Parkite Chambers makes playwriting debut in ‘The Water Project’
The arts are an important part of Park City. With the Sundance Film Festival, concerts all over town, plays at the Egyptian Theatre and exhibitions at the Kimball Art Center or any number of galleries, the town has a prominent artistic footprint. And occasionally, that footprint even spreads outside of the city’s limits.
David Kirk Chambers is one Park City-area artist making an impact outside the Summit County limits. A founding member of the Salt Lake Acting Company, Chambers is currently the company’s managing director, and he also has another distinction. He is the author of one of the short plays showing as part of the company’s current production, "The Water Project."
"The Water Project" is a group of 12 short, original plays with a common theme, water.
The inspiration for the play started in 2002, when the company produced "Cabbies, Cowboys and the Tree of the Weeping Virgin," an evening of short plays with Utah and Olympic themes.
"It was quite successful," said Chambers.
So, the company decided to produce a similar project, and after some consideration, Salt Lake Acting Company Dramaturg Mike Dorrell chose the water theme. The company commissioned works from 15 writers, mostly from Utah, producing the works from nine.
"It’s a way to gather a lot of artists together in one show," noted Chambers.
In all, 16 writers, nine directors and six actors participated in the project. The plays, which run in succession, span a whole range of situations and topics, from Will Bagley’s "Water Works," a short, statistic-filled monologue about water usage in Utah, to "Duke of the West," a three-part tale featuring the water-related trials of pair of pioneers, the John Wayne-like Duke, and his sidekick Gabby.
Chambers said that the 12 different plays allow an audience to see different perspectives, opinions and the various facets of water.
"I think it touches on certain things about water without being didactic," he noted.
Ironically, Chambers never planned to be part of the show. He was not one of the artists commissioned to write a work. Rather, he said, he was at the closing night of the acting company’s production of "Man from Nebraska," when he told a friend from the company a story about a time when he lost his faith.
That friend urged him to write the story down, and after some revising, Dorrell decided to include the story, "Waterskeeter," in "The Water Project." Chambers said the inclusion of "Waterskeeter" marked a new frontier. While he helped establish the Sundance Institute Playwrights Lab and has been involved with the Salt Lake Acting Company since its inception in 1971, he had never seen any of his writing performed.
"It’s actually the first piece I’ve written that I’ve had produced," he said.
A monologue, "Waterskeeter" is a childhood tale told by a middle-aged man. Played by actor Morgan Lund, the man tells about how, as a boy on a fishing trip on the Weber River, one of his uncles informed him that, if he caught five waterskeeters and placed them under a rock, leaving them overnight, they would be replaced by five pennies in the morning, left by the "Waterskeeter Fairy." The man talks about executing this, with success, on the trip, but he notes the different results when he tried it one day on his way home from school.
"Most of that is based on real experiences," said Chambers.
The kernel of the story is true, he noted, although he said that once he saw the piece in rehearsal it began to separate itself from his childhood memories.
"The first time they read it, it really put me in an objective position as a writer," said Chambers. "As a writer I was looking at it as a creation of the theatre company’s. It wasn’t my thing; it was the theatre’s thing; it was the actor’s and director’s thing."
Seeing the production performed, he could adjust the story so it fit the character and elicited a sense of emotion.
"Once, I stepped away from it, I could play with the words," said Chambers.
In addition to writing "Waterskeeter," Chambers also directed another play, "Dasani" by David Kranes, which portrays an grippingly intense conversation between a masseuse and her client.
"David and I have worked together for a number of years," Chambers said.
While Chambers has only seen one of his pieces of writing produced, he has directed a number of full-length productions for the Salt Lake Acting Company, including "Curse of the Starving Class," "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and "Salmon Run."
"I feel very fortunate," he said. "It’s exciting. What’s great is I work with wonderful people, wonderful actors, directors and writers."
"I feel extremely fortunate to make a living in the theatre," he added.
He also said he was pleased to see the Salt Lake Acting Company, with its commitment to new works and community involvement, still in operation and succeeding artistically and financially after more than 30 years.
His only request? That people take the drive down Parley’s Canyon to catch "The Water Project."
"I hope people would give these shorter pieces a chance, because they’re fun to come see," he said.
Along the way, as well, one can learn something about water, and see the works of a Park City playwright on the stage in the Salt Lake Valley.
The Salt Lake Acting Company will present "The Water Project" through April 30, playing at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and at 2 and 7 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets range from $27.50 to $33.50 with discounts available for students and those under 30. For more information, visit http://www.saltlakeactingcompany.org. For tickets, call (801) 363-SLAC.
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