Performing in ‘Man of La Mancha’ has been a perfect introduction to the world of theater that I hope to be involved in as I transition from college into my chosen field. —Matthew Jay Romriell
SALT LAKE CITY — Theatergoers have had the conception that a majority of actors performing at Pioneer Theatre Company have been imported from New York City and other large cities. But a detailed analysis of each of the PTC productions since 2006 reveals that many shows have a high portion of Utah talent on stage, with 2009’s “A Christmas Story” leading the tally at 73 percent.
To emphasize PTC’s commitment to the local acting community, incoming artistic director Karen Azenberg on Monday hosted Utah actors at an informal meet and greet as she transitions into her new position. Azenberg warmly greeted each of the 75 actors at the festive gathering.
“I want to develop a relationship with actors in Utah,” Azenberg said. “When I go to auditions for actors in New York City, I know nearly all of them; but the situation is different now that I’m at Pioneer Theatre. I’d like to work to develop a nice balance of talent that will include the talent here in Utah.”
Elizabeth Williamson, PTC associate artistic director, said she is “very impressed with the high level of talent and professionalism I’ve found for a city of this size.” With four years of assisting exiting artistic director Charles Morey at auditions under her belt, Williamson has previously worked in San Francisco, Chicago, Minneapolis and New York City.
At the suggestion of the Deseret News, Heather Nowlin, PTC assistant marketing director, initiated a comprehensive spreadsheet review listing the names of each Utah performer on stage at PTC since “Chicago” in 2006. A close second to the 73 percent of local onstage talent in “A Christmas Story” is “Our Town” at 65 percent and “Othello” at 62 percent.
“I’ve compiled the playbills for each PTC show for the past five years, which means collecting all bio info from the actors,” Nowlin said. “So I’ve always known that we use a good deal of local talent.”
In the current PTC production of “Man of La Mancha,” there are 13 Utahns — five of whom are still students in the state and five graduates from Utah universities. Of course, that figure does not include backstage talent — technicians, costume and set builders and staffers — who are residents.
Because PTC is a fully professional theater company, it operates under contract from the Actors’ Equity union, which has strict rules for its member organizations. But PTC works with Utahns to assist them to meet Equity membership requirements. A challenge PTC faces is that when Utah actors join the union, they often move to other areas with more abundant opportunities for professional employment.
The Deseret News interviewed the five university students onstage in “Man of La Mancha” to see how PTC is able to guide them through the difficult process from apprentice in Actors’ Equity to full membership. (With eight collegiate actors onstage, “Othello” holds the record for students in actor-training programs, but five students in “Man of La Mancha” is still a significant number.)
“Performing in ‘Man of La Mancha’ has been a perfect introduction to the world of theater that I hope to be involved in as I transition from college into my chosen field,” said Matthew Jay Romriell. “When I saw the Equity program with my picture in it for the first time I felt tears well up. This is really so important an experience to me, I would have difficulty truly describing how grateful I feel each day to be a part of it.
“I have been given an inside view of this ultimate collaborative art form.”
Romriell will next be seen in the University of Utah production of “Vernon God Little.”
“There aren’t very many chances for students to get involved (at a professional level) in Utah,” Sara Kae Childs said. “I can’t explain how helpful it has been to observe others and learn from them and also talk to them about their experiences. I love to pick their brains because I know they have been in my shoes. I remember my first rehearsal for ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ I was blown away by the talent and the confidence.”
After three roles on stage at PTC, “I feel like a completely different performer, and I know what to expect from the professional world,” she added.
“Acting at PTC gives me good experience because we are surrounded by professional actors,” Preston Yates said. “They are able to answer career questions we have and give us good advice.”
Yates will be donning the phantom’s mask as he takes on “The Phantom of the Opera” at Brigham Young University and he just completed the lead role of Ramon in the Hale Centre Theatre’s U.S. premiere of “Zorro.”
“I’ve been taking notes during the rehearsal process in hopes that I can apply the strengths of my cast members to my own work,” Jessica Kennedy said. “Pioneer Theatre is an incredible place to work. Working with a legend like Chuck Morey is amazing. He has over 40 years of experience that I get to learn from.”
Kennedy will be a bride in “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” in the Sundance/Utah Valley University summer production at Sundance.
Jeffry Skiba has “learned so much already about the process of becoming an Equity member and why it is important to be one. As well, I have been able to utilize the skills learned in the school year and build on them.
“It also has been a great honor to work with Charles Morey, who has taught me to try and to trust my instincts,” he added.
Skiba, who just completed a lead role in “The Wild Party” at the U. opposite Childs, is the father of five children, from age 3 to 9 — a unique challenge as he juggles performing, studies and a robust family life. “I have to say I am only able to do it with the support of my wife, Carolyn,” he said. “She makes it all possible.”
Attending the reception for Azenberg was Andy Rindlisbach, a U. graduate who recently completed the exhaustive requirements for Equity membership. Rindlisbach, who has performed in seven PTC productions, encouraged student-actors to have “a strong work ethic. That’s about the only thing actors have complete control over,” he said.