I’m reading the Mahonri Stewart-edited collection Saints on Stage, the first play in which is Robert Elliot’sÂ Fires of the Mind (1974). One of the great things aboutÂ Saints on Stage is Mahonri’s historical descriptions of the impact the plays hadÂ during their original productions. In the case ofÂ Fires of the Mind, seems like it was something of a doozy when it showed up on BYU campus. A contemporary account from the Daily UniverseÂ recounts this story:
. I was doing some reading aboutÂ The Relief Society MagazineÂ last week and came across this article which made me horribly melancholy for a world I never knew. I recognize that Correlation was vital in terms of managing a single faith of many languages, but some real losses accompanied those real gains, one of which was the rich literary culture of the Church’s previous generation of periodicals. I commend the article to your soul. Today on the Relief Society’s birthday however, on this, an arts site, I am writing about the article’s revelation that one of the texts recommended for sisters’ consideration and study was Ibsen’sÂ A Doll’s House. A daring choice, it seems to me, even now when the recommendation is 80 years old, given the nervousness allegedly revealed in many Relief Society book group’sÂ rules. From the 1934 recommendationÂ (I have made some slight adjustments without having recourse to the original scans or much concern with its paragraphing): Continue reading “Back in the doll’s house, one woman said, while another but smiled and shook her head.”
Perhaps the most widespread literary art practiced among Mormons is oratory. The three or four weekly sermons given in every LDS congregation, usually by members of that congregation, sum to a formidable amount of practice at public speaking. And while the average active member may speak in church once every few years, local leaders certainly get plenty of practice. I don’t know if prayer should be considered a literary art or not, but if not, then oratory is likely our most commonly used art form.
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 simpleâ€”one of these things doesn’t necessarily take away from anotherâ€”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?
Iâ€™ve been writing for as long as I can remember. Iâ€™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 distinctâ€¦ 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 themâ€”several strong female roles per play. Thatâ€™s the distinction to which I aspire.
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.