The lights were dim, music was playing and brothers Ken and Dennis Agle — co-founders and co-producers of The Hive Collaborative — personally greeted each guest arriving to watch the performance of “The Bookbinder’s Tale” at the new Provo theater: The Hive.
The theater, located near the Provo frontrunner station, is decorated with exterior lights leading to the entrance. Upon entering, guests can view artwork lining the halls — some pertaining to the evening’s play — and can purchase local treats to enjoy during the play.
The Hive’s theater seats sit close to the stage, creating an intimate and personal connection between the actors and the audience members.
The Hive is a local theater in Provo established to create “a cozy, nurturing stage where new works can be developed to find a supportive and appreciative audience,” according to the Hive Collaborative website.
“We were naturally concerned with our first play that the combination of new theater and new play might make finding an audience difficult, but by the end of the four-week run, we were playing to full houses,” said Dennis Agle, in a press release. “Now, we’re starting over again, but we were encouraged by the local community’s support of our first play, and we hope they will find that we have yet another gem in ‘The Bookbinder’s Tale.'”
The “Bookbinder’s Tale” was written by Bo Wilson, an award-winning playwright from Virginia. Wilson is a graduate from Virginia Tech and the National Theater Institute. The Hive is hosting the first stage production of the play. It is showing Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. from Sept. 28 until Oct. 27.
Diedra Celeste Miranda, who is an award-winning director with 30 years of experience in film, theater and TV and the director for “The Bookbinder’s Tale,” said The Hive’s mission is to provide original works for the public that offer important messages — messages that speak “to the heart and to the soul of its patrons.”
“One of the core concepts that drove us to found The Hive was the hope that there were plays ‘out there’ being written that were new and exciting as well as filled with optimism and hope — stories that bring us together and help us remember what we have in common,” Dennis Agle said.
Wilson’s “The Bookbinder’s Tale” was one of almost 300 submissions The Hive received earlier this year. Dennis and Ken Agle narrowed the group of submissions down to the top six plays and did group readings for them. Their top two plays selected were “The Actors” — The Hive’s inaugural play — and “The Bookbinder’s Tale.”
“‘The Bookbinder’s Tale’ is a love triangle that travels in and out of its three characters’ fables, seen through one another’s eyes. Circumstances that seemed set become fluid, and futures shift with startling speed,” according to the Hive Collaborative website.
BYU acting alumna Mariah Bowles plays Mina in “The Bookbinder’s Tale.”
“‘The Bookbinder’s Tale’ is a show about finding your own voice and finding your own story and having confidence in sharing who you are and in making decisions,” Bowles said.
Bowles was connected with The Hive when Dennis Agle reached out to her at a reading for the Utah New Works Theater Project — an organization that promotes new works in Utah, according to Bowles.
Bowles said The Hive is a “powerful way” for the community to see new theater, a reason Dennis Agle said that inspired him and his brother to create The Hive.
“We love the standard plays and musicals as much as the next fellow, but sometimes we have a hankering to see something new,” Dennis Agle said. “We’re hopeful that The Hive can be an incubator for such delightful works as this.”
Bringing in a new theater with new productions no one has ever heard of, Dennis Agle said he and his brother knew it might not be easy. However, he said they are hopeful that after one performance, the community will “come to trust The Hive as a place that will entertain, enlighten and inspire them even.”
Dennis Agle said their first show — “The Actors” — started out with small audiences; however, by the end of the show’s run, The Hive was hosting full houses. He said they have similar hopes with “The Bookbinder’s Tale.”
Catering to the local, student community, Dennis Agle said The Hive offers unsold tickets for $5 to students with a valid student ID that can be purchased 15 minutes before the show time. Dennis Agle said this will offer a new option for students looking for weekend activities.
Wilson, the playwright, said The Hive will provide a different experience for its audience.
Wilson said he has been writing since he was 6 years old, but his first real attempt at playwriting was at the National Theater Institute in 1985. He said that first attempt “wasn’t so very good,” but that he wrote another one which received state arts awards.
