When Ben and Barbara moved into our ward last year as newlyweds, I knew I wanted to interview them even though they are still at the beginning of their careers and less established than other artists I’ve interviewed for Couple-Creators. I thought a) it would be nice to get a sense of how my questions get answered at the beginning of a marriage rather than a decade (or decades) in and b) it would be nice just to get to know them better.
Th: Let’s start though with Your Story. Because your existence as Mormon Couple-Creators is not only newly coupled, but, in Barbara’s case, newly Mormoned as well. So tell us how Ben & Barbara came to be.
Babs: It’s kind of a long, complicated story that involves my conversion, so ready yourself! We met during a costume fitting for White Christmas. We were both working at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts (PCPA Theaterfest). I was a Costume Design Intern, and Ben was a student in the acting conservatory. It was my first show at PCPA, so I was taking full advantage of the fittings to scope out what the male actors were like. When Ben came in I immediately noticed his height (I promise I’m not shallow, I’m just tall and notice a good tall guy…). He seemed great: friendly, funny, intelligent, and he lived in Argentina for two years! Cultured to boot! Oh… he was on his mission … he’s Mormon… bummer. Nevertheless, he left a strong impression on me. We got to know one another more during A Midsummer Night’s Dream. He played Lysander and I designed makeup for the show — well, mostly, I designed makeup for the fairies because they were colored from head-to-toe like Hindu gods. Ben’s makeup was standard highlights and shadows, but he needed a lot of help.
Ben: I would just like to say that you would need a lot of help with your makeup too if the help was so lovely. Did I just call you “the help?” You know what I mean.
Babs: Immediately after Midsummer we worked on Les Miserables —– I was the Design Assistant and Ben in the ensemble. I asked him out to “coffee” right before dress rehearsals started. We dated through the summer – foolishly falling hard for one another yet recognizing the entire time that it could never go anywhere. Ben wasn’t going to compromise getting married in the temple, and I sure as heck wasn’t going to become Mormon! So we broke up when Ben left for Berkeley. At my request we didn’t talk for a while. When we were dating, Ben never really talked about the church unless I brought it up, but it had piqued my interest and I asked for a Book of Mormon, but Ben forgot to give it to me.
Ben: I have nothing to say in my defense. I’d say I’m just a terrible member missionary except that the results speak for themselves. No but really, we did actually talk about the church quite a bit, I was just trying to make sure you were the one bringing it up and asking questions, and when you did I jumped on it.
Babs: Exactly. I don’t think I would have responded well to anything too intense. I needed it to be my decision, separate from Ben’s influence. But, I really respected Ben and his family and I admired the strength of their faith, so ultimately, I decided to look into Mormonism a little bit. At first I was like, “man, this is crazy! I’m so glad it didn’t work out!”
Ben: You never told me that was your first reaction!
Babs: It wasn’t my FIRST reaction, it just sort of confirmed the things people say about Mormons. But then… I don’t know, I kept praying about it and coming back to wanting to learn more. I checked out a Book of Mormon from the library and went to church with an LDS friend. This entire time I didn’t tell Ben about it because neither of us wanted him to influence my decision (though he did finally send me that Book of Mormon) I started meeting with the missionaries, and during our fifth lesson I made a commitment to get baptized… TWO WEEKS LATER! It was nuts… but it was so right. And here’s something pretty cool — a Tender Mercy, if you will — when the elders proposed the baptism date it was the exact weekend Ben was coming to visit. It was like God was saying “look, this guy is an important part of your life and we both know it.” That was February 20th and we were engaged in April and married June 4th.
Ben: I would just add that once you meet Barbara, you understand why, after she joined the church, we got engaged relatively quickly. I had to lock that down.
Th: Theater is one of the more collaborative artforms and so I wonder how you’re looking forward — how do you hope your careers to track together? How do you intend to get this to work for both of you?
