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July 2011
Published by Artists of Utah
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Woodside by Randy Rasmussen at the Rio Grande Cafe, photo by Will Thompson

Randy Rasmussen . . . from page 1

After high school Rasmussen went to college at what is now Southern Utah University, where he studied theatre and art. There he had the opportunity to take ceramics classes from Mark Talbert, and, being only 60 miles from Zion National Park, frequently venture out to the desert with his first water color block to start painting outside. “I dreamed about art and thought about art," Rasmussen says, "but it was Cedar City that gave me the opportunity to really explore it. There were some incredible landscape painters in Southern Utah and Springdale at the time. It was really eye opening.”

He continued to find inspiration in his first job out of college, painting scenery and running a sound board at Pioneer Theatre, where he worked for seven years. “I learned how to make things happen, to dream big and build big.” He worked on several large scale productions from the very beginning; his first was West Side Story. But it is actually a smaller stage that has been one of the most fulfilling things in his life. While at Pioneer Theatre he began to build sets for Plan B Theatre Company. “Once they got to the point where they needed real scenery; I’ve done every set ever since,” Rasmussen says. He has been there for 15 years and still finds the work tremendously satisfying because of a special formula: “If you can get the magic combination of great content, great people to do it with and if you’re really lucky you might find a little money to do it. If you can get those three things it’s a really, really wonderful thing.”

For almost as long as he’s been with Plan B Theatre Company Rasmussen has also worked at Kingsbury Hall. Along with being in close proximity to the desert, it’s his work with the two theatres that keeps him in Salt Lake City. He also stays because he notes that the polarization between liberals and conservatives in Utah has created a breeding ground for unique art. “Oppression creates dissention. I know some people who are doing some really wild things in this town and it’s stuff you wouldn’t see in LA,” he explains.

It is through his work with theatre and art that he hopes to broaden people’s minds and help them to appreciate perspectives that deviate from their own. Part of that process is to expand his work as a painter, something he is doing with “Woodside.” The piece is a lengthy stretch of desert cliffs based on portions of Highway 6 between Price and Green River. “It’s a part of Utah I’ve known all my life,” he says, noting frequent camping and river trips he’s taken in that area.

The work was commissioned by Rio Grande Café owner Pete Henderson, who had been brainstorming some ways to liven up the décor in his restaurant. “They came to me and I said heck yes I can paint a big painting,” Rasmussen says. He bought the canvas in February and when he wasn’t working on a theatre production he went out to his studio, a barn built in the early 1900’s that sits in his backyard, and painted. The process not only resulted in the latest work to grace the walls at Rio Grande café but it taught Rasmussen more about his own style, “They wanted Maynard Dixon. And I’m not Maynard Dixon but I tried. I looked at his paintings and analyzed them. I think more than learning how to paint like Maynard Dixon I learned how to paint better.” In his first attempt to hang “Woodside” Rasmussen got another lesson: how to shorten paintings. At his first attempt to hang the piece he realized the canvas was two inches longer than the space provided and at the risk of nearly destroying portions of his work he took it home, peeled the canvas back and lopped off the excess length. He laughs about it now but says there were more than a few tense moments during the process.

“Woodside” is the latest of Rasmussen’s paintings to be in a restaurant. His work can also been seen at Cinegrill, where he painted a large mural that is patterned after the wallpaper that hung in the original 1950’s location. Moving forward he hopes to do some more large scale work and to maybe one day be part of a working studio gallery. Theatre remains his first love though. “The collaborative process that’s in theatre is so interesting and fun. When really bright talented people get together and start tossing ideas off each other, it’s great and you don’t get that in a studio. You spend a lot of time with the dog and listening to NPR,” Rasmussen says. His canine companion Wilma kept him company while he worked on “Woodside” and she’s often not far behind his heels.

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Culture Conversation: Theatre
In The Giving Vein

The Shakespeare Festival's 50th Year

The Utah Shakespeare Festival looks strong at 50. As noted in their golden anniversary playbill, the festival started in 1961 with a budget of $1,000 and an audience of 3,276 patrons. Today they have a budget of $6.5 million and each season nearly 150,000 people come to partake in the festivities. It isn’t just the plays, it’s the people in wench costumes selling tarts, the jugglers performing before the shows, and the many talks that are offered to enrich the whole experience. 15Bytes got a taste of the action on July 1.

Noises Off!
If you enjoy a heaping portion of the ridiculous, this production of Michael Frayn's 1982 play, one of the four non-Shakespearean works in this year's festival, offers it up with seconds. In the first act the audience meets a group of hilariously dysfunctional actors. It’s opening night of their show Nothing On and in the final dress rehearsal none of them even has their lines down. The director, played by Ben Livingston, watches with complete dismay and tries to help them get it together before their first curtain call.

In the second act the play has been running for a month and the audience literally gets a look behind the scenes as the set is rotated 180 degrees and all the action happens backstage. The director tries to balance the two women in his life, his play's female lead Brooke Ashton, played by Ally Carey, and the assistant stage manager, Poppy, played by Betsy Mugavero. Jealous lovers quarrel, lines are not only forgotten but delivered entirely out of sequence, and not everyone is sober. But whiskey seems to help everyone take the edge off in this kind of disaster. In the final act the tour is coming to a close and the cast of “Nothing On” has a complete meltdown. The play has become a nonsensical farce. Much of the cast delivers their lines with perfect timing and manages to keep a straight face during even the most hectic scenes. Stage Manager Tim Allgood, played by Ian Durant, welcomes an audience to one of the final evenings of “Nothing On” with the lines, “Please sit back and enjoy the remains of the evening.” It’s a complete disaster and they all know it, but the show must go on, if the cast doesn’t kill each other first.

Richard III
This production of Richard III is the Utah Shakespeare Festival at its finest: beautiful set design, lush costumes, and a pitch perfect cast. Richard III, played by Elijah Alexander, limps on stage and giddily shares his plans to take over the throne. It’s a game to be won and he proves himself to be a masterful player.

In an improbable courtship Richard turns on an easy charismatic charm and woos Lady Anne Neville as she marches in the procession for King Henry VI, her father-in-law. In spite of the fact that Richard has murdered both Henry and Prince Edward, Anne’s husband, she is swept off her feet by Richard and agrees to marry him. Shortly after this Margaret of Anjou, Henry’s widow, played by Leslie Brott, curses Richard and all those around him. Her prophecy slowly unfolds as Richard betrays his friends and even orchestrates the beheading of his young nephews. The bloody trail behind him means nothing to Richard because the crown finally rests on his brow. But for how long?

Henry Tudor, played by Matt Mueller, travels to do battle with Richard over the crown. In a particularly memorable scene, Henry and Richard are sleeping the night before their swords clash and the ghosts of Richard’s many victims appear on stage. Each ghost speaks to Richard as he sleeps and each one laments how they wish he would despair and die, then each moves to where Henry sleeps and wishes him success in his pursuit of the throne. In the final scene the ghosts of Richard’s nephews reappear along with Margaret so they can watch Richard’s demise.

This is one of Shakespeare’s many cautionary tales to any would-by-tyrannical leader. What sets this one apart is brilliant direction by Kathleen F. Conlin and stand-out performances by Alexander and Brott. It’s not to be missed.

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