We all know the meme by now. Choose any six people at random, list their immediate and intermediate friends and acquaintances. Compare that list to that of another person selected at random. You will soon discover, according to the theory of Hungarian playwright and journalist Frigyes Karinthy, that six connections at most separate the two.
Playwright John Guare constructed his best-known work, the 1990 phenomenon "Six Degrees of Separation," on that very concept. And so the contagion spread, comforting everyone who heard it with the idea that we’re all more closely connected than previously thought.
Selecting six Utah actors — more or less at random but not blind to talent, either — we decided to see how the theory might play (pun intended) in relation to Utah’s collective theater stage. Rather than measure Karinthy’s theory by degrees removed, however, we decided to measure it by professional proximity across their careers and through the years.
The results, as you might have guessed, hinged greatly on how long each actor has graced various productions at Pioneer Theatre Company, Salt Lake Acting Company, Pygmalion Productions, Plan-B Theatre Company, Grand Theatre, People Productions and others.
Only Dee-Dee Darby Duffin, a relative newcomer to the stage, lacked four connections, even if she has acted with Anne Cullimore Decker for Pygmalion Productions’ 2011 staging of "Well," about a young woman’s struggle with her mother’s hypochondria. But Duffin will work alongside Teresa Sanderson this fall for another production under the same company. Utah’s theater world would rather expand, not contract.
Otherwise, every other actor was at most two connections short of a full five, demonstrating the depth to which Utah’s acting talent draws on the synergy, wisdom and experience of other actors in the field.
Anne Cullimore Decker, a veteran of the Utah stage who’s graced virtually every Utah theater company past and present, discovered that the only other actor she hasn’t shared a production with is Sanderson, the toast of Plan-B Theatre Company’s most recent production, "Eric(a)." And while she’s never shared a stage with Jay Perry, she taught Perry when he studied at the University of Utah’s Actor Training Program.
"I taught him everything he knows," Decker joked.
Cynthia Fleming, co-executive producer of Salt Lake Acting Company, said Utah’s acting company is a family in almost every sense.
"A growing family, at that," Fleming said. "It’s wonderful to see them scale an intimate stage like ours, then take on larger productions at other companies like Pioneer Theatre."
Duffin, Decker, Perry and Sanderson along with actors Colleen Baum and Justin Ivie all met up at SLAC to take six questions and ham it up for the camera.
What inspired you to start acting? » Carol Burnett. Hers was the only show I was allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch as a child. She made me laugh so hard that I knew I wanted to be like her.
First role? » I played a mom in a Christmas play my elementary school class wrote. … It was the first time I learned I was a character actress, because I didn’t get the lead.
How many Utah productions have you acted in? » I don’t count them all on my résumé, so I’d have to say between 50 and 60.
Favorite role or performance? » Hannah Pitt in "Angels in America." She was so well written. Just acting out that script was such a joy thanks to [playwright Tony] Kushner’s writing.
Role you’d most like to play but haven’t? » Martha in Edward Albee’s "Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" It’s a great, beefy role. She has so much spunk. I’d love to chew on that role, at least once in my life.
What does Utah theater need now more than ever? » More variety. Don’t get me wrong. Utah theater’s fantastic. All these young companies have done so well surviving through great contemporary theater. But we don’t seem to produce the classics such as Ibsen or Chekhov anymore, when those plays really deserve another look through different angles. Pioneer Theatre Company does that once in a while, but it would be nice to see more. More Shakespeare would be nice, too.
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