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Brent Uberty
The cast of Pioneer Theatre Company's "Oslo," which runs Sept. 14-29.

SALT LAKE CITY — Playwright J.T. Rogers’ resume now includes the words “Tony Award-winning,” but getting to this point hasn’t always been an easy road.

In the early 2000s, Rogers — whose play “Oslo” won the 2017 Tony Award for best play — was a “fledgling playwright, totally unknown,” as he puts it, working temp jobs in New York City as a copy editor and cater waiter.

“It’s very few people that ever get to … make a living as a playwright,” Rogers said in an interview with the Deseret News. “It can become soul crushing, to be frank, working multiple jobs and toiling away.”

Luckily for Rogers, a little ray of sunshine helped keep his momentum during this arduous time: being a playwright-in-residence at the Salt Lake Acting Company.

From 2000-2009, SLAC produced four of Rogers’ works — including staging two world premieres — and from 2004-2005 he was the company’s resident playwright.

Brent Uberty
Kate Middleton as Mona Juul and Jeff Talbott as Terje Rød-Larsen in Pioneer Theatre Company's upcoming production of "Oslo."

“It was that rare thing very few playwrights get where (SLAC) was my home,” Rogers said. “I knew how the theater was going to do my work, I could envision the space it would be done in, and it was transformative for me. … The fact that you had a place where you knew you were actually going to have existence as a playwright, it’s the difference between continuing on and … giving up.”

From Sept. 14-29, Rogers will enjoy a homecoming of sorts — not to SLAC specifically but to Salt Lake City — as “Oslo” makes its regional premiere at Salt Lake’s Pioneer Theatre Company.

“I’ve seen many shows in that grand Pioneer Theatre, so I’m tickled to actually have one of my plays done in that space,” Rogers said. “As a living American playwright, you think the big houses, as it were, are for the dead playwrights, so it’s surprising and fun to find that’s not always the case.”

“Oslo’s” path from the Tony Awards to PTC started in a New York restaurant.

He was staging one of his plays, “Blood and Gifts,” at New York’s Lincoln Center Theater — a playhouse he said is serving a similar role for him that SLAC once did — when the show’s director, Bartlett Sher, introduced Rogers to a Norwegian diplomat named Terje Rod-Larsen. The two went out for a drink after Rod-Larsen saw “Blood and Gifts,” and Rogers learned more about the diplomat's past.

Many have heard of the Oslo Accords, an “historic turning point in Arab-Israeli relations,” according to PBS, but the backstory of how the accords came to be is lesser-known, and is the basis of “Oslo.” Rod-Larsen and his wife, Mona Juul, herself a diplomat, were present in 1993 during a secret meeting between Israeli, Palestinian and Norwegian officials to try to reach peace.

Rogers compared the “explosive stakes” of such a meeting to if the public theoretically discovered the Trump administration and ISIS had been “secretly meeting in a castle in Norway in private rooms, talking about their children and eating pancakes and drinking whisky together.”

Michael Zorn, Invision
J.T. Rogers, second from the left, and the cast and crew of "Oslo" accept the award for best play at the 71st annual Tony Awards on Sunday, June 11, 2017, in New York.

“I realized (by talking to Rod-Larsen that) there’s this incredible, stupefying, thriller-like story that, in this country, almost nobody knows — myself included, and I consider myself a politics junkie,” Rogers said.

Having found the basis for his next play, Rogers began researching the situation and interviewing those involved.

“Having combined investigative zeal and theatrical imagination with insider access, Mr. Rogers now invites you into the chambers where the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization were forged during nine fraught months in 1993,” The New York Times’ theater critic Ben Brantley wrote in his praising review of “Oslo.”

The play opened at the Lincoln Center’s off-Broadway space in July 2016, and after an overwhelmingly positive reception transferred to the center’s Broadway space the following spring.

Through no planning of his own, Rogers said his play has become increasingly relevant in today’s political landscape.

“It’s a play about mortal enemies fearfully sitting across from each other in secret and discovering that they see the humanity in the other side and they find themselves changed by seeing the humanity in the other side,” he said. “I think however that resonates in individual audience members, through no magic or brilliance of my own, but in timing, it’s taken on a level that I think is very resonant and sparks questions.”

Some of these questions will be discussed during a talkback event at PTC on Sept. 22 when Rogers joins KUER’s Doug Fabrizio to discuss “Oslo.”

“Having a long history with Salt Lake, I think I’ve been on Doug’s show three times over the years,” Rogers said. “I really have never found anyone more interesting to talk to in there than he is, so I’m kind of geeked out and excited to talk to him again because he always has such good questions.”

Brent Uberty
Ben Cherry as Uri Savir, left, and Demosthenes Chrysan as Ahmed Qurie in Pioneer Theatre Company's upcoming production of "Oslo."

Rogers looks forward to visiting Utah to see PTC’s production of “Oslo” and returning to a town where he said he learned important lessons about how to be a better playwright.

“I spent a lot of time in Salt Lake. It took me a while but I learned the grid, and I have a great affection for the city and the theater community there,” he said. “It was a very important place and (SLAC was a) very important theater to me.”

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Content advisory: According to PTC’s website, “Oslo” contains strong language, including several instances of the F-word, that would make it consistent with an R-rated film.

If you go …

What: Pioneer Theatre Company’s production of “Oslo”

When: Sept. 14-29, 7 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday matinee

Where: Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East

How much: $30-$45

Web: pioneertheatre.org

Phone: 801-335-4565

Also …

What: “Oslo” talkback with J.T. Rogers and Doug Fabrizio

When: Sept. 22 following the matinee performance of “Oslo”

Where: Simmons Pioneer Memorial Theatre, 300 S. 1400 East