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?
Melissa Leilani Larson, photo taken by Alisia Packard
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 →
My wife and I finally got the chance to see the first part of The Hobbit trilogy the other day (with two young kids, our opportunities become more rare, so having Anne’s parents in town really helped in this regard). I was wary at first. I had read a number of negative reviews and, being a lover of Tolkien’s work and the previous Lord of the Rings films, I was afraid to see the film version not live up to expectations. Lowered expectations always help when going into a film (part of why I read the critics first), and this proved to be the case here. But, even if I had higher expectations, I still believe I would have been just as moved by the film. more →
On December 12, I received my copy of the two-volume Mormons and Popular Culture in the mail. know it’s not out until the 31st, but Praeger‘s the sort of classy joint that hooks the contributor up before the general population. I think this is the first time in my career I’ve received a copy of my work before the general public. . . .
Anyway, the two-volume work covers the gamut from film to football, with surveys on everything from comics to historical sites and closeups on folks from Stephenie Meyer to Glenn Beck. Some of the essays are versions of ones we know like Randy Astle’s work on cinema and some are utterly new. I mean—did you know about Rose Marie Reid? more →
So this is not some snazzy, official list with criteria, rubrics, or voting committees. This is just my personal, gut-feeling-favorite Mormon Arts contributions that I have experienced this year. This also doesn’t mean that it was even published or produced in 2012… these are works/artists that I have personally encountered this year (or so). So keep that in mind as I submit “Mahonri Stewart’s Personal Mormon Arts Favorites of 2012!” (Which may or may not become an annual tradition, depending on how lazy I am next year).
So, beyond what I’ve seen my Zion Theatre Company produce this year, I haven’t had a chance to see much Mormon Drama in 2012 since I live in Arizona (kind of pathetic since I’m supposed to be the Mormon Drama expert around here). I can’t visit Utah on a whim to see the rare Mormon themed play that comes around (or, this year, New York with #MormonInChief!), but what I have done this year is read a bunch of older Mormon plays to finish my editing forSaints on Stage. Since one of those plays was produced again this year, I am choosing Martyrs’ Crossing, which has been getting great reviews at the Echo Theatre in Provo. I saw BYU’s production of the show years ago and read it again this year, and it’s as beautiful and vibrant as I remember it. Melissa is one of Mormonism’s best playwrights and, although I would call Little Happy Secrets her best work so far, Martyrs’ Crossing is a personal favorite, much due to Mel’s beautiful writing and to my love for Jean d’Arc… who I may tackle a play about some day as well, although it would be pretty different than Mel’s take. Mel keeps beating me to the punch on stories that I love, including Jane Austen’s Persuasion and her upcoming adaptation of my all time favorite novel, C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces. Despite that personal frustration, I can’t but help look at these works and say, “Well, at least Mel wrote it, because it’s beautiful.”
FAVORITE MORMON PLAYWRIGHT: MATTHEW GREENE
Although I haven’t seen or read it, just the fact that Matthew Greene was able to get a Mormon themed play up in major a New York fringe festival is nothing to sniff at. I’ve read both positive and negative reviews for #MormonInChief, but I admire Matthew (who was in BYU’s WDA Workshop with me several years ago) for really jumping into the New York theater scene and progressing the cause of Mormon Drama. He’s also got an upcoming play coming soon to Plan-B Theatre Company in Salt Lake City called Adam and Steve and the Empty Sea. Matthew is getting some real traction in his career as a dramatic writer and I believe it’s well deserved. more →
Remember Duck Beach? Well it’s coming to New York on October 23 at Landmark Sunshine Cinema. The show’s at 8:30 and the filmmakers will be in attendance to introduce the film and answer questions afterwards. But this knowledge will do you no good because the show was sold out before I even started typing this post some days ago.
Those lucky New Yorkers maybe will come tell us how it was?
I recently re-watched the DVD of Christian Vuissa’s film Joseph Smith: Plates of Gold, which confirmed to me once again why I loved the film. I originally saw the film in a movie theater in Mesa, AZ during its limited theatrical release and I came out of the theater with a quiet, pervading sense washing over me. I left introspective and thoughtful about Joseph Smith’s early history, as well as how my role as a Mormon and my role as a playwright/screenwriter/artist interconnect. But I also thought about how absolutely refreshing it was to see a faithful Mormon portray Joseph Smith with a degree of honesty and complexity. That is too rare a quality and I commend Christian Vuissa for making a film that is both candid and faithful, showing that the two are not mutually exclusive qualities. more →
Before I review this show, I have to tell you a bit about my history with the character and the movies.
Once, long ago, Lady Steed and I checked out a Final Cut VHS tape from the Orem Public Library that featured the BYU student film, Peluca, that later appeared at Slamdance and from which we can draw a direct line to Napoleon Dynamite. Same character (though he was named Seth at the time) and some of the same brilliant moments later colorized for the film-film.
We and our friends the Dugans used to show Peluca to people just to see how they would react. Us, we loved it devotedly. We watched it dozens of times. And showing it to someone new was a pretty foolproof way to predict the future of our friendship.
Napoleon Dynamite premiered at Sundance just after the birth of our first child so, even though we were in Utah and had attended Sundance the year before, we did not even bother looking at the listings. When Napoleon became the breakout hit I was heartbroken that we had missed it and would not be able to see it until wide release.
The day of wide release, we took the baby and went to the first Provo show.
And from the opening second when Jon Heder stares out and sighs, I began laughing. I’ve been laughing ever since. We saw it in theaters I think eight times. I’m relatively certain our son will never see any other movie more times in theaters than he saw Napoleon the first year of his life.
For the record, it was also the first thing we let him watch on a tv screen. It was his favorite movie as a toddler and among his first words are Napoleon quotes.