Saturday, June 11, 2016

It's finally done! And now, revision . . .

This has been an action-packed spring for me as a playwright. In addition to participating in several events related to writing and LDS Church history, I finally finished the first presentable draft of my play on 19th century Mormon plural wives.

Without connections, a playwright's work is just a pile of recycling. That's why the events and groups I had the pleasure of attending these past few months have been invaluable. Now that I've befriended and briefly discussed my project with a few history, theater, and writing professionals, I am ready to plunge into the next big step: (yikes!) asking people to read my work, and offer feedback. (Dear Reader, if you'd like to be involved in this process, by all means, let me know.)

Playwright's Log

March 3, 2016. I enjoyed the LDS Church History Symposium, "Beyond Biography: Sources in Context for Mormon Women's History," hosted by BYU and the Church History Library and Museum. At this conference, I not only heard some inspiring historical lectures and papers, but had the exciting opportunity to network with some fantastic historians, such as the Church History Library's Director, Keith A. Erekson, as well as the author of my favorite polygamy history book (More Wives Than One), Kathryn M. Daynes.

March 12, 2016. I attended my first Writers' Edge meeting. Writers' Edge is an inclusive writers' collective that meets every 2nd Saturday of the month at the Millcreek Library to discuss writing technique, and to offer its attendees the chance to share some of their work, and get feedback. I've attended this group a handful of times this spring, and have been particularly excited to get feedback from the group's moderator, Greg Near, an experienced playwright who's had plays produced by local professional theater companies, such as Plan B Theater.

April 4, 2016. I saw Jacqueline Eaton's ethnodrama (verbatim theater) piece, "Portrait of a Caregiver" as part of a collaborative arts event, An Evening of Aging and the Arts, organized by the University of Utah's Nursing Department. As you may have guessed, verbatim theater is a rare form, and although I've spent some time on Youtube acquainting myself with other works in the genre, Eaton's production was the first live verbatim drama I'd seen. I had a great conversation with Eaton afterward, and she has generously offered to give me some much-needed mentorship.

April 9, 2016. The League of Utah Writers put together a day packed with poignant and practical writers' workshops at the Taylorsville campus of Salt Lake Community College. There I took copious notes on networking, branding, pitch-writing, and story pacing.

April 23, 2016. With the help of the Salt Lake Public Library Glendale Branch, I hosted an Artist, Interrupted event, "Stay Connected: A Networking Miniconference." Artist, Interrupted is an organization for those in the arts (like me!) who find themselves putting off artistic career goals in order to fulfill family needs or other obligations. I addition to making some great connections there, I also presented a cold reading of a scene from my play, and was encouraged by very positive feedback from the other attendees. One gave a helpful suggestion--that I present my play as part of a collaborative arts event featuring perhaps polygamy-themed artwork, and historically-appropriate music.

April 24-May 24, 2016. Knowing that I only had a few weeks before the end of my daughter's pre-K program, I took advantage of those last few home-by-myself moments to shift into full brain-squeezing mode. After 4 years of research and dialogue arrangement, I was surprised to find that creating stage directions would be the greatest challenge. I think the struggle may have been that it was a matter of taking my wild brainstorm of possible staging ideas and taming and distilling them into clear, specific instructions. As the countdown to the end of the pre-K school year fast approached, I compromised my "stay-at-home-mom" status by buying a Jump Around Utah pass, and taking my daughter there twice a week, to babysit herself among the bouncy houses, while I worked on the play from a nearby table.

June 10, 2016. I attended the Mormon History Association Conference at Cliff Lodge in Snowbird, Utah, where I enjoyed not only excellent presentations, but great conversation and made some new friendships and connections with Church history enthusiasts and historians, such as Lawrence "Larry" Foster, and Richard Bennett.

Moving one's work to the phase of publication or production is a slow and tortuous process. In my case, it's been accompanied by stages of fear and self-doubt. I'm so grateful for these events, and the people I've met this spring and summer, because of the motivation, and positive support they've rendered. This amazing project is about sharing the candid voices of historic women of faith--and I feel, now, an improved confidence to make these voices heard.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Weaving Poetic Dialogue: getting historical plural wives to finish each other's sentences

Today, I just want to offer you a little slice of the play I'm writing on 19th Century Mormon Polygamy. Last June I spent some time reading Michael Wright's book, Playwriting Master Class The Personality of Process and the Art of Rewriting, and came across the work of playwright, Elena Carrillo. In the book Carrillo describes several revisions of a one-act play in which she has three characters at a funeral, each describing the deceased to the audience. Rather than have each character speak one at a time, she allows them to overlap their speech in a way that gives the dialogue a polyphonic musical quality. In this way, she creates "music" with words alone; no singing or musical background is used.

