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‘The Persistent Guest’ is more than welcome for Boise Contemporary Theater’s silver anniversary

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Boise Contemporary Theater
Jodeen Revere is the star and Ben Burdick is the director of The Persistent Guest at BCT.

To kick off its 25th season, Bose Contemporary Theater will showcase a production that has been years in the making. It’s also quite personal.

“A big part of this story … It is very much a love letter to Boise and the people here in this town,” said Jodeen Revere, creator and star of The Persistent Guest. “I have been. The way that people came out of the woodwork and stepped in to feed me, take care of me, create, GoFundMe accounts, gift me massages, bring me food, take care of me, drive. I mean, it was that was so huge and that was really beautiful.”

Revere has indeed survived no less than three bouts of cancer. But don’t shackle her with the label of “survivor,” or any other label for that matter. In fact, that’s also very much a part of the story that she’ll begin sharing on October 12 on BCT’s stage with performances running Wednesdays through Saturdays through October 29.

Revere joined BCT producing artistic director Ben Burdick to visit with Morning Edition host George Prentice to talk about how audiences will be visiting with The Persistent Guest in the weeks ahead.

“I'm very excited to share it with people. I'm very proud of it. I am just so completely overwhelmed and blown away."

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: On a Monday. It's morning edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. Here are some headlines. The Taliban seizes in Afghan capital. The US economy is failing. The Yankees are the team to beat in the playoffs. Something called high def TV is all the rage. No, it's not. This year Headlines. It was 1996. Something else happened in 1996. Boise Contemporary Theater was formed and put on a production in the mode building in downtown Boise. Indeed, this is the 25th anniversary of BCT, and they begin the celebration of their silver anniversary with the world premiere of The Persistent Guest, created and performed by Jodeen Revere. And Ben Burdick is also here. He's the producing artistic director at BCT. And we're lucky that they can spend some time with us this morning. Good morning to you both.

JODEEN REVERE: Good morning.

BEN BURDICK: Good morning, George. What a pleasure to be on your, the voice of Boise's show. We're really excited and thank you for all your support of the arts across the board.

PRENTICE: Thanks so much. I appreciate it. I think the worst kept secret in town is how much of a fan I am. Jodeen, let me ask you first about the title of this piece. I'm always interested in words and in this case, the word persistent in the title of this piece, because that has all kinds of connotations. It could mean something as simple as ongoing. Persistent could mean steadfast. It could also mean annoying. Talk to me about the use of the word persistent.

REVERE: It is all of those things, George. The title of the show actually was prompted by a Rumi poem called The Guest House that talks about how being human is a guest house. Every day there is a new arrival. You need to invite them into your house, even if they trash everything and smash your furniture. There's something to be gotten from every element of what is presented in your life, and it's kind of up to you as to what you do with that. So that was where this came from. Since I have gone through this three times, so there is a persistent nature to the cancer guest that keeps showing up in my life. So.

PRENTICE: And there it is. Cancer.

REVERE: Yeah.

PRENTICE: Well, we want to drill into that for certain. But Ben Burdick, let me ask you, how did this come onto your radar and why did you choose to open this 25th season with The Persistent Guest?

BURDICK: Well, like many things, it came on to the radar three years ago, almost now. I went to as reading at the Ming, where Jodeen was reading an excerpt from her memoirs, which she was going to turn into a book chronicling her experiences with cancer. And we were watching it. And as she was reading from the book, I just kept thinking, This is a one woman show. And I approached Jodeen afterwards and I said, Jodeen, I think this is and as soon as I said one and she was like, it's a one woman show, right? And I was like, Yes. So we were on the same page. And that was back in November 2019. In January of 2020, we started actually trying to hone what is a what is essentially a diary… memoirs into something more actionable and and turn it into a theatrical piece. And we were going to do it as a reading that first year just to kind of workshop it and give it some time, give it enough breadth to to really be developed. And of course 2020 happened and then 2021 and over the course of that time we just continued to to work on it. Jodeen honed it down. I just started to get back into doing theater again this season, it being the 25th year and this being Boise contemporary theater, and we really take pride in the name and believe that this is Boise's theater. And what better way to to kick off this silver season than with a longtime resident and artist that's based here in Boise?

PRENTICE: Jodeen you play yourself, but you play other people in the community. Can I assume these are these are real people?.

REVERE: Yes, I mean, there's there are there are moments where there are very subtle sort of voice changes or perspective changes if people. But by and large, yeah, it's my story. It is true. All these people are real.

PRENTICE: Can you talk about the freedom or the extra responsibility? Of doing a one person show.

