Dave Mortensen on crowdfunding a production of Little Happy Secrets

Dave Mortensen is hoping to raise funds for a production of Melissa Leilani Larson’s AML-award winning play “Little Happy Secrets” early next year in Salt Lake City. In order to do so, he is using the crowdfunding website Kickstarter. Intrigued by the notion, I asked him to answer a few questions about the project.

Why did you decide to raise funds for a staging of “Little Happy Secrets”?

I attended the 2009 production in Provo not quite sure how I would feel about the show. I had heard the premise, but really I attended because I knew the director and playwright. The script really impacted me. I felt immediately that this is one of the great pieces of Mormon drama and I knew I wanted to be involved in bringing it to a larger audience. Fast forward one year and I’m now based in Davis County shopping around for a script to produce in Salt Lake City and I remember “Little Happy Secrets.” It’s perfect: a script I believe in, a playwright I’d like to support, and a small enough cast that I think we can manage a quality production at a premiere SLC venue.

Funding then became the next big question. I produce part-time while working during the day in a completely different industry. As a recent graduate the majority of my income goes towards paying debts and saving for car repairs. It’s just not feasible for me to lay down $4,500 for 6 months and risk not being able to make that money back. Theatre is a pretty risky investment and while I’m more than happy to invest my time and resources, I just can’t live in my car in the mean time. Continue reading “Dave Mortensen on crowdfunding a production of Little Happy Secrets”

A brief interview with Melissa Leilani Larson just before closing weekend


So tell us about the first weekend.

The first weekend went well. We’ve had a little technical craziness but we have overcome it, at least for the most part. I think the show is in a really good place. I feel confident in the cast and in the director, and I’ve been in the booth acting as stage manager so I feel good about that as well. We have a really solid production team and things came together really well in a really short period of time.

The difficulty, as per always, is getting people to come. Getting butts in the seats. I can ply my students with extra credit and bonus points till the cows come home, but even if they all come, it won’t fill our houses. It’s always a gamble; you can feel so good about the show you’re doing, the product you’re putting out there — but if no one shows up, then it’s almost — almost — pointless. Naturally I’ve grown in the process, and I like these characters so it’s a thrill to see them on stage. But I know them so well — I want others to have the chance to get to know them as well.

How has the production’s execution matched your original imagining?

One of my initial goals was to have the play feel filmy so that we wouldn’t have to see any actual film played on stage. The play does have a lot of brief scenes that are connected by title cards — just like silent pictures. One of the nice things about the literal theatre space itself is that it frames things; the proscenium allows for the audience to be separate, and the stage is raised so that you feel like you’re looking up at a screen. There are a couple of scenes in the play that “intercut” with each other — we go back and forth between two locations and two conversations so that questions in one place are answered in the other and vice versa, almost making the two separate scenes into one longer, deeper conversation.

Workshopping the play a couple of years back in grad school, I came to realize how important the live piano was to the show. It lends an air of the period and compliments that idea of framing what is happening on stage — the piano is visible to the audience, but is outside of the main frame. With this production we made the choice to have all of the sound effects in the show come from the piano, and I feel that is a strong and effective choice. I’ve already written into the notes for the play that live music is definitely preferred.

I think we have a great cast. I’m particularly pleased with the two leading ladies in the show. I think they carry it very well between them. I think their characterizations align with my initial imaginings, and that they successfully portray real people. It’s a relief as a writer to see that happen, to make that connection between what is possible on the page and what actually is enacted. So I count myself lucky in that regard.

What sort of feedback have you been getting? And what sort of feedback are you giving yourself (that is, what have you learned that you can apply in future projects)?

The feedback so far has been very positive. There is a review in The Deseret News that came out this week. Also we’ve had two audience talkbacks wherein some great questions have been brought up. People seem to like the characters and the story. They really enjoy the setting for the show — the title cards and the live piano — because it gives the piece a very nice ambience. People are also responding really well to the comical aspects of the piece, which means a lot to me; I’m self-conscious of my attempts at comedy, so it’s really great to hear an audience laugh in the right places.

As far as rewrites go, people like the characters and have actually said they want to see more of them. That the play happens just a hair too fast. Maybe there are a couple of scenes missing, though I can’t quite put my finger on what they are at the moment. It’s been great to see the show on its feet and see things work from beginning to end. Hearing the script aloud and being able to feel out the pacing with actors rather than just myself makes a huge difference in the process. I’ve cut things and rearranged things, and hope to soon figure out where those mysterious phantom scenes might go if I do go about writing them.

Something else along the lines of considering things for future projects: As a woman and a playwright, I try to create solid female roles. At least one, but I usually get away with two or even three. With this project, one of the concepts I started with was for Max and Sam to be surrounded by men, as that’s a proper presentation of the film industry in 1916. A lot of industries, actually. It made sense for the two lead actresses to be surrounded by a cast of, literally, three to five men. Next goal is to try to write a small cast that is all female. What’s it about? I couldn’t tell you. But that’s where it’s going to start.

