Where should literature fit in our priorities? Is it more important to preach the gospel than put on a play? Is culture worth time away from service? While its probably not that simple—one of these things doesn’t necessarily take away from another—still our Mormon culture and its products are often assumed to be less important than the stated gospel priorities of teaching the gospel and redeeming the dead. The following passage shows that the Church doesn’t (or at least didn’t) see it that way.
As one of my last posts for A Motley Vision (I’ll go more into that in a different post) I wanted to conduct an interview with one of my favorite Mormon playwrights (one of my favorite playwrights, period), Melissa Leilani Larson. Mel has created a body of work that is impressive and moving, and she is one of Mormonism’s best and brightest dramatists. So without further ado:
1. So, first, tell us a briefly about yourself. Your personal, educational, creative background as a person and as a playwright, your interests, what makes you distinct?
I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I’ve always been a voracious reader, and I think that love of reading led me to writing stories of my own. I wrote all through school, first grade on up, until I earned my BA in English/Creative Writing from BYU and later my MFA from the Iowa Playwrights Workshop.
As far as what makes me distinct… Fabulous actresses far outnumber the parts they can play. My ultimate goal is to write fascinating, engaging, and challenging roles for women. A lot of them—several strong female roles per play. That’s the distinction to which I aspire.
2. You were chiefly an English major/literary personality before you switched your focus to writing for a theatrical medium. What changed that direction? more
KUER’s daily talk program Radio West looked at how Mormon and Utah culture is put on stage in Utah and how it is looked at in the world. The program asks the question, among others, “have the stereotypes of Utah’s dominant culture been satirized too much?” The program is prompted by the opening next month the annual production of Saturday’s Voyeur, the staging of four of Eric Samuelsen’s plays in Salt Lake this year, former LDS Church member Miguel Santana’s play and novel The Righteous and Very Real Housewives of Utah County, and the continuing success of Charles Lynn Frost’s Sister Dottie Dixon.
The discussion on the show included a roundtable of Samuelsen, Santana, KRCL’s Troy Williams (also a former LDS Church member) along with the show’s host, Doug Fabrizio.
Give it a listen (length 53:12) and feel free to come back here and comment.
After a half decade of delays, obstacles, research, and revising, I am so pleased that this behemoth is now ready to release onto an unsuspecting world! The plays it includes (from such Mormon Letters luminaries as Eric Samuelsen, Margaret Blair Young, Melissa Leilani Larson, Thomas F. Rogers, Susan E. Howe, James Arrington, Scott Bronson, Tim Slover, Robert Elliott, and Thom Duncan) have effected my life in profound ways and I hope other people will feel the same. They make up some of the finest accomplishments in the history of Mormon Drama. The volume is huge… nearly 700 pages. It has 11 plays, playwright biographies, and a 30+ page introduction on the history of Mormon drama. We’ve tried to be thorough, we’ve tried to give you something meaningful. I hope you’ll see why this is a project I thought was worth working and waiting for.
It’s taken the better half of a decade, but Saints on Stage: An Anthology of Mormon Drama is off to the printers. This is the description of the book on Zarahemla Books’s website:
Saints on Stage is the most comprehensive and important work on Mormon drama ever published. This volume anthologizes some of Mormonism’s best plays from the last several decades, many of them published here for the first time. Several of these plays have won honors from institutions as varied as the Kennedy Center and the Association for Mormon Letters.
This volume includes historical backgrounds and playwright biographies, as well as an introduction that provides an extensive overview of Mormon drama. The following plays are included:
Fires of the Mind – Robert Elliott
Huebener – Thomas F. Rogers
Burdens of Earth – Susan Elizabeth Howe
J. Golden – James Arrington
Matters of the Heart – Thom Duncan
Gadianton – Eric Samuelsen
Hancock County – Tim Slover
Stones – J. Scott Bronson
Farewell to Eden – Mahonri Stewart
Martyrs’ Crossing – Melissa Leilani Larson
I Am Jane – Margaret Blair Young
PRESS RELEASE: Zion Theatre Company celebrates Farewell to Eden’s 10th Anniversary with a Production at the Echo Theatre.
Ten years ago, Farewell to Eden premiered at Utah Valley University. The student written show by Mahonri Stewart was a success, selling out its run, prompting enthusiastic reviews, and going on to win second place in the Kennedy Center’s American College Theatre Festival’s national playwriting award, as well as snagging a KCACTF National Selection Team Fellowship Award. The strong showing the play presented at the Festival prompted one of the judges, Gary Garrison, to say that the play was “the most intelligently written play I have read [for the festival] in a decade.” For its ten year anniversary, Zion Theatre Company is remounting a production of the play directed by Ronnie Stringfellow on April 15-27.
Farewell to Eden takes place in Victorian England, circa 1840, and tells the story of Georgiana Highett and her siblings Thomas and Catherine, who have recently lost their father and are tasked with carrying on his legacy. When two men enter into Georgiana’s life, including a childhood love from her past, life spirals into a web of complications and conflicts that have a dramatic build and a philosophical tension. Georgiana and her family are put in a place where they have to prove their mettle or fall, leading to a number of twists, turns, hilarious comedy, heart tugging romance, and intense drama.
It is wonderful to come across completely new information on one subject when you are searching for information in a completely different area. In my case, I was looking for background on Edward Tullidge and why he was in New York City in 1866, and I discovered the Edward Tullidge who tried to create a Mormon literature in 1864. I also discovered that my impression of Tullidge, as an inconstant and unfaithful Church member involved in the Godbeite schism, was not a fair impression. And I came to the conclusion that we, in Mormon letters, need to give Edward Tullidge, the author, poet, playwright and editor, more attention when we look at Mormon literary history.