Sunday, April 21, 2013

STEP ONE: How to Choose a Play to Direct

Surprisingly, this step is a difficult one. Why?

Challenge #1: Finding Material
Clean, church-appropriate plays are really hard to find. And once you find a title that looks interesting, it's difficult to locate the script(s). I have spent hours in the past searching online for LDS plays and have not had much success (which is why I started writing my own). Thankfully, there are a few places where you can find them; I'll discuss this more later in the post.

Challenge #2: Getting Approval
The other challenge people have is finding a play that their Stake President will approve. I have heard of several situations where stake presidents have not approved the play that was proposed. I've even heard of directors purchasing the royalties to a play before their stake presidency even had a chance to read the script. (Royalties are the rights to perform a play and they typically cost money.) Once the script was reviewed, the stake presidency did not find it appropriate for stake members and did not give their approval. The member who proposed to direct it was then out a chunk of money and there were hard feelings.

What Type of Play to Look For
If you would like to produce a play in a stake setting, I have a few suggestions on what type of script to look for:

1. Make sure the script you're purposing is in line with the 13th Article of Faith.
"We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul-We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things."
Although it is necessary to show a certain amount of evil, in order to show the good, there needs to be a delicate balance - especially when presenting it to an audience of church members. One of the tests I give a script is: Is evil being glorified? If it is, then it's not suitable for a stake production. And of course: Will the Holy Ghost be present throughout the play?

I also make sure that the script I choose is free of any profanity, violence, false doctrine, irreverence, making light of spiritual things, sensuality and anything else that will not be conducive to the Holy Ghost.

When I was at BYU-Idaho, the school's president (and now apostle) walked out of a performance of 1776 because of a scene with sexual innuendo. Many people would consider 1776 a family-friendly play, but it wasn't clean enough for a church college, or a church audience.

In other words, there are higher standards for church audiences. (I personally feel like I should hold myself to that high standard, no matter what kind of audience there is.) When choosing a script to direct, we need to read it with that higher standard in mind. 

I'm sure we've all told someone about a movie we've seen by saying, "It was amazing...except for that one part that didn't need to be in the movie." "That one part" may be the difference between getting the play approved or denied. "That one part" can also create a very uncomfortable environment in the audience, take away from the message of the play, cause the Spirit to depart and turn what could of been a spiritual, faith-promoting experience into something that missed the mark. 

There are countless ways to depict evil and opposition without making it inappropriate. Sometimes less is more. Bruises on a woman's face are an obvious indication that she's been beaten - you don't necessarily need to show her getting abused onstage. A verbal argument is sometimes even more effective if the tension is suppressed instead of people screaming at each other. Subtle clues in dress and behavior can reveal a lot about a character without having  to "show" everything. Just make sure that the script will allow you to tastefully direct it without having to change the dialogue.

If you do need to change dialogue in a script in order to make it appropriate, you will need to contact the publisher to request permission. This might take a lot of time and trouble. I recommend just starting with appropriate material in the first place.

2. Make sure the play has a purpose.
You have a captive audience of hundreds of people in your stake. What  message do you want to share? Companies pay big bucks to place ads and commercials before movies, during TV shows, on the freeway...why? Because they have an audience! You will have an audience. What questions do you want your play to raise? What message do you want to pass on? You have an hour and a half to 2 hours to say something...make it count.

In my opinion, it is important to avoid plays that would be done at your local public schools. There's no reason to replicate a production or do something just for the sake of doing something. You have an audience of people who either share your values or are interested in learning more about them. Why do a play like Aladdin or The Music Man in a stake setting? Leave that to school or community theater. 

Many stakes want to get the youth involved, which is why they choose well-known musicals. In my opinion, the youth will come regardless; just advertise it in a way that will interest them. Youth (although they may not realize it at first) are hungry for something that really means something. Give them something with substance and they will feast on it and share it enthusiastically. By doing a meaningful play, you can help facilitate a life-changing, testimony-building experience for the youth (and adults!). 

That said, a "meaningful play" does not constitute a boring play. It does not mean that the play has to be serious and preachy. It can be a comedy, a drama (or both!),  a musical, etc.  It can still be fun and entertaining. Finding a play that is spiritually significant and applicable to the audience (and participants) will allow your production to do much more than just entertain...it can bring people to Christ.  (See my post: And They Shall Be Filled).

