As a young girl, I wanted to be another Katherine Hepburn, or Meryl Streep. (Of course, Meryl Streep wasn't Meryl Streep when I was young; so I wanted to be Katherine Hepburn.) I was going to be rich and famous, and until I got married I was going to have a mansion full of orphans and stray animals. As I got older my dreams matured a little. As I said before, I wanted to dedicate myself to the Lord in doing good works with my talents.
About seven years ago, I was performing with Denver Center Theatre Company and teaching at the National Theatre Conservatory. I was in an ideal situation, one that my professional peers in other cities would envy. Then I received a call from one of my former teachers at BYU. There was an opening in the department to teach acting. I said, "No, thank you." Returning to Provo would have been like committing professional suicide. A couple of months later the same offer came and I was encouraged to really think about it. So I did, and I prayed. I got this feeling that I was to return to BYU. I started to analyze myself. Was that a spiritual prompting or just indigestion? Was that really what God wanted me to do? Or just sentimentalism?
You must realize that I am one of those who doesn't receive clear strong messages out of the sky. I have great hindsight, I can see as I look back how God has protected me and saved me from some very stupid mistakes. But foresight? No, God hasn't given me that gift. I have to struggle and ponder.
I prayed again; another prompting? I wasn't sure . . . And what if it was? Then I got angry. I didn't pray for about two weeks. I thought, "I'm a professional actress! I've worked long and hard to be where I am. I don't want to go back to teach at BYU!" I struggled and pondered, and a thought came to me: "I am teaching a group of amoral people to succeed in acting. Who is teaching those people who want to be moral how to succeed in acting?" (pp. 4-5)
How can we build a drama on the spiritual values of absolute truth while still acknowledging the restless spirit of the larger dramatic culture of our age? Must we restrict our study to the orthodox but thematically sterile and dramaturgically inferior popular drama of our day and of past generations? More to the point, can we create a drama of our own? How can Mormon drama convey to the world the richness of our belief, when we know that drama by its nature must always deal with conflict and when the very best drama has always reflected attitudes of iconoclasm and equivocation? Or must our drama remain forever mired in mediocrity? Perhaps we should even ask the broader question: What place does drama hold in the divine economy? Why did God create Man with such a dramatic urge? (p. 159)
When I look at the question of building a Mormon drama today, I feel a greater sense of urgency than ever before. As the Church moves into greater prominence in American and world society, I am convinced that we, as a people and a culture, must begin defining ourselves dramatically. (pp. 82-83)
Drama--an art form that is unusually indicative of culture--remains the poor stepchild of Mormon letters. And so we must ask the question, Why have none of the writers who have shown promise in drama ever progressed beyond mere potential? I am convinced that the fault lies neither in a lack of talent nor in an excess of religiosity. Rather, our best writers in this field have, in my view, suffered from the lack of a sustaining theatrical environment in which they could flourish. (p. 92)
True learning usually involves a degree of discomfort: being corrected by a piano teacher, unlearning bad habits, or admitting prior ignorance. Even Joseph Smith had to first learn that the churches of his youth were wrong. Mormon playwrights, too, as they build an audience, must make room for tough-minded, challenging works and not shy away from inevitable controversy. At the same time, they also need to combine both faith and talent and give no quarter for the impression that Mormon artists are by nature rebellious, at odds with the authorities of the Church. The fact remains that Mormon novelists, essayists, or poets can generally push the boundaries of audience acceptability far further than playwrights can, for, as a popular art form, drama cannot offend too greatly and still survive. (p. 100)
We have never discovered art forms derived from and uniquely pertinent to Mormonism. Despite the axiom that a singular philosophy will generate indigenous art, we still produce neither new musical or graphic modes nor new conceptions of theatrical presentation. Rather, we try within existing forms to articulate those values which distinguish us.
Art representing those values will be affirmative, or life enhancing; illustrative of the eternal character of life, personality, and matter; an optimistic celebration of the joy of life and the goodness of the sons of God. These concepts inform our total perception.
Other more specific possible themes are: man's salvation was purchased by Jesus Christ; man is a sublime-divine creature; there must be opposition in all things; man is that he might have joy; the universe manifests a concept of eternal progression; man's exaltation derives from his ancestry and posterity as well as from his own acts. (p. 65)