Sunday was the closing performance of 3, the final play in Plan B Theatre Company’s Season of Eric. Or perhaps I should put it #seasonoferic, social media being all the rage these days. I already wrote from the heart about this marvelous year. But last night we had a staged reading of the first draft of another new play. And so it continues.
The new play is about 11th century papal politics, and right now, it isn’t very good. This often happens. Plays aren’t so much written as re-written, and this piece needs a lot of work. Frankly, hearing the reading, I thought the middle third of the play was just flat boring. This is not a good quality in a dramatic entertainment. But the core is solid, the characters work, and all the problems are fixable. So onward.
I’ve been writing plays, and getting them produced, for 36 years now. I’m fifty seven years old; I turn fifty eight on Thursday. And for most of that time, I was living and working in Provo, Utah. There’s a general tendency for people in Salt Lake to think of Provo as backward, reactionary, conservative, old-fashioned, out of touch. Hicksville. All these criticisms/impressions are entirely correct; exceedingly well founded. I live in Provo because for many years, I taught at BYU; my house is ten minutes from the campus where I worked. It’s now ten minutes from the campus where my wife works. I live in Provo as a matter of convenience and necessity.
And yet, I sort of love it. It’s become home in the most personal sense of that word. There are many aspects of Mormon culture that drive me bananas. But my ward is characterized by kindness, and my neighborhood is both nurturing and pleasingly eccentric.
Until recently, for example, we had one family in our ward that had these huge dogs; Newfoundlands. The dogs were trained as therapy dogs, and our friends routinely took them to children’s wards in hospitals to interact with sick kids. When my daughter was ten, she had to have surgery, a serious back condition, and our friends came to see her in the hospital, and brought their dog. It was astonishing, to see how that visit transformed my daughter. We’d see our friends walk the dogs down the street, and it was almost comical; the dogs looked more like bears than canines. But they were endlessly gentle, the dogs. I’m still moved when I think of our friends and their hundreds of visits to hospitals, and these huge dogs bringing joy to the lives of sick children.
There’s another family in our ward; good friends as well, from South Africa. And the husband is very active in local politics. He is, of course, a staunch Republican. But he could not possibly be more respectful of my heterodox Democratic stance. He does tease me from time to time about it, but I tease him right back; we’re friends, in every sense that could possibly matter. And I know he puts in countless hours working with city government on issues that affect our neighborhood. Puts me to shame, to be honest.
I honestly think that living in Provo has made me a better playwright. Such is the power of confirmation bias that all of tend to think tribally. And if our political tribe is ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ then we tend to think of ideas from the ‘left’ as self-evidently true and valuable and ideas from the ‘right’ as deluded or mistaken or perhaps even actively malicious. But I have two tribes now. One is my Salt Lake tribe, the family of actors and designers and theatre professionals who try,as best we can, to do some good theatre from time to time.
But my other tribe is in Provo, in my ward, where people try to raise their families and do their home teaching and find fulfillment in callings and service.
And bad playwriting is polarized, bad playwriting is all about heros and villains and people who are Right in opposition to people who are Wrong. I’ve done it myself, and been embarrassed afterwards. I don’t want to write that way, any more than I want to live that way. I want to honor the best of both my tribes. I’m Salt Lake and Provo. A pretty conventional progressive and a Mormon high priest. Both/and.