Just one more question, a practical one: If someone’s in the area and wants to come, are tickets still available? What do they need to do? Will you be signing programs?

LOL. I can sign programs if people want; I don’t know that they will be worth much. The show has four more performances: Friday (the 16th) a Saturday matinee at 2:30, Saturday night, and Monday night. The evening shows are all at 7:30. Tickets are available at the door starting at 6:30 or at any time online at www.provostage.org. There will be post-show discussions after the matinee and Monday evening performances if anyone is interested in those.


Spring poetry, Writers for Young Readers venue change, Flickering, Bali and more

Cleaning out the mailbox/list of stuff I’ve been saving for a links post…

Spring Poetry Runoff

If you haven’t yet made it over to Wilderness Interface Zone for the second annual Spring Poetry Runoff, you should check it out. At last count, Patricia has 23 poems from 13 different poets lined up. The runoff is going to go well in to late April this year.

Looking for the Writing and Illustrating for Young Readers Conference?

It’s not being held at BYU this year — but it will be held. Check out the For Young Readers website for details. In brief, it’s going to be June 14-18 at the Waterford School in Sandy, Utah. The high number of active Utah-based writers and illustrators who focus on work for young readers means that you are going to get great panels and good networking opportunities so if you have an interest in the field, check it out.

Flickering hits the stage

Melissa Larson’s next play “A Flickering.” will have performances April 8-19 in the Provo Theatre. Here’s how Mel describes the play: “The play is set in New York in 1916. Max is a young woman trying to break into the infant movie industry while her best friend Samantha is on her way to a successful theatrical acting career. But controversy fuels the success of Max’s first film, at the risk of Samantha’s reputation — and their friendship.” Ticket info and show times at ProvoStage.org.

Island of Bali is Littered with Prayers paperback

Remember the excellent interview and awesome excerpt AMV ran a few months back about BYU musicologist Jeremy Grimshaw’s The Island of Bali is Littered with Prayers? Well Mormon Artists Group has sold out of the limited collector’s edition of the book and so has now brought it out in paperback.

BYU Studies reviews Thayer’s latest

Philip A. Snyder has posted an in-depth look at Douglas Thayer’s latest novel The Treehouse over at the BYU Studies website. Snyder does an excellent job of situating the novel in the context of Thayer’s body of work. He also notes that Zarahemla Books (which has published Thayer’s last two works) will be coming out with a collection of new short stories later this year. And Snyder ends the review with a sentiment I very much agree with: “With Thayer in his eightieth year and contemplating retirement from BYU, now would be a perfect time to reissue his work so general readers, as well as scholars, could review the very fine career of a pioneering writer of Mormon and other western fiction. Thayer and his writing deserve no less than that.” The Treehouse is available from the Zarahemla Books website.

Segullah on the Whitney finalists

Emily M. and Shelah discuss their favorite finalists in each of the Whitney Awards categories over at Segullah. Although I don’t agree with all of their picks (more on that later), on the whole, I think their sensibilities are well in line with those of most AMV readers and am in awe of their ability to read every single finalist. If you are looking to dip your toe in to LDS fiction, Emily and Shelah’s picks are a good place to start.

And that’s all for now. I will continue to post a links roundup from time-to-time, but the best way to receive timely info on the cool stuff that crosses my transom is to follow AMV on Twitter.

Producing Mormon Theater Outside Utah

It isn’t often that an LDS author creates an LDS-themed play that is performed outside of the few venues in Utah that are willing to occasionally perform Mormon works. I have the impression that the timeliness of the topic of the play has a lot to do with interest in performing these works, which makes me wonder, shouldn’t more Mormon playwrights confront topical issues? Or are they and I’m not aware enough?

Continue reading “Producing Mormon Theater Outside Utah”

Two events and three cool links

Or as I was tempted to call it: apropos of everything.

Father in Israel screening March 25

An advance screening of Christian Vuissa’s film “Father in Israel” will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 25, at the Megaplex 8 at Thanksgiving Point. Click here for details. The film’s theatrical release is planned for this fall.

“Little Happy Secrets” March 19-23 in Provo

The New Play Projects production of Melissa Leilani Larson’s play “Little Happy Secrets” opens tonight. You can . Larson bills her play as being “about a young woman coming to terms with her homosexuality without compromising her LDS faith.”

Menachem Wecker on a staging of “My Name is Asher Lev”

Menachem Wecker, who blogs on art and religion at Iconia, wrote a review earlier this month for The Jewish Press of a staging of Chaim Potok’s novel “My Name is Asher Lev.” I thought that this would be of interest to AMV’s readers because of Potok’s popularity in the world of Mormon letters, but even more I’m linking to it because it’s an excellent piece of criticism. Continue reading “Two events and three cool links”