As the play Burn This ended in 2010, I remember sitting there, breath held in stunned silence. I vaguely recall clapping and afterwards thinking, “What just happened in there?” I’d heard rumblings about a production of Burn This by Lanford Wilson in a new Sugar House venue called SugarSpace. I’d never heard of the theater company (Utah Theater Artists) or the performance space but when a show starts to pop up in conversations, it usually means that it’s something special.
Directed by Lane Richins and staring Cassandra Stokes-Wylie, Jeremy W. Chase, William Richardson and Jesse Peery, Burn This became one of those pivotal shows in my theater going experience. At the time, I wrote on my blog:
“The theater is meant to be experienced - to be lived. It’s meant to be personal. If we simply wanted a story, we would pick up a red box. We want to be an intimate part of the experience, to feel it as if we are the characters. You can’t transport yourself into a TV very well but when you are a foot away from the stage and the actors, then you are living it, then it’s personal. Burn This was personal! A brilliant work that is difficult to put into words. I have rarely been privy to something so real and emotional that I had tears in my eyes from the sheer intensity of the performance.”
Nearly two years later, I still follow the work of those involved in this production, including Jesse Peery. Utah audiences may also recognize Jesse from his recent work in Salt Lake Acting Company’s (a man enters) or the staged reading of Terrence McNally’s Some Men with Pygmalion Productions which also featured John Glover, John Benjamn Hicky, Justin Kirk, Fred Weller, Don Amendolia and Matt Gould.
When I had the opportunity to talk with Jesse, I learned that he grew up in the Salt Lake area and learned that his desire to act was pretty much “present at birth.” His mom began enrolling him in summer theater camps at the age of 6. Although, by the time he was a senior in high school, he had decided not to pursue a career in acting. However, as our luck would have it, he drove a friend to her audition for the University of Utah theater department and decided to improv a monologue and audition while he was there. It goes without saying, he was accepted and history was made.
After spending several years acting in Chicago, he strayed from the theater scene for a while and began working 70-80 hours a week in chronic pain management. His work and study in the area of the muscular skeletal system has proven to be a great addition to his technique as a physical actor. Since returning to SL, he has found a home in sports medicine and has enjoyed getting back into the local theater community.
When asked to describe his work in the theater in once sentence he replied “I want moments – not lines.” He went on to explain that he feels people can really tell the difference from when someone is rattling off lines and when someone is in the moment. It's important to have “passion and compassion.” Theater is healing when you give “blood, sweat and tears to find the gem or seed. It is compassion. It’s proactive.” As for his plans in the future, you will likely find him beginning his own theater company that has a focus on contemporary classics. For his inaugural production, we would have the privilege of seeing A Streetcar Named Desire because – as he puts it - he appreciates the “visceral, physical characters.”
However, in slight contradiction, when asked about his professions greatest challenges, he commented that the lack of new work seems hard to come by. He feels that there is not enough training for writers and actors and that you have to filter through a lot of mediocre work to find the true gems. “I feel like I need to find a place to continue to train and sharpen my skills.” I sense that his theater company would have a focus on training and education. His advice is to “Read all the technique books you can. Get your vocal training and use it. Don’t just go for the surface. Make it real! Become prisms and focus the text.”