A Love Letter to Utah in ‘Singing to the Brine Shrimp’


Latoya Cameron as Allison in “Singing to the Brine Shrimp” (Courtesy of Jerry Rapier)

By Oakley Burt, Arts Editor


Inhabiting the extremely salty waters of Great Salt Lake are vast numbers of brine shrimp. Measuring about a half-inch long, these tiny crustaceans play an important role in their ecosystem — feeding on green algae in the Great Salt Lake and providing a food source for birds. Brine shrimp may go unnoticed in the everyday lives of most Utahns, but in the new play “Singing to the Brine Shrimp,” these creatures serve an important — bordering on absurd — role in a woman’s journey through the highly competitive world of theatre.

“Singing to the Brine Shrimp” is a comedy written by local playwright and Weber State University theatre professor Jenny Kokai and is produced by Plan-B Theatre Company. The play is also directed by Jason Bowcutt and stars Latoya Cameron, Lily Hye Soo Dixon, Jay Perry and Emilie Starr. Born out of a real-life event that left Kokai feeling unsure about her future as a playwright, “Singing to the Brine Shrimp” creates a dramatized version of events featuring four musical numbers and hilarious puppetry.

Enter Allison (Cameron), a playwright who recently moved to Utah and may have just received her big break. After submitting her play to be produced in New York, she receives a once-in-a-lifetime invitation to a weeklong playwriting lab in the city. Excitement quickly turns to anxiety as Allison finds herself all out of sorts — she misses her wife and son and she struggles to fit in the New York theatre scene. “I’m already the playwright from Utah. The old playwright from Utah,” Allison said. “I don’t want to be the old mom playwright from Utah.”

To make matters worse, the director hasn’t read the play, the actors aren’t focused — they just argue about who’s appeared on “Law & Order” most — and Allison is becoming increasingly insecure with her writing abilities. Luckily, the brine shrimp are there to help Allison find her way in the Big Apple. 

The choice to incorporate singing brine shrimp into a play about discovering yourself may seem odd to non-residents, but the shrimp are integral in representing Utah culture — a culture the New Yorkers that Allison encounters struggle to grasp. The brine shrimp are good-natured and wildly funny, but they never fail to be straightforward with Allison. The lake may smell like something died, and there may be no coffee or wine, but as the brine shrimp sing, “Be inspired by us lake shrimp that thrive / the future is open and deep as the sea.”

Kokai’s madcap script is exceptional at highlighting and slightly poking fun at a few typical stereotypes outsiders have about Utah. But it’s more than that. “Singing to the Brine Shrimp” is a story of love, finding self-confidence and learning where one’s values truly lie — celebrating art, creative expression and the courage to explore beyond one’s comfort zone.

“Singing to the Brine Shrimp” premiered in the Studio Theatre at the Rose Wagner performing arts building on Feb. 13. The play will run until Feb. 23. Additional information, showtimes and ticket prices can be found here.


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