I’ve written before about the once great status of Mormon theatre, and the infrastructure it once enjoyed. So I was pleased to find comments about the beginning of this infrastructure from Horace G. Whitney, longtime Deseret News editor-in-chief and the paper’s drama critic. In my opinion infrastructure, broadly conceived, accounts for much of what has happened in Mormon drama over the past century. Whitney, in the article below, describes a vision of how drama could operate under the MIA and ward amusement committees (which were roughly the equivalent of the recently disbanded ward activities committees, I assume).
One of the notable aspects of early Mormon statements about entertainment and media is the focus on discouraging the reading of novels and “light” literature, while other forms of entertainment, notably theatre, were encouraged. Brigham Young acted in Nauvoo, encouraged the early performances in Salt Lake City as early as 1853, and even promoted plays and attended the theatre himself. He announced the construction of the Salt Lake Theatre and vigorously pursued its construction until its completion in 1861.
However, by the turn of the century, Church leaders were also warning members about the theatre, as well as the nascent film industry.
Instructing yourself has, perhaps, never been easier than it is today. Perhaps the greatest library every assembled, the Internet, is available to us every hour of every day, providing unrivaled resources to anyone with a smart phone or laptop. And supplementing these resources are a growing body of courses, many free of charge, on subjects as broad as any school. In comparison to the situation in early Utah we have riches of knowledge indeed.
I must be honest. This quotation, although delivered in the tabernacle, isn’t so much literary criticism as drawing a lesson from contemporary literature. But the work involved is available, and the idea that Brigham Young both saw the play and commented on it. Perhaps more surprisingly, his comment fits well with the theme of the play itself.
The comments below were made in early February, 1853, just months (and perhaps just weeks) after the Social Hall, the first entertainment venue in the Salt Lake Valley, had been completed. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, drama has traditionally been an important part of Mormon culture, and support for drama can trace its history to Nauvoo, where even Brigham Young played at being an actor. In Salt Lake, his support led to not only the construction of the Social Hall, but to the Salt Lake Theater, the principal home for drama in Utah for 40 years.
As I’ve looked at 19th century newspapers and other documents, I’ve come across literary works or references to literary works that I didn’t know about, and that, apparently, are unknown among those of us interested in Mormon literature. Yesterday, I discovered another.
A Motley Vision and Peculiar Pages are pleased to announce a call for submissions for the Monsters & Mormons anthology. Theric and William are very excited about this project and look forward to working with you all. We’ve tried to be as thorough as possible in this call for submissions, but if you have questions, leave them in the comments section below or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
As Terryl Givens documents in The Viper on the Hearth, from Zane Grey to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Mormons served as stock villains in the early days of genre fiction (both pre-pulp and pulp heyday). We propose to recast, reclaim and simply mess with that tradition by making Mormon characters, settings and ideas the protagonists of genre-oriented stories to appear in an anthology simply titled Monsters & Mormons. This is, then, a project of cultural reappropriation. But even more than that, we just want us all to have fun with the concept. more
We don’t often delve into the history of Mormonism in the arts, although I don’t think that is by design. More likely, this history is simply not very well known among even those of us who write about Mormon culture, and, I suspect, many details simply aren’t known. Other details were known at one time, but have largely been forgotten.
In the latter vein, I came across the story of perhaps the first major Mormon actor, Tom Lyne, who already had a substantial reputation as an actor in Philadelphia when he joined the Church. Here is an account of his relationship with the Church.
Issue 5 of Mormon Artist features an interview with Mahonri Stewart as well as a reprint of his excellent AMV post The Art of Friends, Not Rivals: Shannon Hale and Stephenie Meyer. which was an important corrective, in my opinion, to some of the rhetoric that was flowing around Meyer-as-artist.
In other Mahonri-related news, Nan Parkinson McCulloch’s AML-List review of his new play “The Fading Flower” was posted just a few hours ago. It’s a very positive review, and I have to say Nan deserves major kudos for her enthusiastic support of Mormon theater. She seems to attend every production and review or at least comment on all of them. “The Fading Flower” runs through June 8. For details and ticket information, visit the New Play Project website.
Congratulations, Mahonri. I only wish I lived closer to Utah or was independently wealthy. Sadly, neither situation seems to be imminent. However, if any of you within the sound of my, urrrr, voice, do live in or will be visiting the Intermountain West in the next week or so, you have no excuse.