This series was about New Play Project and its new anthology was really meant to be a single article originally. Then the more I thought about New Play Project, the more I realized I had to say. Thus the mini-epic. Now that I’ve thrown out my major ideas and reactions (and inadvertently stirred a few hornets nests in the process), I’m starting to run out of steam. It took a lot of time and thought to put these out and I feel good about it. I did what I set out to do. But before I close the case, I have a few brief… well, briefer… closing statements.
SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL PROJECT
Whether you live near enough to see New Play Project’s shows, or a similar theatre or arts groups group with vision in your own area, by all means support them (whether through attending their shows, buying their volumes, or volunteering)! Especially in tough economic times like these, keeping an arts organization or company afloat is very tricky. It was the Great Depression that killed the Harlem Renaissance, and the same could easily happen with the budding efforts of a lot Mormon Artists. We all need to tighten our belts, obviously, especially those at the helm of these groups. Creative saving is the name of the game, all while making less look like more. However, in doing so, let’s not forget how valuable these efforts are, even when they’re imperfect. There has been some exciting things happening in the Mormon Arts world the last few years, ranging from Zarahemla Books to New Play Project to the Whitney Awards. I would hate to see any of those derailed because of the recession. Out of the Mount is an especially worthy volume, which I think is a great boon to any Mormon literature lover’s library.
OUT OF ACADEMIA, INTO THE PUBLIC SPHERE
When you study the history of Mormon Drama, since the 1970s a lot of the genre’s previous successes depended on universities such as BYU, UVU, etc. supporting original plays. This has been a wonderful tradition, one that I hope is kept up. However, if Mormon Drama is ever able to gain further stature, it needs a strong toe hold in the public sector. Non-profit groups and private enterprises need to pick up more Mormon plays for it to ever become robust and break out of its insular literati. There have been attempts at this… Saturday’s Warrior was remarkably successful even after its initial run at BYU. Orson Scott Card had a short try at creating a Mormon Theatre company before his speculative fiction really took off. The Nauvoo Theatrical Society made an excellent go at it in the early 2000’s. New Play Project has been a promising example of how this can work, even with the barest of resources. NPP has remarkably lasted for a number of years now and, despite some setbacks, shown a commitment to keep going.
Now what would happen if such a Mormon theater had the resources and backing to make more than a small dent? Such an adequately funded organization or private company could really transform Mormon Drama. As Eric Samuelsen stated in his important article “Whither Mormon Drama? Look First to a Theater,” he states that “a Mormon Shakespeare needs a Mormon Globe.” I can’t full heartily endorse this idea more. It’s one thing to have groups like the raggedy, medieval or Italian troupes that traveled in wagons from city to city living hand to mouth existences. It’s quite another thing to do what Shakespeare did and build a place for his plays to be housed in. New Play Project, or any similar group, needs a permanent residence. NPP has been fortunate to have had a good rental agreement with the Provo Theatre, but especially with the future of that building and its ownership in question, it will become imperative in the coming years for NPP to find a home, a permanent home, if it’s going to last much longer. Also, if it can go from an all volunteer group, to a core of people who actually can make their living through the organization, that is a good sign that they are onto the road to professional art, rather than art as a hobby.
One of New Play Project’s primary goals was not only to be a place for new work to be performed, but also to be a place for new plays to be workshopped. A few of my plays, even those eventually performed by groups other than NPP such as Rings of the Tree, benefited from the expert eyes and sensibilities of those attending NPP’s workshops. These informal readings and talk backs are of infinite use to the writer. It’s one of the primary roles of dramaturgy to help develop new work, and NPP had a strong dramaturgical streak.
But NPP wasn’t only a workshop for the playwright, but for the theatrical artist in general. Many beginning actors, theatrical technicians, directors, and designers were able to first polish their skills through New Play Project. In this way, its corps of volunteers benefited as much from NPP, as NPP benefited from their sacrificed time and enthusiasm.
NPP itself is a workshop in theatrical enterprise. Its members have learned just how difficult it is to produce even short play festivals, as well as how much needs to go into the full length play. Hopefully New Play Project, and if not NPP than another group, will perfect this wonderful formula and bring Mormon Drama to the next level. My prayers and hopes go with New Play Project and all other like groups.