Sometimes, good things happen on Jerry Rapier’s bed.
After all, that was the place where he was sitting nine years ago when he and Plan-B Theatre Company Managing Director and sound designer Cheryl Ann Cluff decided to make a go of managing the ground-breaking theater company.
A few months before, Rapier (pronounced ruh-PEER) had signed on with the then-11-year-old company to direct its production of Brian Friel’s Molly Sweeney.
As he tells it, his job got “bigger than that really quickly.”
“There was a lot of transition things happening with Plan-B, and before we started rehearsals for the show, it was unsure if the company would stay afloat or be done,” he remembers.
At the time, Rapier was working at Park City’s Egyptian Theatre as a producer, a job he held from 1999 – 2001. The transition from doing musical theatre to being the Producing Director of a “small, intimate” venue known for doing socially conscious work took some adjusting, he says, but was a challenge he was up for. When Rapier and Cluff took over, Plan-B was struggling along in the basement of Salt Lake Acting Company.
One year later, the company had moved to its current home at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, and its fortunes were taking a turn for the better.
How did the two, along with Plan-B’s dedicated actors, designers and crew, turn the company around?
“Over the years we had some really touchstone productions,” explains Rapier. “But the first of those was the Laramie Project.” Moisés Kaufman and the Tectonic Theatre Project’s groundbreaking 2000 play about the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard “really put us on firm footing in many ways and changed the direction of our company,” he says. “It was a strong donor base and extended our audience.”
Next, the company took on a number of other groundbreaking plays, including the cult rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, openly gay playwright Terrence McNally’s A Perfect Ganesh and the premier of LDS playwright Carolyn Pearson’s critically acclaimed Facing East, about the struggles of a Mormon couple to come to terms with their gay son’s suicide.
“Every few years we seem to find something that touches the nerve of the community at large and brings new people through our doors, which is heartening to see,” says Rapier.
Under Rapier’s direction, the company also took on a new mission: supporting the work of Utah writers and socially conscious plays about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
“It was clear that it was a voice that needed to be heard,” says Rapier. “And the bottom line is I’m a big homo.”
Over the last 9 years, Plan-B has continued to grow its subscriber list and creative staff. And as any theatre worker will tell you, such growth means more work for everyone in a relatively small theater company — especially the management. Together, Rapier and Cluff oversee all aspects of the company, from fundraising and public relations, to marketing, grant-writing and, of course, play development. And then there are those miscellaneous jobs that, while smaller than selling tickets, are no less important.
“Right now I’m checking on the laundry for this evening to make sure the actors’ costumes [for current production Block 8] are fresh so they don’t blow each other off the stage with bad B.O.,” he laughs.
When he’s not workshopping a new play or picking up dry cleaning, Rapier can often be found helping out gay rights groups in the state. Currently, he serves on the Human Rights Campaign’s national board of governors, and he has been known to help other organizations with such things as event planning. Sometimes he can also be found in the director’s chair. To date he has directed shows for over a dozen Utah theater companies—including almost all of the Actors Equity companies. He also tries to work with other arts organizations to cross-promote their work and his company’s work.
“I believe there can be a lot more of that type of work,” he says. “[Working together is] an area that desperately needs growth and people need to work harder towards. [There needs to be] more awareness of what other companies are doing so we can figure out more ways to support each other.”
And sometimes he’s just playing with his Wii.
“I’m kind of addicted to Wii tennis at the moment,” he says of the popular video game system. “More time is spent playing Wii than I would admit. I’m supposed to be refined and beyond that, but I have to play a little Wii every day.”
But when it comes to putting together a good show, Rapier is all business.
“I expect a lot of people who work for us, or people in any show I work on,” he says. “I always want to be sure that the focus is not on the individual actor, but on the show itself and how we’ll bridge the gap between the stage and audience.”
“I think too often people forget the audience, and I don’t mean that you need to pander to them, but it doesn’t really matter what you’re doing if you don’t think about the audience,” he continues. “It really takes the audience to bring a play to life.”
Visit Plan-B online at planbtheatre.org.