Title: A Roof Overhead and Other Plays
Author: Mahonri Stewart
Publisher: Zarahemla Books
Year Published: 2016
Number of Pages: 390
The summer after my junior year in high school, or maybe the year after, I saw an audition notice for a BYU graduate student production, The Persecution and Crucifiction of Jesus: Four Plays from the Wakefield Mystery Cycle.
Our director, Rodger, explained how mystery plays were performed by medieval guilds, so we would be playing both medieval guildsmen and the characters they were playing. And since the plays were travelling shows, Rodger built a pageant wagon for the set and planned to perform at the University Mall.
He decided later that the sacred character of the plays didn’t lend itself to audiences wandering in and out as they would at a mall, so we set up the pageant wagon and the audience seating on the Pardoe Theater stage, close enough to see the audience jump when the Roman soldiers were pounding the nails into Jesus’s hands. (There was a washer in his palm that the end of the wooden nail fit into, so there was no damage, but what the audience could imagine.)
Then they raised up the cross and dropped it into a hole at the back of the pageant wagon. (Audience gasps.) My character was the one who took Jesus down, draping a long cloth around his waist and up over the arms of the cross to hold him in place so the others could undo the ropes holding his arms and legs to the cross. Then we would lower him down into the arms of Mary and the burial party. Of course, Rodger cautioned us to be very careful not to drop him, as the actor would have no way to break his fall, but would surely break his legs.
Wm shares the lines from Clinton F. Larson’s The Mantle of the Prophet that he read in Gospel Doctrine class.
Earlier this month I taught lesson 33 from the Gospel Doctrine manual, which covered the succession issues after the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith as well as the eagerness of the Saints to receive their endowments in the Nauvoo Temple before leaving for the West.
I came prepared to read from Clinton F. Larson’s lyric play/dramatic poemÂ The Mantle of the Prophet, which is about the same period in church history as the lesson. I didn’t know for sure if I was going to get to it, both because of time and because I wasn’t sure how it would be received. In the end I went for it.
What made you decide to use Kickstarter specifically for the 2014 season of Zion Theatre Company? And why fund a whole season rather than, say, just an individual play?
I had a definite, focused plan in mind for what I wanted Zion Theatre Company to do in 2014, but the past couple of years we had cut it close on some of our plays–some of our plays did exceptionally well, some barely paid the costs, and some lost money. It all balanced out pretty well, at times it strained our accounts, which was discouraging since it’s been with the last few shows that we’ve seen our most enthusiastic audiences, a plethora of extremely positive reviews, and realistic hope for future success. Melissa Leilani Larson’s adaptation of Jane Austen’sÂ PersuasionÂ and myÂ Farewell to EdenÂ were especially impactful on audiences and critics and I think those shows did an excellent job in setting up expectations and enthusiasm for our future productions by showing exactly what kind of potential we actually have as a company.
So by trying to gain funds that would help us fund the entire season, instead of just going with money from play to play as we have, it takes off the nervous edge that if one show doesn’t do as well as the last one, then it doesn’t threaten to put the kabosh on the rest of our plans for the season. Having that nest egg allows us to focus on the quality of the current show instead of wondering if we spend our money on, you know, a good set, that we may not have enough money for the next show.Â It was a nervous place to be and we almost closed up shop after a couple of our shows didn’t do as well as some others in our season. So this long game tactic gives us an opportunity to focus on making the best show possible in the present, without worrying about the future. It gives us the security to up our quality.
Tell us about the programming: why those four plays? I’d be especially be interested in hearing just a bit more about the two new ones.
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.
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: