So, I’d really, REALLY like to tell you what the play “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit” is about.
But I can’t.
I can tell you certain things about it, though. Like how it’s part of the Utah Presents series of performances. And how it’s scheduled to run at Kingsbury Hall on selected dates from Nov. 4 through Dec. 2.
I can also tell you it was written by the playwright Nassim Soleimanpour while he was being held in his native Iran. And how it’s since been described as a “global sensation.”
What else am I allowed to mention? That it’s a 75-minute, one-person show performed on a minimally set stage? And that no two performances are the same because a different actor is invited each night to perform? And that said actor isn’t allowed to see the script until shortly before the curtain goes up?
Yes. I have permission to mention those things.
Speaking of actors, I can mention a few who have performed in “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit” nationwide: Nathan Lane, Mo Rocca, Stana Katic, Tony Danza, Whoopi Goldberg, Kyra Sedgwick, David Hyde Pierce, Cynthia Nixon.
I can also tell you who is slated to perform here in Salt Lake City: people like radio personality Bill Allred, City Councilman Derek Kitchen and University of Utah professor Theresa Martinez.
Speaking of which, the actors aren’t the only ones who don’t know what’s going to happen on a given night. Neither does the audience, which creates an interesting, even mildly uncomfortable tension right from the start. This, I’m told, is part of the play’s point.
I wish I could tell you more. But I can’t. Why? Because former participants (like Rocca and Danza) have all taken a sacred vow of secrecy. So if you want to know what “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit” is about, you’ll have to go for yourself.
Brooke Horejsi, the executive director of Utah Presents, says this about the play: “I like to think of it as a combination of theater and social experiment all in one. We’re asking the audience and the performer to jump into this without doing research, without knowing what it’s about. In other words, we are asking people to take a risk.” She continues, with a laugh: “At the same time in the grand scheme of life risks, participating in this play is certainly not as risky as skydiving.”
“White Rabbit, Red Rabbit” is precisely the kind of production Utah Presents looks for — experimental, willing to push traditional theatrical boundaries. Because of its nonprofit status, Utah Presents doesn’t have to rely on ticket sales alone to survive, which liberates the organization to sponsor something as quirky and singular as this play. “It’s like finding your own local boutique shop and knowing that it doesn’t exist anywhere else,” Horejsi observes.
Because theater is an inherently communal experience, Utah Presents reached out to the community with invitations to perform. Participants (including two students) accepted for a variety of reasons.
Sylvia Torti, a novelist and dean of the U. of U. Honors College, noted that her interest to perform in the show was piqued when she learned that “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit” provokes thought about current social issues. “I’m drawn to work that opens conversations,” she says.
Jorge Rojas, an artist and director of education and engagement at Utah Museum of Fine Art, said he loves performance art because it’s “usually unscripted and unrehearsed and demands that ideas are explored in real time in front of an audience. This requires the performer to embrace a certain level of vulnerability and openness to failure.” Will he be required to wear a rabbit costume? he wonders. “Part of me hopes so,” he jokes, “so I at least have something to hide behind.”
Deena Marie Manzanares, an actor who has taken a hiatus from the stage since giving birth to a son, leaped at the chance to be in the show. “I think it’s funny how quickly we jump at opportunities as actors,” she says. “Read a script you know nothing about in front of a live audience? Sounds great! Sign me up!”
Being a mother who will embrace the unknown is something Manzanares wants her young son to see as he grows up. “I want my boy to see me taking risks and being brave. I hope that inspires him.” She’s also intrigued by the performance’s setup. “One shot, one night, something that can never be re-created again.” Performer and audience, she says, are “all in this together.”
Torti admits she is nervous. “Will I read well? Will I mess up? Is the stress that I know I’ll feel prior worth it? Will I be exhausted afterwards? Happy? Disappointed with myself? These are all the questions I carry with me into any new endeavor, whether in my personal or professional life, but the good news is that, with age, I’ve come to understand that one must embrace uncertainty and discomfort in order to develop the tools and experiences with which to craft an exhilarating and rewarding life.”
Which, after all, is the best reason of all to try something new.
Meanwhile, take Horejsi’s advice and absolutely DO NOT GOOGLE “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit.” You’ve been warned. …
‘White Rabbit Red Rabbit’
Eight local readers will perform Nasim Soleimanpour’s “White Rabbit Red Rabbit,” described as “theater entertainment meets social experiment.”
When • Nov. 4-Dec. 2, 7:30 p.m. (See dates and performers below.)
Where • Kingsbury Hall, 1395 Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $20, $5 for U. students and a $10 for all other students; utahpresents.org or 801-581-7100
Performers and performance dates
Nov. 4 • Bill Allred from X96 Radio From Hell
Nov. 9 • Mckayli Abbe, a U. of U. psychology major
Nov. 10 • Sylvia Torti, novelist and dean of the U. Honors College
Nov. 11 • Jorge Rojas, artist, director of education & engagement at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts
Nov. 16 • Mark Macey, U. theater studies major
Nov. 17 • Deena Marie Manzanares, actor
Dec. 1 • Theresa Martinez, associate professor of sociology at the U.
Dec. 2 • Derek Kitchen, Salt Lake City Council member