My 2012 Mormon Arts Favorites

So this is not some snazzy, official list with criteria, rubrics, or voting committees. This is just my personal, gut-feeling-favorite Mormon Arts contributions that I have experienced this year. This also doesn’t mean that it was even published or produced in 2012… these are works/artists that I have personally encountered this year (or so).  So keep that in mind as I submit “Mahonri Stewart’s Personal Mormon Arts Favorites of 2012!” (Which may or may not become an annual tradition, depending on how lazy I am next year).

FAVORITE MORMON PLAY: MELISSA LEILANI LARSON’S MARTYRS’ CROSSING

MARTYRS' CROSSINGSo, beyond what I’ve seen my Zion Theatre Company produce this year, I haven’t had a chance to see much Mormon Drama in 2012 since I live in Arizona (kind of pathetic since I’m supposed to be the Mormon Drama expert around here). I can’t visit Utah on a whim to see the rare Mormon themed play that comes around (or, this year, New York with #MormonInChief!), but what I have done this year is read a bunch of older Mormon plays to finish my editing for Saints on Stage. Since one of those plays was produced again this year, I am choosing Martyrs’ Crossing, which has been getting great reviews at the Echo Theatre in Provo. I saw BYU’s production of the show years ago and read it again this year, and it’s as beautiful and vibrant as I remember it. Melissa is one of Mormonism’s best playwrights and, although I would  call Little Happy Secrets her best work so far, Martyrs’ Crossing is a personal favorite, much due to Mel’s beautiful writing and to my love for Jean d’Arc… who I may tackle a play about some day as well, although it would be pretty different than Mel’s take. Mel keeps beating me to the punch on stories that I love, including Jane Austen’s Persuasion and her upcoming adaptation of my all time favorite novel, C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces. Despite that personal frustration, I can’t but help look at these works and say, “Well, at least Mel wrote it, because it’s beautiful.”

FAVORITE MORMON PLAYWRIGHT: MATTHEW GREENE

Although I haven’t seen or read it, just the fact that Matthew Greene was able to get a Mormon themed play up in major a New York fringe festival is nothing to sniff at. I’ve read both positive and negative reviews for #MormonInChief,  but I admire Matthew (who was in BYU’s WDA Workshop with me several years ago) for really jumping into the New York theater scene and progressing the cause of Mormon Drama. He’s also got an upcoming play coming soon to Plan-B Theatre Company in Salt Lake City called Adam and Steve and the Empty Sea. Matthew is getting some real traction in his career as a dramatic writer and I believe it’s well deserved. Continue reading “My 2012 Mormon Arts Favorites”

Duck Beach coming soon . . . at least to New York

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Remember Duck Beach? Well it’s coming to New York on October 23 at Landmark Sunshine Cinema. The show’s at 8:30 and the filmmakers will be in attendance to introduce the film and answer questions afterwards. But this knowledge will do you no good because the show was sold out before I even started typing this post some days ago.

Sorry, kids.

Those lucky New Yorkers maybe will come tell us how it was?

Sketching the Prophet: Portrayals of Joseph Smith in Film

I recently re-watched the DVD of Christian Vuissa’s film Joseph Smith: Plates of Gold, which confirmed to me once again why I loved the film. I originally saw the film in a movie theater in Mesa, AZ during its limited theatrical release and I came out of the theater with a quiet, pervading sense washing over me. I left introspective and thoughtful about Joseph Smith’s early history, as well as how my role as a Mormon and my role as a playwright/screenwriter/artist interconnect. But I also thought about how absolutely refreshing it was to see a faithful Mormon portray Joseph Smith with a degree of honesty and complexity. That is too rare a quality and I commend Christian Vuissa for making a film that is both candid and faithful, showing that the two are not mutually exclusive qualities. Continue reading “Sketching the Prophet: Portrayals of Joseph Smith in Film”

“If you two don’t give a crap about our friendship, I’ll just have to give enough crap for the three of us.” (Napoleon Dynamite on TV)

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Before I review this show, I have to tell you a bit about my history with the character and the movies.

Once, long ago, Lady Steed and I checked out a Final Cut VHS tape from the Orem Public Library that featured the BYU student film, Peluca, that later appeared at Slamdance and from which we can draw a direct line to Napoleon Dynamite. Same character (though he was named Seth at the time) and some of the same brilliant moments later colorized for the film-film.

We and our friends the Dugans used to show Peluca to people just to see how they would react. Us, we loved it devotedly. We watched it dozens of times. And showing it to someone new was a pretty foolproof way to predict the future of our friendship.

Shallow?

Perhaps.

Napoleon Dynamite premiered at Sundance just after the birth of our first child so, even though we were in Utah and had attended Sundance the year before, we did not even bother looking at the listings. When Napoleon became the breakout hit I was heartbroken that we had missed it and would not be able to see it until wide release.