A play with a purpose will also interest your Stake President. Using the building, stake funds and time from the members involved will be easy to justify if there's a purpose behind it and if the play can increase testimonies. 

Finding A Play
So, let's say you want to direct a play that's appropriate for church audiences, meaningful and spiritually significant. Where on earth do you find it? This is actually a big challenge. 

As I mentioned, I've spent a lot of time searching for good plays to direct in an LDS setting. Luckily, I have found a wonderful link with the most complete listing I've ever seen of LDS Plays. 

A Producer/Publisher/Playwright/Director/Actor named C. Michael Perry has done a fantastic job researching and collecting plays by LDS playwrights /or plays for an LDS audience (he will be Guest Blogging on this site in the future). He also started Zion Theatricals, an LDS Play Publisher: http://cmichaelperry.com/stuff-ive-written/23-2/zion-theatricals/  If any of the links don't work, just contact C. Michael Perry directly (see the contact page on the link).

Another resource is the New Play Project. Here is the mission statement, taken from their website: 
"New Play Project is a non-profit theatre company based in Provo Utah, committed to producing values-driven works for the Mormon audience and to helping aspiring playwrights, actors and directors launch careers in theatre." 
They have an inexpensive anthology of plays called Out of the Mount that you can purchase in their store (I recommend the cheaper eBook). See http://newplayproject.org/ . Be aware that some of the plays may not be meant for a stake audience, but some of them could be. You will have to read them and determine for yourself. 

Zion Theatre Company is committed to producing meaningful plays. Many of them have been written by Mahonri Stewart. Some of them are available at the store on the website: http://ziontheatrecompany.com/store.html, but his other works are available by following the links on C. Michael Perry's website above. 

With Mine Own Hand is a great LDS Musical about the Book of Mormon. I saw it in Washington state and then again in Utah at BYU Education Week. http://www.nephi-story.com/. You can request a copy of the script on the website. 

I have written three plays that are meant for church audiences. They are all free. The first is Joseph Smith - Lover of the Cause of Christ. It has been performed in Austin, Texas, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, South Jordan, Utah and it will be performed at the General Conference Center Theater in May of 2013. You can get a free copy by emailing me at ldsplays@staheli.org. For more information about this play, go to: www.josephsmithplay.com
In Search of the One is a fairly new play based on 5 true reactivation stories. It has been performed in Utah and will be performed in Mississippi in the summer of 2013. If you'd like a free copy, email me at ldsplays@staheli.org. 


Witnesses of His Love is a music and theatre program written especially for Young Women. The extremely talented Doug and Sherry Walker wrote the Music and Lyrics to the songs and I wrote the script. The title of the program is taken from the song of the same name on Doug Walker's CD, What Heaven Sees In You (which includes the favorite 3 White Dresses song). It is meant to be used as a Fireside or a ward/stake Young Women Activity. http://www.whatheavenseesinyou.com/Witnesses_of_His_Love_Fireside.pdf. Their website has more information: http://www.whatheavenseesinyou.com/. The script provides opportunities for Young Women to share their personal experiences with each of the Young Women Values (Faith, Virtue, etc.). 

Savior of the World is performed annually at the General Conference Center in Salt Lake. Here is a link to the script(s): https://www.lds.org/callings/music/savior-of-the-world/scripts?lang=eng. The website also has information and guides for Set Design, Costuming, etc. 

Thankfully, The Cultural Arts Department of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is planning to post free scripts written by members of the church onto their website. I have a friend who works in the Music and Cultural Arts Department and she sent me this email:
"I work for the Church Music and Cultural Arts department.  We are trying very hard to get a website that will have the productions the Church has done or that have been winning entries in the submission program over the years that people can download free.  In the meantime, if you want to use anything the Church has, you are welcome to do so.  You would need to call or email the Department to ask if we have something about a particular subject or find out what is available.  The person who is over Cultural Arts is Jannette Lusk-Unterborn. The main phone number for MCA is 801-240-6492.  The email is pst-miss2@ldschurch.org."  
Thanks to my friend for this wonderful information. I love that you can pick a topic, call them and see if they have a play written on the subject. Their future website could prove to be an excellent resource in the future. 

Do you know of another script that is not listed here? 
If you have additional play suggestions that are appropriate for church audiences, please leave a comment below. 

Good luck choosing a script to direct!