Ben: Well, it’s weird. Even though we both work in Theatre, we both definitely work in our own spheres. Especially since we’re both young and new, and just trying to get work from other people at this point. Even when we’ve worked for the same company we haven’t really worked together. So at this phase our goal is basically to get work in the same area at the same time. When one of us has a great opportunity, the other follows and then tries to get something going in that area for him or herself.
Babs: We’re sort of figuring it out as we go along. I think ideally, we would have a sort of home base — either a city with lots of theaters that we’ve networked with, or a place like PCPA which has one resident theatre in the area, and from there we can do freelance work all over. We’re both willing to travel for shorter periods of time. We just have to be extremely flexible. With grad schools, for example, we set out looking together for schools, but ended up deciding to go to Indiana so I can go back to school and Ben will audition for theaters in the area and work. We have entertained the idea of starting our own theater company someday.
Th: Creating as a couple has always struck me as a particularly Mormon pastime in the sense that someday, the goal is, you will be capital-c Creators. In that sense, how do your artistic efforts reflect your faith (and vice versa)?
Babs: I really haven’t come to the point of connecting my creativity to capital-c Creativity. I hang out in a much simpler plane of existence right now: I like making pretty things. Of course, I am oversimplifying it. I absolutely love designing. I love collaborating with other designers; seeing all the elements together on stage work so well together. They pure joy that comes from a job well done, or a good design, even if it has to come out of struggle and frustration, is worth it. I like to imagine those elements are the same in capital-c Creation… just even better.
Ben: It seems to get harder and harder for people to find a common ground where they can even understand each other, but in a play you create a common experience. From there you can talk. I think that in Theatre you can build bridges that just aren’t there usually and thus people can experience things like empathy, forgiveness, understanding etc. Ultimately, we’re creating a space where scenarios can play themselves out and the participants can expand and learn and grow in this created environment. That sounds pretty familiar, doesn’t it?
Th: What advice have you received in regards to being an artistic couple and how do you judge the advice you receive?
Ben: The advice I’ve received the most is that we need to beware of jealousy. Being jealous at your partner’s success is apparently a big problem with actors, who essentially spend most of our time wallowing in failure (something like 80% of professional actors are unemployed at any given moment) and are by nature insecure. But I think in our case it is a bit different because we’re not both actors, so success means different things for each of us. If Babs is hired as a wardrobe supervisor, I’m not going to say, man I wish I’d gotten that job. Like I said, we both work in Theatre, but we operate in different spheres.
Babs: We’ve thought about the jealousy thing in terms of how it’ll be for us when Ben’ characters have on-stage relationships. We’ve worked out a system of sorts, but ultimately I don’t think it’ll be an issue at all. As for advice, I haven’t received much regarding our careers. More just comments like “wow! That’s cool. Good luck…” or “That’s going to be challenging, good luck.” So just a lot of well wishers. I don’t know a lot of people who have been in our particular situation.
Th: Looking forward — this time not as artists but as a nascent family — how do you intend to find that slippery balance between the two?
Babs: Right now we’re trying to reconcile our single-Ben and single-Babs ideas and career goals into combined, married-Ben-and-Babs career and life goals. Also, working now is more than just a way to get the rent paid month-to-month, it’s important for us to start saving and creating a foundation for our future. So we’re trying to look ahead at how to do that, especially with both of us in careers that aren’t high-paying. Also, thinking about having kids is a little (I almost type “a lottle” which is, perhaps, more accurate) intimidating… how will we afford them? I’m the money-worrier, so I’m trying to figure out ways to make the most out of what we make.
Ben: It’s definitely an adjustment to say, ok, I can’t just move to L.A. or New York, get a job as a waiter, audition all the time, and take whatever job I can get no matter where in the world it takes me or for how long. Trying to work stability of location and income into a career in the Theatre makes you approach things very differently.
Th: Now the reason I’m finally getting around to making this interview happen is Ben’s show next weekend. Tell us about it.
[to be continued later this week, but to buy tickets to Ben’s show now, just click on the poster (which, I might add, was designed by Mormon couple-creators Dan and Denise Gasser)]