Soon after reading this draft of Carillo's work, I became determined to put more of my poetic self to work on my own play. The result was two scenes of dialogue that highlight the fact that the historical women in my study often used similar phrases to describe their experiences. Here's an excerpt from Act III, Scene 1 of the current draft of my play. Before reading, please note that this is a verbatim drama, meaning that all the words spoken by the actors are quotations from the writings of the historical persons they are portraying. This excerpt is the middle of a scene about the persecution of Mormon polygamists by the federal marshals enforcing the anti-polygamy laws in the 1880s. Each woman in the scene tells the audience a separate story, but the events are woven together to show their similarity. If you're unfamiliar with theatrical punctuation, note that the ellipses ( . . . ) and dashes (--) indicate that the characters are interrupting each other slightly, as if finishing each other's sentences.

image taken from

Looking back over many years, I wonder now that the officers did not lose their lives at the hands of the Latter-Day Saints when it is understood how they meddled with Mormon affairs, sneaking into homes without license and into women's bedrooms.
(calming down)
Mary, my husband's fourth wife, had been hunted by the officials for months, without being found. She came home to her mother to bear her first child.

There had been yarns afloat that the officers being after my husband, Joseph, and he was on the watch.

One bright moonlight night in the fall of 1887 --

. . . It was conference time, and Lizzie's house was full as usual --

. . . one morning the 2nd of November --

. . . on September 1, 1886 --

. . . about 2:00 A.M. --

. . . 11:00 P.M. --

. . . just at daybreak --

. . . we discovered that our house was surrounded by deputy U.S. marshals --

. . . McGeary and Armstrong --

. . . McGeary, Mowers, and Hutchins, prowling around our house, peeking in the windows --

. . . there was two more outside, one at my north window, and one at the south windows --

. . . walked into the habitation without announcement --

. . . found us all in bed --

. . . he turned his flashlight upon those sleeping on the floor, some of whom were underground persons --

. . . they went and looked in every bed and examined the pillows to try to find out who had slept in the beds --

. . . These women all jumped up and taking their sheets around them fled into the corn patch back of the house.

Joseph had gone out the window --

. . . Aunt Julia was going out of a back door, but was stopped by McGeary --

. . . and Sergeant stopped him --

(to the other women)
My father made a dash for the back door and ran through the orchard down the hill to the big creek where he expected to hide in the willows, but was overtaken by an officer and arrested.

Thompson read his paper charging him with living with more than one wife.

They had a subpoena for me.

She and her husband were both put under heavy bonds to appear in the court at Beaver.

And so the pen was well filled with some of the finest people in the land.

Thanks for reading. When it's produced, the purpose of my play will be to foster a safe environment for people of faith with sincere questions about polygamy. Coming to terms with polygamy for LDS persons is a matter of genuine scholarly research, as well as a journey for the heart. My goal is to create a theatrical space where audience members can see an in-depth discussion about polygamy (with all its controversies) that doesn't disparage The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or its leaders.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Annie Clark Tanner, A Mormon Mother and Plural Wife

In April (2015), I presented a scene from the verbatim drama I'm currently writing about 19th-century polygamy (in the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints), at a small works-in-progress event for local performing artists (with an organization called Artist, Interrupted). At that event,  I received feedback that led me to start seriously considering the idea of creating a narrator that could better link together the many real-life accounts of plural wives that I wanted to set on stage. I was torn, because in the spirit of verbatim drama, I wanted the play to be entirely composed of the words of historical women--I had no interest in adding on a fictional character with fictional dialogue. And I certainly didn't want to create a cheesy, modern, character who, for instance, "stumbles over a box of diaries in the attic." On the other hand, I agreed that establishing a central character for the audience to follow throughout the whole play would deeply enhance my work, and make it more enjoyable for my audience. In the end, the solution was Annie.

Annie Clark Tanner (1864-1942)

 Annie Clark Tanner (1864-1942) wrote an incredibly well-researched autobiography entitled, A Mormon Mother. In addition to a vivid description of her life, this book dedicates itself to telling the story of polygamy. She goes into the history, beginning in the Nauvoo period, cites primary and secondary sources, including Church historian, B.H. Roberts, and includes several essays on the doctrine, culture, persecution and eventual decline of the practice of plural marriage. She reminds me of myself--researching and writing to present as truthful a picture of polygamy as possible. I originally chose to include Annie as a character due to her candid feelings about her own experience, but it was easy to see that her biography had opened itself as the umbrella under which all the characters in my play could stand. The moment I began my search for a narrator, Annie seemed to be vying for the position. Suddenly, everything became clear--with Annie as my narrator, I could stick to my verbatim dialogue plan, and present a central story with a clear protagonist.

