-day administrative operations of the theater.

Along with this leadership change we are also incorporating the following policies:

  1. In addition to our current mandates involving LGBTQ representation and works by and about women, season selection guidelines will now include a requirement to have at minimum one show per season written by a person of color.

  2. The Artistic and Executive Directors will work together to develop and incorporate a diversity outreach policy for the company to ensure BIPOC, disabled, deaf, and neurodivergent artists are given opportunities beyond what is strictly required by the scripts chosen for the season.

  3. AOTC's company members will undergo an annual race and diversity sensitivity training led by an outside expert in the field.

  4. Unless explicitly necessary for the plot of a script, all roles will be proactively open to actors of any race or ethnicity.

  5. Only actors of color will be cast in roles written for or have a legacy of being played by actors of color.

  6. Race and diversity sensitivity guidelines will be incorporated into the onboarding of all members of every production.

  7. An Other Theater Company will add at least one person of color to its board of directors which oversees AOTC's actions as a non-profit organization.

These are all first steps. They are not comprehensive solutions. We will strive to continue to improve through constant and consistent work.

- An Other Theater Company

Hello Dear Reader!

Opening night for the world-premiere of SAFE with An Other Theatre Company is finally here. We are so excited to share this story with you! Playwright Chelsea Hickman shared her a few of her thoughts and experiences in writing SAFE. You can read her interview below.

Q: What has the drafting process been like for Safe?

A: “SAFE has been a long time coming.

I started working on Sam and Aubrey’s story in November 2015 while in graduate school at the University of California, Riverside. At that time, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints just announced policy changes to Handbook 1, a manual for Church leaders concerning church disciplinary guidelines. Members who entered into a same-sex marriage were now labeled apostates. Children living with those same-sex couples would be barred from baptism until age eighteen and would first need to disavow their parents’ marriage and lifestyle in order to receive those essential covenants for salvation.

I was in the middle of my first semester when the policy changes were announced. Social media exploded. My colleagues, professors, friends, and family members all wanted to know what I thought about the policy changes and if I would write something about it. I was known as the Mormon playwright. What was I going to write? What was I going to do?

In addition to feeling an immense amount of outside pressure to write this story, I was also feeling a great deal of internal pressure to do this story right. At the time, I had only come out to my husband about my bisexuality. Taking on this story seemed like I was opening a door I didn’t know if I could close again. It was terrifying opening that door and taking my first step outside. But I’m so glad I did and trusted the process! It was incredibly freeing!

My first stab at telling this story was as a short fiction piece. Eventually, that short story morphed into a play. The next few drafts came very fast. I quickly realized this play would be my thesis. My thesis, Failing Hearts, was a play about same-sex attraction, the disintegration of two LDS marriages, and the couples’ encounters with a doubting Bishop. It was, at the time, what I thought Sam and Aubrey’s story was supposed to be.

But then.

At the end of my last semester of grad school, we read the complete draft of Failing Hearts. Questions arose from my male colleagues, questions I had heard before from those same colleagues over the course of two semesters:

“How are the male characters treated in the play? Are all men villains? What are your intentions with the men?”

Now, first and foremost, all of these questions are and were completely valid. In fact, they helped me flesh out Jensen and Ethan’s character arcs; they helped me develop more empathy, more compassion, and more love for Jensen and Ethan--even in their imperfections. Overall, I believe the play greatly benefited from these questions and critiques in beautiful and fulfilling ways.

However, I started noticing parallels between the questions asked by these male playwrights and my life-long interactions with male leadership in the Church. I respected the hierarchy of the Church. I respected the priesthood. I respected the authority of my male professors and colleagues.

Often, for me, that “respect” translated into submissiveness. Silence. Fear.

In church, I bowed my head. Folded my arms. Closed my eyes. In workshop, I apologized. Avoided eye contact. Nodded silently as I scribbled critiques in my journal.

It was a learned response to swallow my true opinions, thoughts, and feelings in fear of seeming too angry, too prideful, or too wicked. I didn’t want to be seen as an angry woman. As a unrepentant feminist with an agenda. I sat very still and very silent in workshop that day. My spirit died. My heart broke. My throat tightened. And, suddenly, it was like I was sitting in sacrament meeting, or Sunday school, or Relief Society. I felt invisible. Does God see me? Hear me? Are my questions too prideful? Too demanding? Too impatient?

Will I ever be enough?

My thoughts were interrupted by a question from a female colleague across the table. It was like she was in my head. “Chelsea. Is this a story about two failing marriages or about the two women and their love story?”

That one question gave me permission to write what I actually wanted to write. I wanted a love story. A love story about two women, grappling with their faith and their place within that belief system. And that was how SAFE was born. Pretty neat.”

Q: What has the rehearsal and production process been like for Safe?

A: “It has been absolutely WILD seeing this play come to life with An Other Theatre Company. We did a staged reading of SAFE in July 2018. After the overwhelmingly positive response to the staged reading, I was approached about putting SAFE in the company’s third season. And it’s been a joy ever since.

Actors Maddie Smith, Laura Chapman, Tyler Fox, and John Valdez have put so much heart and soul and dedication into their characters. It’s amazing! I couldn’t ask for a better cast. Their work is smart, motivated, and intentional. I am a sobbing mess every time I watch them work.

Liz Whittaker, our fearless director, has been the very embodiment of female strength, power, guidance, and compassion. She has respected her actors and the rest of the production team by creating safe spaces for all. She is trained in intimacy choreography and has crafted these intimate moments in the play with care, precision, and thoughtfulness. What a gift. What a treasure.

We did it! We made a play!”

If you enjoyed that interview, stay tuned! In depth interviews with each of the actors, director, and members of the production team will be forthcoming.

SAFE runs Jan 24 - Feb 15 (Friday and Saturday nights @ 7:30; Sunday matinee 2/9 @ 5pm). You can get your tickets here. We hope to see you in our golden pew benches very soon!

An Other Theatre Company