Wednesday , February 04, 2015 - 11:20 AM
When Carleton Bluford wrote “Mama,” he wasn’t trying to win a play competition and get his first original play produced.
Bluford, 30 and a North Ogden native, fully intended to accomplish those grander goals with a play he planned to write as soon as he could get “Mama” out of his head.
“I wanted to write something big and important for the David Ross Fetzer Foundation for Emerging Artists,” Bluford recalled.
“I had known for a long time I wanted to write something for my mom, to show her what I was doing and why I was always so busy. I’m one of those sons where I don’t keep in touch very well with my mother.”
But the foundation play had a submission deadline.
“My mom just kept coming back into my head, so I decided to write something for her quick, so I could get it out of my system and focus on the big play I was going to write. So I kept writing, ‘Mama,’ and I kept investing.”
It turned out “Mama” was the big thing, with a theme people could appreciate.
“Mama” went on to win the inaugural play competition for the David Ross Fetzer Foundation for Emerging Artists. Plan-B Theatre’s production of “Mama” opens Feb. 12.
Mama, for the playwright, is Dawn Bluford, of North Ogden.
“She always supports me very much,” Carleton Bluford said. “She hasn’t read the play yet. I think she wanted to wait for the show, and I think she’s in for a pleasant surprise.”
Bluford’s dozen or so screen acting credits include “Benji: Off the Leash,” “High School Musical” and “American Pastime.” He acted in many plays at Weber State University, where he studied, and around Utah. Bluford was trying his luck in New York City when he saw the Utah call for play submissions.
“Some of the scenes are fictional and some come from different situations in my life and in my friends’ lives,” he said, of the play. “It follows other mothers besides mine. There are four or five different mothers in there.”
Bluford asked his Facebook friends for their “mama” stories, and many volunteered to share their touching, comical, sweet or sad memories, which breathed life into the script. One friend wrote of her mother’s brave battle with cancer. Another talked about a mother whose life was out of control, and the older sister who stepped in as surrogate mom to save her younger siblings.
The play’s modern moms share the story with one historical mother who supported her daughter, who was committed to dangerous acts of rebellion.
“I have the best actors money can buy,” Bluford said. “It’s only a four-person cast, and the four people are amazing.”
The actors are Latoya Rhodes, who grew up in Davis County, and Salt Lake residents Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin, William Cooper Howell and Elizabeth Summerhays. Plan-B’s Jerry Rapier directs.
The David Ross Fetzer Foundation for Emerging Artists was created to honor a Utah actor who died in 2012, three days after his 30th birthday. Fetzer died of an overdose of a prescription pain medication he was using for back pain. Bluford had acted with Fetzer in a Plan-B Theatre production.
“Mama” includes a song by Fetzer.
“It’s really kismet, how that happened,” Bluford said. “David had missed his mom’s birthday, and decided to write a song for her from his hotel room. It was called ‘Mama,’ and it’s really cool. It’s so weird how that happened.”
Fetzer’s family thought of the recording after hearing the title of Bluford’s play.
Having a first play professionally produced is a career milestone for an aspiring playwright.
“I had a reading of another play, and I’m continually writing,” Bluford said. “But this is putting it to the fire, to test the work. This is a terrifying new things. Some people know my work as an actor, but this is the first thing I’ve done as a writer, and the two don’t go hand in hand. We will see how people react.”
Bluford is back in Utah, hoping to build his career here before his next shot at the New York theater scene.
“New York is expensive,” he said. “If I were 24 and out there it would be great, but it would have taken me five years there to get where I am now in Salt Lake, and ramen and crackers for five years is not appealing to me at age 30. I hope one day to go back.”
For now, he’s focused on “Mama.”
“When people ask me what it’s about, I say it’s an homage to motherhood,” Bluford said. “I hope people who see the show will get that. And if they are mothers, I hope they will feel thanked. We recognize they are awesome, and they make a huge impact on us.”
Contact Nancy Van Valkenburg at 801-625-4275 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @SE_NancyVanV; on Facebook at facebook.com/SE_NancyVanV.
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