If counting plays written for children’s theaters, Wilson said he has written close to 60 plays, with about 35 of them being specifically for adult audiences. Wilson said he also writes scripts and training films for the Department of Veterans Affairs and the FBI, among others.
The Internet has reshaped the way artists work, according to Wilson.
“Because of the omnipresence of email and similar conveyances, I’ve been able to work many, many times for clients I’ve never even met,” he said.
After writing “The Bookbinder’s Tale,” Wilson said there was a theater group in Virginia that did a reading of the play, and even though the directors liked the play, they already had their season lined up for the next year. He then submitted the play to the O’Neill Theater Center in Connecticut for the National Playwright’s Conference — what Wilson called the “holy grail of playwrights.” The “Bookbinder’s Tale” was a finalist, one of 20, for that competition.
“It’s not much like most contemporary plays,” Wilson said, explaining how the play can’t be summed up in one sentence. “It’s this weird kind of redheaded stepchild in the middle of my repertoire, so to speak. And it’s a tricky play to place.”
Wilson said he was connected with The Hive through the New Play Exchange.
Wilson was introduced to the New Play Exchange about two years ago by a playwright friend of his. Wilson said it is a resource where playwrights can list their plays, and based on algorithms — determined by details playwrights provide on the plays — connects the play with theaters or contests also signed up for the exchange service.
“(It) plays matchmaker with any of the theaters or contests who have also signed up with the service,” Wilson said.
After reading what types of plays The Hive was looking for, and in the connection the New Play Exchange made with the two, Wilson said he felt “The Bookbinder’s Tale” might be the right thing for The Hive.
Wilson said The Hive reached out to him saying it was interested in his play and requested the first 35 pages of the script. Eventually, the theater asked him for the entire script.
“(The Hive) seemed like it was a viable spot for this particular play — small theater, intimate space, interested in non traditional kinds of pieces,” Wilson said.
Part of life as a playwright has taught Wilson to “forget” ever submitting something “or else it’s like waiting for the phone to ring on prom night.”
However, Wilson said he eventually received an email from Dennis Agle telling him The Hive would like to do his play.
“It all happened because of this relatively new Internet matchmaking tool, and I’ve been kind of tickled by that,” Wilson said.
Wilson listened in on the first table read of the play and made a few changes to the script from that setting before stage blocking and rehearsals commenced.
“Normally, when a play gets a world premiere, you’re in the room every day, you’re watching the actors wrestle with it, you’re making revisions,” Wilson said. “We’ve been able to do a couple virtual versions of that.”
On Sept. 24, Wilson said Dennis Agle set up a Skype session with him to watch and listen to the technical run for the play. However, due to logistics, Wilson and his wife won’t be able to attend the showing of “The Bookbinder’s Tale” in Provo.
Wilson said he and Miranda, the play’s director, talked on the phone about 20 times — every day for a couple of weeks — to remain in contact about things regarding the play.
When asked about The Hive and its addition to the community, Wilson said it will create a different experience for playgoers.
“There’s a world in which going to the theater means either you go to some dinner theater, and you eat some terrible chicken and you see a production of Agatha Christie’s ‘Ten Little Indians,’ or you go down to the local roadhouse and you see ‘Annie,'” Wilson said. “It’s kind of vanilla ice cream. It’s safe, and it’s not exactly exciting. But on the other hand, it’s familiar and comforting.”
Wilson said he has “nothing against comfort food,” but that there is “no thrill that matches going to something that has never been seen before.”
Miranda echoed Wilson’s food analogy by calling the intimate, theater experience “food for the soul.” She said the setting allows the audience to experience a different style of acting — one that is up close, creating a sense of immersion in the “world of the play.”
Wilson compared the audience to a midwife, explaining that they will witness “a brand new play coming into the world.”
“Of any organization that pledges itself to the creation of new work or to the furthering of new work, I can say that (The Hive) is a tremendous boon to its community,” Wilson said. “When your mission is new work, then you are furthering the entire art form. And when a community has an organization that is making a contribution not only to the community, but to the entire art form, then I call that a very lucky community.”