REVERE: Oh, my God. I've never done anything like this before. I've been an actor for many, many, many years. But I have never done a one person solo. 90 minutes without a net. No, it's fascinating. And because it's. It's me. It is my story. It is true. But it's also something that happened so long ago. It feels like something that a friend of mine told me about that happened 40 years ago. So there's that element. And then also being on stage, I'm kind of sort of playing a version of myself that sounds mildly schizophrenic, but it's it's unusual. Like there's it's very complicated. It's very complicated, actually, because I am indeed playing myself, telling a true story of something that actually happened to me. And then there is a performative nature and a slightly different character that comes out of that. So it's been a fascinating process, a very challenging process.

PRENTICE: Are you able to be critical of that other version of yourself?

REVERE: Oh, yeah.

PRENTICE: Talk to me about that, because it might be schizophrenic, but it requires a whole new level of insight.

REVERE: Yeah. And and part of this part of telling this story is super cathartic for me. I mean, when I originally wrote this, it was as I was going through this in real time, I was writing a blog, of course, and it was a way sort of for people to be able to know what was happening with me without me having to have a million conversations all of the time. And also just the catharsis of writing, which anyone will tell you in general is huge. And then especially when you're going through something super challenging and really frightening in that concept is also a very important thing through that process that's been very helpful to me. And then also it's been a long time and the lens of continuing to be able to look back and go, Wow, those were some really bad.choices that.you made. I am so glad that you are in a different place now and don't have those circumstances or those people in your life anymore and that you've made these changes and that you've moved forward in some sort of way. So wanting to be kind to myself too, I mean, hindsight is always a completely different situation for all of us when we look back and go, Oh my God, I can't believe that was the thing that happened. So to be able to see that and also to be able to say, you know, you made the best choices that you could make in that particular circumstance, and then you actually did garner information and grow and change things and changed your attitude about a lot of things and move forward.

PRENTICE: I want you both to weigh in on this. And Ben, I'm going to ask you first. More often than not. When we preview something, I ask, What should we know about the show before it opens?.

BURDICK: I think I would not want people to know how funny the show is and that it's told with such great humor. And obviously that's the way we're billing it. But I think it's I think it will be surprising and jarring to in a really good way to to be sitting there in the theater expecting a story about a three time survivor of cancer and sort of the the thoughts that just sort of automatically come with that. And then they're going to be incredibly surprised and I think pleasantly so at the amount of of humor and and honesty that that is in it.

REVERE: Well put, Ben. Just to not have any preconceived notions. At all about it. And like Ben said, I think there is a lot of surprise and a lot of it is not a sad bastard cancer show at all. And. Yeah for people to be that I think the end that what people will walk away with is that it's an extremely joyful story.

PRENTICE: Jodeen doing a goodness knows I'm certain that science and health care got you to where you are today. I'm curious about the intangibles. Is that what you left behind? I'm curious about the other things that got you through the Big “C.”

REVERE: A big part of this story. It is very much a love letter to Boise and the people here in this town. I have been. The way that people came out of the woodwork and stepped in to feed me, take care of me, create, go fund me accounts, gift me massages, bring me food, take care of me, drive. I mean, it was that was so huge and that was really beautiful. And I think that it, I don't know, sort of like circles into the Mister Rogers, you know look for the helpers thing that I think that is the one thing that whenever really awful things happen there are there's always like this incredible humanity that steps up to how can we help.

PRENTICE: So, Ben, what are your expectations in the fall of 2022? My sense is that audiences are anxious.

BURDICK: Yeah, just I mean, on the administrative side, you sort of I really do expect that we'll begin to see folks come back in greater numbers. When we opened last fall, we opened with a very small show, two person show that partially we did that because just trying to mitigate the risk of COVID and it was really hard to see the, you know, the theater, those beautiful red seats. 40% full or half full. And over the course of the season, it started to grow. And then, of course, we were supposed to do Jodeen’s show last January. It got postponed because of COVID. Sweat got postponed because of COVID. And then we were able to do the Show On the Roof to close it out. And and you could see the momentum of people coming back to the theater. And I'm just hoping that that continues this fall, that people are ready to to hear and see and experience the great. Great magic that is live theater. I mean, there's really nothing like it to to experience that simultaneously with 200 other people is something that is really remarkable. And and it's why we do it and it's why we love it. I'm just I hope that people remember are able to recall pre-pandemic those magical moments. And and I think they will. And I expect we get folks streaming through the door.

PRENTICE: Jodeen, what is it? Anxiety, anticipation, excitement?. Your days away.

REVERE: Very, very excited and very pleased. And it's a strange feeling of like I have been living, holding, waiting for three years to  do this. So I'm imagining there's going to be an unbelievable giant crash when this is all over. But I'm very excited to share it with people. I'm very proud of it. I am just so completely overwhelmed and blown away by Ben and his support and his constant diligence in shepherding this. And what a giant difficult beast of a show this is. I mean, he has said he's like, this is the hardest thing I have ever, ever directed. And he's a gem to work with. And he's funny and even and insightful. And it's just been such a joyous process to do this. And I'm so grateful it's changed my life that I get to do this. And I hope it has a life beyond but super excited that we get to share it in the hometown with all the people. And that feels really exciting.

