This week the Michigan State University Department of Theatre debuted the play U.P. We might not be great at reviewing plays but we love talking about the Upper Peninsula, so we had to be there.
U.P. tells the story of a man disillusioned by his life in Los Angeles. He sets out on a road trip searching for answers and ultimately finds himself in one of America’s only remaining “Outbacks,” the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. This production will be a multi-media production blending theatre and film.
We had a chance to sit down with director Mark Colson, and actors Adam Sutherland (who plays the lead role of John Garden) and Michelle Serje (who plays Rita, John Garden’s wife). Here are some highlights from our interview.
YS: Mark, what’s the inspiration behind the film?
Mark: I wrote the screenplay 10 years ago and started turning it into a play before getting to Michigan State. I wanted to try and give the project some legs. It’s about a guy named John Garden who is sort of disinfranchised with his life in Los Angeles. He’s becoming a person he never thought that he’d become, as far as the corporate ladder is concerned and the relationship that he is in. He feels his life is out of control. And he basically drives away from his life, meeting an assortment of characters along the way and through a series of events he ends up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, along the shores of Lake Superior where he finds himself.
YS: And you spent time in the Upper Peninsula as a kid?
Mark: I grew up in Charlotte. My writing partner and I were always going up north. A good friend of mine who was in attendance tonight really turned me on to Blaney Park.
YS: Adam and Michelle, how much time have you spent in the Upper Peninsula?
Michelle: I have never been to the U.P. I came to Michigan for my first time my freshman year for school. I’m from New York. I really learned so much about it through this story, especially through how passionate Mark was about telling it. He wanted everyone to live in it and really illustrated how he wanted the audience to feel. Granted my character does not have an involvement in the U.P. … He got everyone in the same mindframe about the feeling of the U.P. and what it brings to someone.
YS: We can let it slide that you haven’t been to the U.P. since your character doesn’t go to the U.P. in the script and that you’re from New York, but please, come visit soon!
Adam: I grew up in Michigan but have only been to the Upper Peninsula one time, I’ve been to Mackiac [Island] three times. The one time we went to the U.P. my family and I went to Whitefish Point where I swam in Lake Superior, we went on the glass-bottom boat tour to see the sunken ships.
YS: How would you summarize what it is to be a Yooper?
Mark: The thing that has always impressed me about people from the U.P. is that there is a real solid indepdenent spirit which comes along with sort of a survialist spirit. … The first time I went to the U.P. I got the sense that everybody had a sauna, everbody! To me it seemed like a luxury, it was fantastic, I thought I have got to come back.
YS: Well, I had a sauna in my childhood home! We have to stay warm somehow. While we’re on U.P. traditions, which of you have had a pasty before?
Adam: We all had one last week.
Michelle: One cast member is eating it with a fork and our costume designer says, “That is not how you eat a pasty!”
Mark: It’s funny, becuase you really do get different schools of thought as far as pasties are concerned. You get things like chicken BBQ pasties and that kind of thing. It was right over the bridge in St. Ignace and I went in and asked “What kind do you have?” They were almost offended by it, they only had the one kind of course, meet and vegetables! I think I actually ordered two, just like John in the scene.
YS: Why start the play in Los Angeles?
Mark: I was in L.A. for 20 years. At the point of writing it I had been there for 10 years, and you do get a little disassociated with yourself and where you believe you’re going. You do a lot of spinning your wheels, there’s a lot of falseness in L.A. so then we were looking at a place where we were going to leave all that sort of fascade behind. We grew up here in Michigan and gravated toward the Upper Peninsula as the place that was diametrically opposed to L.A.
YS: Who would last longer, an Angeleno in the Upper Peninsula or a Yooper in Los Angeles?
Michelle: I think someone going from L.A. to the U.P. would be thrown back, they’d get kicked out.
Adam: I think the transition would easily have to be from U.P. to L.A. It would be surivavl of the fittest.
YS: So Yoopers are the fittest? Thanks! Much of the story is told through short video clips from Los Angeles to the Upper Peninsula. What made you decide on using the video footage to tell parts of the story?
Mark: The way to tell the story is through pictures and we wrote it as a film, for me to disattach myelf from those images and cinema was going to be difficult. We tried to do it at one point but it really wasn’t working. In order to tell this story you need the visual element, you need to be in those place such as Great Sand Dunes National Park. To try and recreate that in people’s imagiations wouldn’t have told the same story.
YS: Lastly, when will you be visiting the U.P. again?
Michelle: I would love to go! Honestly, we were talking we would want to go as a cast. But, I really need to somehow blend in and know what to say.
Mark: My wife’s family has property in northern Wisconsin and we always head through the U.P. to get there spending a lot of time there when we can.
Adam: I don’t have any plans to go up there, but like I said thet one time I did it was a cool experience, so I’d definitely like to go back sometime soon.
Mark grew up in Michigan and spent the last 20 years in Los Angeles where he had parts in notable TV shows such as Bones, Parks and Recreation and several others. He is currently Assistant Professor of Media Acting at MSU. Both Adam and Michelle are seniors at MSU studying a BFA in acting. They both intend to move to L.A. after graduation. The crew and cast has been working hard on the production since October.
If you’e in the East Lansing area, be sure to check it out. U.P. runs through Sunday, February 10th at RCAH auditorium on MSU’s campus. Tickets are $15 a piece.
Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 7:30pm
Wednesday, February 6, 2013 at 7:30pm
Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 7:30pm
Friday, February 8, 2013 at 8:00pm
Friday, February 8, 2013 at 11:59pm (Midnight Showing)
Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 2:00pm
Saturday, February 9, 2013 at 8:00pm
Sunday, February 10, 2013 at 2:00pm