As the play has evolved in the last few months, the character of Annie has become a researcher, looking to the writings of other polygamous wives, comparing their experiences with her own in a quest to sort through the evolving feelings of her own experience as a plural wive. And this is how, without even altering her words, I can put myself into this play. Annie is me, a faithful Latter-Day Saint who wants to tell the story of polygamy from start to finish in all its sacred simplicity, and terrible complexity.  In a way, I feel that I become the main character of this play--and I want my audience to feel that way, too--I want to invite them to take the emotional, paradigm-shifting journey that I've come to enjoy as I study the words of historic plural wives.

Friday, May 29, 2015

How They Defended Polygamy

I remember the very beginnings of my research into the written records of 19th century polygamist wives for the play I'm currently writing. (Click here for a description of the play).

"I'm looking for writings by polygamist women about how they felt about, y'know . . . being polygamists." I asked awkwardly.  Going all the way down to Brigham Young University's Harold B. Lee Library was an odd choice, because I live in Salt Lake City, an hour's drive North of BYU. But I thought it would be nice to start at my alma mater, because it was something familiar, and in all other ways, I was clueless about how to begin.

"Okay," replied the library at the desk, "do you have a call number?"


"No problem. Whose writings should I help you look up?"

"I don't know." By this time I was already blushing. What I really needed was advice on how to get started. "Is there a list of polygamist women somewhere?"

"Um, I don't think so." While I stood for a minute, feeling stupid and unprepared, the librarian was engrossed in typing a variety of search terms into the catalog. "Aha!" she announced, "got something for you."

It was "Defence of Polygamy" (original spelling) by Belinda Pratt, an 1854 letter Belinda wrote from her home in Utah to her sister (not Mormon) in New Hampshire. She later published the letter as an essay for a public audience. Upon reading the letter, I knew immediately that it would become a monologue for my play.

Utah women in 19th century polygamy were up against much more than the worries of family and friends back East. Even after escaping anti-Mormon persecution in Missouri and Illinois by migrating across the plains and over the Rocky Mountains, polygamists continued to fight philosophical persecution. In Utah, they were not isolated from eastern American media, and were well aware of the many books, pamphlets, articles and political cartoons that formed an anti-polygamy campaign against them. Sometimes Mormon women were called harlots, their homes being termed harems. Alternatively, there were anti-polygamy media attempting a sympathetic view of the women in polygamy. These portrayed polygamist wives as deceived, helpless, and oppressed, as in the political cartoon featured below. The women in polygamy took umbrage at both characterizations. Here's how Helen Mar Whitney Kimball (a daughter of Heber C. Kimball, and wife of Joseph Smith Jr.) responds to the view the female polygamists are deceived and oppressed.
To such as believe Mormon women to be the dupes and slaves of men, I will relate the testimon[y] of my sainted mother . . . which I heard repeatedly from [her] own lips in days gone by. My mother said she could not doubt that the principle of plurality of wives was of divine origin, for the Lord had shown it to her in answer to prayer (A Woman's View: Helen Mar Whitney's Reminiscences of Early Church History, 136).