PRENTICE: Ben, why is this the hardest thing you ever directed?

BURDICK: Oh, I think, you know, there's there's a few components to it. But first is that it began as a as a blog and and then memoir and then turned into a novel. And watching someone read their diary on stage is not particularly exciting. And so how do we make this into something that feels like a theatrical piece and is actionable and there's movement and there's and certainly the technical elements help. But, you know, Jodeen is just, you know, I think it's a mutual admiration society. But Jodeen has just done a remarkable job not being too precious about the words and understanding that this, this piece of writing that's really beautiful, that is a really beautiful piece of writing and Jodeen is a beautiful writer, is just not, it's not quite going to translate onto the stage and we're going to have to let that go. And, and it's really been, again, almost three years of that process. We have read through it. We have, I've read through it. I've heard Jodeen say it literally thousands of times at this point and. And still we can find there's still little things that something gets moved or a sentence gets cut or a sentence gets added. And, you know, that's it's been it's been a long journey of that. And then trying to put all those pieces together to make it look something like a play and less a reading of a memoir has just been a huge challenge.

PRENTICE: Jodeen, Is that a surrender of your life to a piece of art?

REVERE: I'm not quite sure what you mean by that.

PRENTICE: Well, to Ben's point, when you say, well, we can't read everything in your diary and this is your life. That's real. I mean, that is your life. But indeed, you're on a stage. You're on a stage and we are there with you in a theater, etc.. And all of a sudden your life is art. And that will, I'm going to assume, require edits and direction and esthetics.  Can you talk about that?

REVEREl: That's been something really beautiful. I mean, honestly, I think like, what an amazing gift to be able to like…curate your lfe. Which I kind of have sort of always approached the entire way I live my life like that. So, yeah, it's been very exciting to be able to have have that opportunity and yeah, and then to craft the story so that it makes I mean, it's all true, but I mean just so that there is a, a storytelling nature to it instead of just a relaying of a whole bunch of information. So that has been really beautiful to take the giant totality of a particular sort of circumstance and then hone it into crafted into a story that has an ebb and flow and all of the things. So it's been it's been lovely.

BURDICK: And if I could add to that, George, I think that one of the things that we were really conscious about the whole time is the integrity of the story. We were never going to touch that. So there's no there's nothing that's really that's been changed or co-opted to make it a better play. Everything. The integrity of the story is there 100%. And because of Jodeen's raw honesty and humor throughout it, it it just works as a play. Certainly pieces have been cut or added, but but the integrity of the story was is central to it. And we were very careful not to touch that.

PRENTICE: Jodeen I keep thinking of how we relate to this play, and more than a few of us certainly can relate to cancer. Do you ever get tired or did you ever get tired of being defined by that and people asking, How are you doing? How are you feeling? You know, oh, are you through this, etc.? And all of a sudden that's how they see you.

REVERE: Sure. Yes, absolutely. And I that was always a strange part. I don't relate to I mean, total respect for people that that supports them. But I just do not relate to the cancer culture, the the pink and the ribbons and the walk for the cure. And I don't like the language survivor and and fighter don't like that. I always sort of am nervous to, like, be around a bunch of people. Like, I'm afraid I'll catch something if I'm around too many of them. So that doesn't really that doesn't resonate with me at all. And I think that is really kind of the primary standout of this story is that, yeah, I went through this crazy thing a bunch of times and it certainly has helped. It has shifted the way in which I move forward with my life, but I don't feel like I identify. With that as being a cancer, whatever you want to call it, that does not feel pertinent to my to me or who I am. If that makes sense.

PRENTICE:  It does. Ben I'm going to assume that Kleenex is not sold at the concession bio. Okay. Okay. And I guess that's what I'm asking is I'm assuming there are happy tears because in joyful tears and you're telling us about some humor that would be unexpected. Should I bring a handkerchief? It sounds like I'm definitely going to pack one.

URDICK: Well, here's the thing. You know, I think people are at different levels. Bring bring a small mini pack of Kleenex, bring a handkerchief for some people. If you're like me, George, and everyone who knows me well knows that I have a tendency to to wear my emotions on my sleeve. I I'm bringing a towel and a wetsuit. So even though I've seen it thousands of times, yeah, there's still moments that just really are, again, like happy tears or that just resonate and touch, I think, touch people so deeply in this story. It's universal, unfortunately for a lot of people, cancer. But then I think the story itself is universal, that the needs of people and the humanity that's in it, I think that everyone will have something that they can relate to in the piece. And and as such, I think that that will require some Kleenex.

PRENTICE: The world premiere is this week. It runs through the 29th at Boise Contemporary Theater. Joe, congratulations. Thank you. And great good luck. And Ben, this sounds like a great way to kick off your silver anniversary.

BURDICK: Thank you, George. We really appreciate you.

REVERE: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you very much. Look forward to seeing you there.

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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