When Ben and Barbara moved into our ward last year as newlyweds, I knew I wanted to interview them even though they are still at the beginning of their careers and less established than other artists I’ve interviewed forÂ Couple-Creators. I thought a) it would be nice to get a sense of how my questions get answered at the beginning of a marriage rather than a decade (or decades) in and b) it would be nice just to get to know them better.
Th: Let’s start though with Your Story. Because your existence as Mormon Couple-Creators is not only newly coupled, but, in Barbara’s case, newly Mormoned as well. So tell us how Ben & Barbara came to be.
Babs: It’s kind of a long, complicated story that involves my conversion, so ready yourself! Â We met during a costume fitting forÂ White Christmas. We were both working at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts (PCPA Theaterfest). Â I was a Costume Design Intern, and Ben was a student in the acting conservatory. Â It was my first show at PCPA, so I was taking full advantage of the fittings to scope out what the male actors were like. Â When Ben came in I immediately noticed his height (I promise I’m not shallow, I’m just tall and notice a good tall guy…). Â He seemed great: friendly, funny, intelligent, and he lived in Argentina for two years! Â Cultured to boot! Â Oh… he was on hisÂ mission … he’s Mormon… bummer. Â Nevertheless, he left a strong impression on me. Â We got to know one another more duringÂ A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He played Lysander and I designed makeup for the show — well, mostly, I designed makeup for the fairies because they were colored from head-to-toe like Hindu gods. Â Ben’s makeup was standard highlights and shadows, but he needed a lot of help.
Ben: I would just like to say that you would need a lot of help with your makeup too if the help was so lovely. Â Did I just call you “the help?” Â You know what I mean.
Babs: Immediately afterÂ Midsummer we worked onÂ Les Miserables —– I was the Design Assistant and Ben in the ensemble. Â I asked him out to “coffee” right before dress rehearsals started. Â We dated through the summer – foolishly falling hard for one another yet recognizing the entire time that it could never go anywhere. Â Ben wasn’t going to compromise getting married in the temple, and I sure as heck wasn’t going to become Mormon! Â So we broke up when Ben left for Berkeley. Â At my request we didn’t talk for a while. Â When we were dating,Â Ben never really talked about the church unless I brought it up, but it had piqued my interest and I asked for a Book of Mormon, but Ben forgot to give it to me.
Ben: I have nothing to say in my defense. Â I’d say I’m just a terrible member missionary except that the results speak for themselves. No but really, we did actually talk about the church quite a bit, I was just trying to make sure you were the one bringing it up and asking questions, and when you did I jumped on it.
Babs: Exactly. Â I don’t think I would have responded well to anything too intense. Â I needed it to be my decision, separateÂ from Ben’s influence. Â But, I really respected Ben and his family and I admired the strength of their faith, so ultimately, I decided to look into Mormonism a little bit. Â At first I was like, “man, this is crazy! Â I’m so glad it didn’t work out!”
Ben: You never told me that was your first reaction!
Babs: It wasn’t my FIRST reaction, it just sort of confirmed the things people say about Mormons. Â But then… I don’t know, I kept praying about it and coming back to wanting to learn more. Â I checked out a Book of Mormon from the library and went to church with an LDS friend. Â This entire time I didn’t tell Ben about it because neither of us wanted him to influence my decision (though he did finally send me that Book of Mormon) Â I started meeting with the missionaries, and during our fifth lesson I made a commitment to get baptized… TWO WEEKS LATER! Â It was nuts… but it was so right. Â And here’s something pretty cool — a Tender Mercy, if you will — when the elders proposed the baptism date it was the exact weekend Ben was coming to visit. Â It was like God was saying “look, this guy is an important part of your life and we both know it.” Â That was February 20th and we were engaged in April and married June 4th.
Ben: I would just add that once you meet Barbara, you understand why, after she joined the church, we got engaged relatively quickly.Â I had to lock that down.
Th: Theater is one of the more collaborative artforms and so I wonder how you’re looking forward — how do you hope your careers to track together? How do you intend to get this to work for both of you?