If some of us are willing that our husbands should marry more wives and provide for them and their offspring, I cannot see whose business it is but our own. There is no compulsion in the matter as our self-appointed judges would make it appear. Every Latter-day Saint has his or her own free agency, if it affects their sensitive morals too much I would advise them to seek homes in a more congenial climes in some other part of the Earth, where they will not infringe upon the rights of others. (Ibid., 62-3)
Image source:
More Wives Than One: Transformation of the Mormon
Marriage System 1840-1910
by Kathryn M. Daynes
 These quotations written by Helen in the 1880s are complex in light of the fact that she may have been exactly the type of woman the anti-polygamy media was concerned about. She explains that as a 14-year-old she chose to marry Joseph Smith, not because of love, not because of seduction, but due to the strong encouragement of her father, and Joseph's promise that the marriage would "ensure your salvation & that of your father's household & all of your kindred." Although she was a very young person under a great deal of pressure, in her reminiscences, she defends herself to the world, emphasizing that the choice was hers, "I will-ingly gave myself to purchase so glorious a reward" (Ibid., 196-7). In this same part of her writing, Helen makes a metaphor that reveals the complicated nature of her mother's feelings. Here, Helen refers to the biblical practice of animal sacrifice, then to her mother, Vilate, Kimball, Heber C. Kimball's first wife, and a Sarah Noon, one of Heber C. Kimball's plural wives.
My father had but one Ewe Lamb [Helen], but willingly laid her upon the alter; how cruel this seamed to the mother whose heartstrings were already stretched until they were ready to snap asunder, for he had taken Sarah Noon to wife & she [Vilate] thought she had made sufficient sacrifise, but the Lord required more (Ibid. 196-7, spelling errors are Helen's).
Although Helen uses the story of her mother's acceptance of polygamy (the result of an answer to prayer) to prove that women in polygamy were not "the dupes and slaves of men," she also lets us know that acceptance of polygamy wasn't simple. To say that she and her mother accepted or were willing to become part of polygamy was not to say that they genuinely looked forward to it. Although they entered the practice of their own free will, they did so out of a religious obligation, rather than desire. To someone outside of the practice of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, this would seem nonsensical. The choices women made to enter polygamy can only be understood in the context of a culture that believes in a God who expects strict obedience, commands mankind by means of a prophet, and rewards a person in the hereafter for righteous sacrifices made in this life.

While they were seen as duped by blind obedience, many women in polygamy spoke intelligently about their decision-making process before entering it, and were sincere in their assessment of the system after years of living in it. In my own study of women who remained faithful to the Church and polygamy, several wrote critically of the practice even as they defended it, explaining that while the principle was pure, there were those living it who lacked pure intentions or habits. Mary Jane Mount Tanner says as much in an 1882 letter to her aunt, Mary Bessac Hunt in New England. In the quotation below, I have retained Mary's original punctuation and spelling errors.
It is a principle that is easily abused if a man is not sound at the core and does not rely on the strength of God to direct and sustain him he is liable to err. Error in any capacity creates confusions President Young used to say that many were sealed up to damnation. But only those who lived the law could enter the Celestial Kingdom. Meaning that many of those who entered the law of celestial marriage [polygamy] would not live it righteously and would receive condemnation and wander into wickedness I have lived in it sixteen years. Have I been happy? Not always. It takes time to overcome our weaknesses. We have the same disposition, the same selfishness, and jealousy and egotism to contend with, but we accept it as a religious duty. And ask God for wisdom . . . I have seen much happiness, contentment and satisfaction. It opens to us a broader field for usefulness. We are working for the emancipation of mankind. Woman is not a stone in poligamy, let people say what they may (A Fragment: The Autobiography of Mary Jane Mount Tanner, 189-191).
In my study of the public and private writings of 18 women faithful to polygamy, 9 women wrote statements that could be classified as "defense of polygamy." Most of these women wrote extensively on this topic; this category of my notes is comprised of 12 typed pages of quotations. To conclude this blog post, I will offer one more compelling statement. This is part of an essay in response to the accusation that the men and women in polygamy are vile and corrupt.  It's written by a wife of both Joseph Smith, and Brigham Young, Emily Dow Partridge Young.
Polygamy tends to ennoble and glorify. It was not installed for those who love wickedness and would trample on the gems of heaven. It has been given to earth for the benefit of those who love truth and righteousness. It is true, that every good principle is often abused. The vile cannot live happy in polygamy. It does not belong to them. And those that condemn it are not free from guilt. And I would say to the intelligent and honorable ladies of the Christian world, do not accept the misrepresentations and lies that are thrown broadcast but investigate our principles--our works. The tree is known by its fruits (Journal, Emily Dow Partridge Young, November 16, 1878).

Friday, May 22, 2015

Verbatim Theater and 19th Century Mormon Polygamy

As a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I've always been both fascinated and afraid of the topic of Mormon Polygamy. In the summer of 2012, after producing a play about the early life and conversion story of the prophet Wilford Woodruff, I was bothered that my research yielded so little information about his wives. His personal writings had a remarkable lack of comment on his relationships, and his personal feelings about plural marriage. I felt compelled to take on a new project: a play about the perspectives of Mormon women in 19th century polygamy.

c. 1864. Sugar House Ward Bishop Ira Eldredge and his wives, Nancy Black, Hannah Mariah
Savage, and Helwig Marie Anderson. Photo taken from Mormon Sisters by Claudia L. Bushman.