The day of wide release, we took the baby and went to the first Provo show.

And from the opening second when Jon Heder stares out and sighs, I began laughing. I’ve been laughing ever since. We saw it in theaters I think eight times. I’m relatively certain our son will never see any other movie more times in theaters than he saw Napoleon the first year of his life.

For the record, it was also the first thing we let him watch on a tv screen. It was his favorite movie as a toddler and among his first words are Napoleon quotes.

On to the tv show.

Continue reading ““If you two don’t give a crap about our friendship, I’ll just have to give enough crap for the three of us.” (Napoleon Dynamite on TV)”

_Rings of the Tree: A Multimedia Play_ Premieres in February

Rings of the Tree Still Photo #1Zion Theater Company and Imminent Catharsis Media are presenting national award winning playwright Mahonri Stewart’s play Rings of the Tree on Friday, Feb. 3 and Saturday, February 4 at the Off Broadway Theater in Salt Lake City; as well as Thursday, February 9, Friday the 10th, and Monday the 13th, at the Grove Theater in Pleasant Grove. Continue reading “_Rings of the Tree: A Multimedia Play_ Premieres in February”

Marco Lui’s The Book of Life now available

Italian Mormon filmmaker Marco Lui’s LDS-themed comedy “The Book of Life” is now available as a digital download for only $4.99.

Those of you who attended last year’s LDS Film Festival (or read coverage of it) may recall the film “The Book of Life” by Marco Lui. It was quite the audience favorite, garnering favorable local media coverage and a very positive review at Mormon Artist Magazine. And if that’s not good enough for you — KevinB at AMV sister site LDS Cinema Online gives it a B+.

It is now available as a $4.99 download at Audience Alliance.

Not only is the film a new take on the classic “boy-girl meet in pre-existence and then meet again on earth narrative”, it’s an Italian (with English subtitles) LDS-themed comedy. Plus the press clippings (and people I know who have seen the film) say that Marco has a real gift for physical comedy. An Italian Mormon Modern-day Charlie Chaplin? That’s worth checking out.

The trailer:

Kickstarting WWJD

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Theric: Let’s start with the history of WWJD? Where did it come from? How did you find it? How did the New Play Project production do?
Davey: WWJD was written by Anna Lewis as her BYU Creative Writing Master’s Thesis. The idea started as a poem (which will be published later this year in Dialogue), and developed into a play through the BYU Writers-Dramaturgs-Actors workshop, led by Eric Samuelsen and Wade Hollingshaus. My wife, Bianca, was a dramaturg and actress in the workshop at the time, and got to see the script as it developed, offer feedback, and participate in the staged reading when it was finished. She loved the play, and had been wanting to produce it ever since; so, when we started planning New Play Project’s first season with Bianca as Artistic Director, WWJD was one of the first titles that came up. I finally read the script and completely adored it. We decided to do it.
The show ran the last weekend in March and one of the first weekends of April at the Provo Theatre (we skipped a weekend for General Conference–who in Provo wants to see a play about Jesus during General Conference?). Tony Gunn did a wonderful job directing, we had a fantastic cast, and audiences loved it. We were (I think understandably) a little nervous about doing a show in Provo where Jesus skateboards, goes miniature golfing, and plays Halo, and it was tricky to market–the script might seem a bit edgy for the Deseret Book crowd, but it’s also pretty G-rated and really quite reverent. As is usually the case with New Play Project, our most effective advertising was done through word-of-mouth–our first weekend, we had audiences of twenty or thirty people, but by closing night we were playing to a sold-out crowd, including a few people who had come back for a second time and brought friends. Almost everyone who talked to us after the show told us they loved it. One guy told Bianca as he was buying tickets, “I just couldn’t stop thinking about it, I had to come see it again.” It was really an incredibly rewarding experience–the sort of thing you really look forward to in theater and in the arts generally. We had a good time putting it together, and it was a project I think we were all excited to share with our audiences. And we were even able to pay rent on the theater.
Theric: So I hear there’s a new production of WWJD happening in Salt Lake? Tell us about that.
Davey: Actually, I don’t think there is. We’re having a round of auditions for the film in Salt Lake, so that might be where you got that idea–maybe we should look at that and make sure it’s more clear. (Unless there is a new production in SLC, and I just don’t know about it, which would be awesome!)
Theric: In that case, let’s move right into the real point of this interview. Filming WWJD. Whose idea was this?
Davey: Last summer I was starting to really get into low-budget and DIY filmmaking–reading a lot of blogs, watching no-budget movies, and seeing how beautiful and professional a movie can look for just a few thousand dollars. With DSLRs and other recent developments in prosumer HD and with online distribution I think we’re seeing a shift in the economics of filmmaking that’s unlike anything in film history–it’s a bit like the paradigm shifts of Italian neorealism or the French New Wave, but on a much broader scale. So right around the time I was thinking about directing a feature in the not-too-distant future, I read WWJD. The more I read the script, the more I loved it–and the more I started to see it as a film. I thought it was a shame that our stage production would probably only be seen by a few hundred people at the most, and I started getting really excited about the idea of shooting it. I e-mailed Anna Lewis, and she was thrilled about the idea. I got started adapting it and started talking to some potential crew members, and things grew from there.
Theric: I can get why the script inspired you. I somehow came across it online (all BYU masters theses being online these days) and started reading it and couldn’t stop even though I had more important things to do. I look forward to seeing the poem and, I hope, seeing the film. But even a cheap film is expensive. Even with (relatively) inexpensive cameras and options for digital distribution, you still require hours and hours of people’s lives to make it happen. What kind of range (both in terms of hours and dollars) do you anticipate this project taking?
Davey:
Theric: The reason I’m interviewing you about this project now (as opposed to next month or last week) is because of your Kickstarter campaign. So give us your pitch.
Theric: I can get why the script inspired you. I somehow came across it online (all BYU masters theses being online these days) and started reading it and couldn’t stop even though I had more important things to do. I look forward to seeing the poem and, I hope, seeing the film. But even a cheap film is expensive. Even with (relatively) inexpensive cameras and options for digital distribution, you still require hours and hours of people’s lives to make it happen. What kind of range (both in terms of hours and dollars) do you anticipate this project taking?
Davey: We’ll be shooting the first two weeks of August, with typical 12-hour shooting days. Our projected budget is around $10,000, about half of which we hope to raise through Kickstarter. Almost all of our cast and crew will be working for free, with the possibility of deferred pay if the film makes a profit or if we’re able to raise additional funds. I think we’ve been able to assemble such a strong crew primarily by virtue of the script–people are excited about the project, and it’s attracted a very talented group (and hopefully will continue to do so, with auditions for most major roles taking place this Saturday and next). We’re making the movie for (compared to most movies) virtually nothing, but we’ll be using the same kind of camera that was used to shoot movies like Monte Hellman’s Road to Nowhere, Lena Dunham’s SXSW-winning Tiny Furniture, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, Rubber, some of Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan and Robert Rodriguez’s Machete, and House’s sixth season finale. For an example of micro-budget filmmaking, check out this featurette on Gareth Edwards’ terrific Monsters, which came out last year, was shot for $15,000, and features big scary monsters breaking things on location in Central America. It’s an exciting time to be making independent films, and I hope WWJD will show how Christian and Mormon filmmakers can take advantage of new technology to tell great stories that traditionally probably wouldn’t get funded. After we wrap production in August, we’ll be working on editing the film and sending it out to festivals around the country.
Theric: The reason I’m interviewing you about this project now (as opposed to next month or last week) is because of your Kickstarter campaign. So give us your pitch.

As mentioned, we’ve got a great crew, and this really is a phenomenal script–incredibly smart, funny, and entertaining. I really think we’re going to be able to put together a great movie. As you mentioned, the play is available to read online for anyone interested, and I think it speaks for itself. As far as Kickstarter goes, for those who don’t know how it works, it’s an all-or-nothing fundraising platform–which means that if we reach our goal of $5,000 in 60 days, we get to keep all the money that’s been pledged. But, if we don’t make the goal, we don’t get anything, and no one will be charged for any donations they’ve pledged–which means, as a donor, you’ve got nothing to lose. Every dollar counts, and we have rewards available at different donation levels–including seeing your name in the end credits of the film (along with your very own IMDb page!), season tickets to New Play Project (if you’re in the area), and copies of the movie itself (on DVD, Blu-Ray, or digital download–so if you want to see the film, donate to our Kickstarter and consider that your pre-order). We’re putting everything we can into the film, but we need everyone’s help in order to get it made. It’s just the sort of intelligent, thoughtful, well-crafted and engaging story that AMV readers (and fans of the “radical middle”.

everywhere) will love..

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Theric: Let’s start with the history of WWJD? Where did it come from? How did you find it? How did the New Play Project production do?

Davey: WWJD was written by Anna Lewis as her BYU Creative Writing Master’s Thesis. The idea started as a poem (which will be published later this year in Dialogue), and developed into a play through the BYU Writers-Dramaturgs-Actors workshop, led by Eric Samuelsen and Wade Hollingshaus. My wife, Bianca, was a dramaturg and actress in the workshop at the time, and got to see the script as it developed, offer feedback, and participate in the staged reading when it was finished. She loved the play, and had been wanting to produce it ever since; so, when we started planning New Play Project’s first season with Bianca as Artistic Director, WWJD was one of the first titles that came up. I finally read the script and completely adored it. We decided to do it. Continue reading “Kickstarting WWJD