Ben: Well, it’s weird. Â Even though we both work in Theatre, we both definitely work in our own spheres. Â Especially since we’re both young and new, and just trying to get work from other people at this point. Â Even when we’ve worked for the same company we haven’t really worked together. Â So at this phase our goal is basically to get work in the same area at the same time. When one of us has a great opportunity, the other follows and then tries to get something going in that area for him or herself.
Babs: We’re sort of figuring it out as we go along. Â I think ideally, we would have a sort of home base — either a city with lots of theaters that we’ve networked with, or a place like PCPA which has one resident theatre in the area, and from there we can do freelance work all over. Â We’re both willing to travel for shorter periods of time. Â We just have to be extremely flexible. Â With grad schools, for example, we set out looking together for schools, but ended up deciding to go to Indiana so I can go back to school and Ben will audition for theaters in the area and work. Â We have entertained the idea of starting our own theater company someday.
Th: Creating as a couple has always struck me as a particularly Mormon pastime in the sense that someday, the goal is, you will be capital-c Creators. In that sense, how do your artistic efforts reflect your faith (and vice versa)?
Babs: I really haven’t come to the point of connecting my creativity to capital-c Creativity. Â I hang out in a much simpler plane of existence right now: I like making pretty things. Â Of course, I am oversimplifying it. Â I absolutely love designing. Â I love collaborating with other designers; seeing all the elements together on stage work so well together. Â They pure joy that comes from a job well done, or a good design, even if it has to come out of struggle and frustration, is worth it. Â I like to imagine those elements are the same in capital-c Creation… just even better.
Ben: It seems to get harder and harder for people to find a common ground where they can even understand each other, but in a play you create a common experience.Â From there you can talk.Â I think that in Theatre you can build bridges that just aren’t there usually and thus people can experience things like empathy, forgiveness, understanding etc.Â Ultimately, we’re creating a space where scenarios can play themselves out and the participants can expand and learn and grow in this created environment. Â That sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?
Th: What advice have you received in regards to being an artistic couple and how do you judge the advice you receive?
Ben: The advice I’ve received the most is that we need to beware of jealousy. Â BeingÂ jealousÂ at your partner’s success isÂ apparentlyÂ a big problem with actors, whoÂ essentiallyÂ spend most of our time wallowing in failure (something like 80% of professional actors are unemployed at any given moment) and are by nature insecure. Â But I think in our case it is a bit different because we’re not both actors, so success means different things for each of us. Â If Babs is hired as a wardrobe supervisor, I’m not going to say, man I wish I’d gotten that job. Â Like I said, we both work in Theatre, but we operate in different spheres.
Babs: We’ve thought about the jealousy thing in terms of how it’ll be for us when Ben’ characters have on-stage relationships. Â We’ve worked out a system of sorts, but ultimately I don’t think it’ll be an issue at all. Â As for advice,Â I haven’t received much regarding our careers. Â More just comments like “wow! Â That’s cool. Good luck…” or “That’s going to be challenging, good luck.” Â So just a lot of well wishers. Â I don’t know a lot of people who have been in our particular situation.
Th: Looking forward — this time not as artists but as a nascent family — how do you intend to find that slippery balance between the two?
Babs: Right now we’re trying to reconcile our single-Ben and single-Babs ideas and career goals into combined, married-Ben-and-Babs career and life goals. Â Also, working now is more than just a way to get the rent paid month-to-month, it’s important for us to start saving and creating a foundation for our future. Â So we’re trying to look ahead at how to do that, especially with both of us in careers that aren’t high-paying. Â Also, thinking about having kids is a little (I almost type “a lottle” Â which is, perhaps, more accurate) intimidating… how will we afford them? Â I’m the money-worrier, so I’m trying to figure out ways to make the most out of what we make.
Ben: It’s definitely an adjustment to say, ok, I can’t just move to L.A. or New York, get a job as a waiter, audition all the time, and take whatever job I can get no matter where in the world it takes me or for how long. Â Trying to work stability of location and income into a career in the TheatreÂ makesÂ you approach things very differently.
Th: Now the reason I’m finally getting around to making this interview happen is Ben’s show next weekend. Tell us about it.
[to be continued later this week, but to buy tickets to Ben’s show now, just click on the poster (which, I might add, was designed by Mormon couple-creators Dan and Denise Gasser)]