We asked Jerry Rapier, Plan–B Theatre Company’s Producing Director since 2000, to write a guest post about the company and the many Mormon-related works it produces. Since 1991, the Salt Lake City-based Plan-B Theatre Company has developed and produced unique and socially-conscious theatre with an emphasis on new plays by Utah playwrights. Rapier has guided the organization to its current state as perhaps the most respected theatrical company in Utah. Performances are usually held at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W 300 S, Salt Lake City.
Mormons Placing Mormons Center Stage
By Jerry Rapier, guest author
As we at Plan-B Theatre Company gear up for our 25th anniversary, I’ve been thinking a lot about being in the business of telling stories about and inspired by this place we call home.
We at Plan-B believe in sharing stories with a local point-of-view, as well as global stories from a local perspective. Thus we strive to create and nourish a pool of local playwrights to rival that found in any other city in the country, to assist local theatergoers in valuing the work by local playwrights alongside that of nationally prominent playwrights.
It only makes sense then that we would share stories by and about Mormons. Regularly.
We at Plan-B also believe that the best way to serve our community is to reflect it onstage. That’s why the goal of each Plan-B production is to create conversation, to provide an opportunity for patrons to think a little differently, to consider a point-of-view that may have been previously foreign, to listen in a way they may not have before. Time spent with us should truly be the beginning of a much larger experience.
That being said, we’re not interested in Mormon playwrights per se. We’re interested in playwrights, and if they happen to be Mormon, so be it.
Let me explain.
Think of your favorite book/film/tv show/play. I’d place 100-to-1 odds that what you connect with most is how someone in said book/film/tv show/play faces overcomes/faces some sort of conflict/issue.
Propaganda, whitewash, the vibe of a press release—these are all dangers when a member of a particular group writes about that group. Judgment, levity, insensitivity—these are all dangers when a non-member of a particular group writes about that group.
I firmly believe that if you are lucky enough to find someone with both skill and membership (i.e. a playwright who is Mormon, not a Mormon playwright) you have a chance of getting to the good stuff which, at the end of the day is what I’m looking for when programming a season: authentic, compelling, well-told stories.
Why do we at Plan-B share stories by and about Mormons? Because they are our stories. Honestly, how can you tell a story rooted in this place we all call home without doing so?
I asked four actively Mormon playwrights who have worked with us over the past decade to share their thoughts:
Matthew Greene (whose play ADAM & STEVE AND THE EMPTY SEA received its world premiere at Plan-B in 2013, played the New York International Fringe Festival, was named “Best Original Play” and “Best Theatre Production” by City Weekly and was published in Sunstone Magazine) responded: “I think candor and courage are necessary for a healthy spiritual life, but honesty doesn’t always seem like the best policy when trying to fit into a religious mold. That’s why the opportunity to explore these “big questions” at Plan-B is so valuable: it allows artists and audiences to be uncomfortable and find obvious and unexpected truths in the complex web of Mormonism.”
Carol Lynn Pearson (whose play FACING EAST received its world premiere at Plan-B in 2006 and transferred off-Broadway and toured to San Francisco in 2007, has received more than a dozen productions nationwide and was named “Best Original Play” and “Best Theatre Production” by City Weekly), reflects: “I think I’ve never had a thrill greater than sitting in the theatre at Plan-B watching the seats fill with my community—middle-aged Mormon couples in their Sunday best, Mormon gay couples, Mormon counter-culture kids with piercings and in black, all kinds of just regular theatregoers—come to see a play about the suicide of a beautiful young gay Mormon man and the deep grief of his parents who wonder, along with the audience, “What did we do to contribute to this tragedy?” For a writer, it doesn’t get better than that.
Eric Samuelsen (whose plays MIASMA, AMERIGO, BORDERLANDS, NOTHING PERSONAL, RADIO HOUR EPISODE 8: FAIRYANA, CLEARING BOMBS and 3 have received their world premieres at Plan-B; AMERIGO was named “Best Theatre Production” by City Weekly; BORDERLANDS was named “Best Original Play” and “Best Theatre Production” by City Weekly”; NOTHING PERSONAL was nominated for the American Theatre Critics Association/Steinberg Award for Best New American Play Produced Outside New York; CLEARING BOMBS was named “Best Theatre Production” by City Weekly and nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama; and 3 was named “Best Original Play” by City Weekly; his new play, THE KREUTZER SONATA, opens Plan-B’s 25th anniversary season this fall), texted me this response while watching General Conference: “My biggest fear is that I’ll take shortcuts, not write real, dimensional human beings, but follow lazy cultural stereotypes. The Plan-B audience is too discerning. I can’t worry about what other Mormons might think. I have to write real people.”
And Melissa Leilani Larson, whose play PILOT PROGRAM is receiving its world premiere through this Sunday puts it succinctly: “Mormon characters are quirky and fascinating, but sometimes it can be hard to find a home for them. Plan-B is no respecter of characters.”
More information about Plan-B Theatre Company is available at at planbtheatre.org