Friday, April 11, 2008

New Play Project

I've been wanting to check out the New Play Project ever since I first heard about it a year or two ago. I finally got a chance last night. I'm really excited about what James Goldberg and his friends are doing down in Provo! I'm doubly excited because they seem to be succeeding, both in terms of the actual fare they're offering and also in terms of the structure of the project and the enthusiasm it is obviously engendering among those who are participating.

I'm not a theater person and I feel rather uncomfortable when it comes to writing formal reviews production. But I AM a passionate fan and advocate of quality LDS literature, and I would be stupid not to recognize what a valuable addition to Mormon Letters this New Play Project is. Here's the biggest value: audiences are being exposed to exploratory and innovative LDS-themed content. And here's the second biggest value: writers have a forum to expose the audiences to such. From what I can tell, both of those efforts are succeeding.

Probably most of the audience last night was made up of relatives, roommates and significant others of the actors and playwrights. But that doesn't matter; it was a good-sized audience, and all of those related supporters are future consumers of Mormon literature and theater, and worth impressing. As more and more students get involved, the audience will grow. I want to do what I can, though, to help NPP expand into a community project as much as a student project, because while it is mostly student-run, there is always the chance that it will fall apart as the founders graduate and move away. But there are some great benefits to the fact that it is mostly student-based. NPP seems to be almost a democracy in which anyone who wishes to be involved has a say in the decisions. James Goldberg and the other leadership of the project were enthusiastic about inviting participation, both immediately (they invited the audience to vote on which plays were best in order to determine which playwright would win a cash prize at the end of the run) and long-term (there were invitations and sign-up sheets everywhere--even passed around the audience--for people to come to the playwriting workshops or get involved in other ways).

It is this democratic, grass-roots base of the NPP that distinguishes it from other local theater companies similar visions of LDS-themed productions (Scott Bronson's Little Theater at the Covey Center, for example). Bronson's project is led by an artist with a vision for what he wants his theater to evolve into. Not to say that Goldberg isn't an artist (his play, Prodigal Son, was breathtaking). But it is apparent that he is very interested in the workshop aspect of the theater. I wondered at first, when I saw the number of students involved and the amount of support James has drummed up in the student community, whether Scott and James would benefit from combining forces. But I think they're better off (and we, as their audience are, too) by pursuing their separate paths to the goal of more quality LDS theater.

The production itself was thought-provoking and well-done. The individual plays varied in quality, probably according to the levels of experience of the playwrights. All had interesting comments on the Mormon worldview. All were enjoyable. As I mentioned before, Goldberg's Prodigal Son was especially impressive, with an intimate view into the anguish of a son who becomes converted despite a parent who has purposefully abandoned faith. (One tiny note: I did not like having the scene titles announced.) The acting in this particular play was superb. There were some great moments in the other plays as well, but this one stands out.

I'm so excited about what James is doing in Provo. I love the idea of presenting collections of short plays on different themes. I'm toying with the idea of rewriting one of my short stories to be a play, just to see if I can. The fact that there is a forum that I might, possibly, someday see my own play performed in is very encouraging to me as a writer. I'm sure it is more so for all the theater people out there (writers, actors, directors). I hope James gets a lot of support. Go on down there and check out what he's doing: you'll find it to be a worthwhile evening.

Here's the website: . This particular run ends Monday, but there will be lots more exciting things happening all year long.

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