say your piece
ISSUE NO.154 23 OCT. 2003
By Hayley Heaton
"CRAVE" is the Tooth & Nail Theatre Company's latest effort to bring unique, uncommon drama to Salt Lake City, the theater capital of Utah.
The RED Interview

Roger Bennington, co-founder of Salt Lake City’s new Tooth & Nail Theatre Company, is a kamikaze theater director. He says, "You know, as I look around at people my own age and a bit younger, I see people who are savvy, and yet they're not going to the theater because theater is boring. I hate theater. That's my motto.”

Bennington's theater is the antithesis of boring. It isn't the puffed-up, stodgy, cultural field trip that was forced on you in seventh grade.

“I work to make it an art form that goes beyond putting on a play. One of the great lessons that I've learned is that every play should be entertaining on some level, but it doesn't have to be the driving force behind every play. I'm much more interested in making theater that is not telling the audience exactly what to feel. I'm rather inviting them into the experience to be creative, to be a participant in the creative process. Most theater that people are familiar with is dead.”

Tooth & Nail’s upcoming production of “CRAVE,” a play by Sarah Kane, looks to be an interesting event. The late, provocative playwright Kane began her career at the age of 23. Kane’s work has a very real sense of beauty that comes from the realness of both sadness and violence. Bennington says, “Although there is a tangible sadness that is present in her work, Sarah Kane is one who laughed. She felt joy. I have an immense respect for her work and I’ve grappled with how to present it. The movement of the piece is in the language, so rather than doing a movement piece I tended to the music of it. I began to see the actors as instruments playing a fugue. It’s like a chamber piece with four voices coming in and out to form a whole. CRAVE works both as an instillation and as a piece of music.”

Bennington was trained as an actor, but always wanted to be a director. He began his graduate work at the U, but delayed it after receiving a prestigious invite to study directing at the famed Julliard School to study under three of the America’s top directors. While in a New York bar, he made the acquaintance of Rodney Cuellar. Bars are always good places to pick up brilliant set designers and co-artistic directors. Later, Bennington returned to Utah to finish his master’s degree and convinced Cuellar to join him. Together they formed Tooth & Nail Theatre in Salt Lake City.

“Tooth & Nail Theatre was a sort of slow progression of ideas and of commitments. When we first started producing work in Salt Lake City, Rodney and I just rented a theatre and put on a play. After the third year of producing plays, we began to think that we can put together a company here.”

While Salt Lake City might sometimes seem devoid of culture, Bennington enjoys putting on theater in the environment. “I love that when we do theater in Salt Lake City, the sassy, savvy, intelligent people come. We’re after bright people. On a daily basis, I meet people in Salt Lake City who travel to other cities for artistic experiences and who profess their desire to have those experiences here. Our upcoming production of ‘CRAVE’ by Sarah Kane is a bit like throwing down the gauntlet and saying ‘Come on, step up to the challenge!’ You can no longer say that Salt Lake City isn’t offering you these types of things, because there are young theater companies here with a passion to present the beginning of a very vibrant, artistic cultural life. That’s happening—it’s on its way.”

Both Bennington and Cuellar have an artistic vision beyond a bland night at the theater. “I want to invite people to forget their assumptions of what theater is supposed to be,” says Bennington. “When the audience walks into our theater, they're walking into an installation. That's how both Rodney and I see our work on ‘CRAVE.’ And then a performance begins.”

Of “CRAVE,” Kane has said, “I think of it more as text for performance than as a play,” and “I wanted to find out how good a poet I could be while still writing something dramatic.”

The upcoming performances of “CRAVE” should be penetrating and beautiful.

Performances of “CRAVE” will take place at 8 p.m. in the Rose Wagner Studio Theatre Oct. 23 to 25 and Oct. 29 to Nov. 1. Matinees at 3 p.m. will take place on Oct. 26 and Nov. 2. Call ArtTix at 355-ARTS or visit for additional information.

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