Three years later, I find myself finally transforming my research into a play! This work will be presented in a documentary theater style known as "verbatim theater," in which every word spoken by the actors onstage is a quotation from the real-life person they are representing. This type of theater has been used since the mid 20th century to support and illustrate journalism and sociology--and has typically been used to present audiences with contemporary issues. Verbatim theater playwrights often interview the people who will be represented in their plays. My work differs in that because my characters are deceased historical persons, my quotations come from journals, diaries, letters, speeches, and other 19th-century publications.

Here's an example of a verbatim theater production (not about polygamy) to give you a taste of this theatrical style.

(This video clip is a portion of a verbatim play about "casual academics," that is, part-time, or adjunct university faculty. These actresses represent interviewees who discuss the anxieties of this type of work. I should warn you that this clip comes from a somber scene in the middle of the play.)

Verbatim theater comes with many artistic challenges. I found (and still find) myself asking, "How do I turn quotations into dialogue?" "How do I turn the stories of many women into a single story with a plot that is both compelling, and simple enough for an audience to follow?" "How do I turn 150+ pages of research notes into a play that's short enough for an audience to sit through?" "How do I make each scene artful and entertaining, so that my play is more than a bunch of actresses on stools taking turns telling their stories?"

Working for solutions to these questions has been an exciting and fulfilling process.  Above all, my goal is to answer my audience's questions about polygamy by cultivating an experience that is
  • informed by the work of respected historians,
  • free from bashing of the Church or the historical persons portrayed, and
  • genuine, in that it doesn't shy away from the odd and sometimes controversial experiences or feelings expressed in the primary source material written by the faithful Latter-Day-Saint women represented on stage.
The characters in my play-in-progress are a diverse group of courageous, passionate, quirky, and devoted women. I can't wait to share their words with you!

I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Publicity 3. Community Calendars

Utah Event Advertising--for Free!

Early on, it occurred to me that community events calendars would be a great way to advertise for Wilford's Conversion. It's free, and people actually use them to find shows to go to. Here, I've created a list of Utah community and entertainment events calendars--with some tips and commentary. The title of each organization I list is linked to the online form for submitting an event on that org's calendar (when applicable).


KRCL. This is a radio station (90.9 FM). They allow you to upload a logo image, which needs to be 150 pixels wide by 170 pixels tall. Shauna Hatton, one of our Wilford's Conversion actresses, created the logo image--and I used it for all the other calendars that let us upload an image.

KUER. This is the local public radio station based at University of Utah (90.1). They allow you to upload a logo image.

KSL. This is local news radio. (102.7 FM, 1160 AM) They have an events calendar, but it's just for their KSL events, you can't add events.

KBYU. This is the classical station based at Brigham Young University, "Classical 89." (89.1 FM) They have an events calendar, but it's just for their KBYU events, you can't add events.


Now Salt Lake. This is a little entertainment newspaper in Salt Lake associated with the Salt Lake Tribune. Before the Trib even read the press release we sent them, I had gone online to try to add our event to the Now Salt Lake events calendar.  However, the website didn't allow me to enter our information, because it requires that your event venue be one of the places they list in a drop down menu. I didn't understand why they couldn't just have "Other: _____________" as one of the options. A few days after my failed attempt, I found our event on their website--so, I guess they input events that the Trib reporters forward to them.

Salt Lake Tribune. I heard that the press edition of the Salt Lake Tribune does a Friday section called, "The Mix." It's an entertainment/arts calendar. I assume this online brief with our event info appeared in print in that section.

Deseret News. You can't create a community calendar event online for these guys. When I called the community calendar lady, Linda Arave (801. 237. 2100), she said you have to mail it in to

P.O. Box 1257
SLC, UT 84110

But, I didn't need to do that, because when I called the DN to follow up about my press release, I requested that it be put in the community cal, which they did for me.

City Weekly. This is another great SLC local news source, with a beefy entertainment events calendar. However, I've noticed that from time to time, articles in CW have an anti-LDS bias. I would certainly use it to publicize a secular play, but not Wilford's Conversion.

The Daily Herald. This newspaper allows you to add events to their calendar, but you have to register an account, first. I think our info ended up on their cal, because they put it on after receiving our press release.


Fox 13 News. This lets you add your event online. For some reason, I couldn't get their website to let me upload an image, but everything else worked out.

KSL. As far as I could figure out, these guys don't have a community calendar.

Other This is a Utah tourism website. It was easy to use. However, it didn't allow me to upload an image. This is a very cool entertainment events website. The Utah Arts Council website referred me to it.  In addition to allowing you to add events with an image (1MB max, and has to be JPG), they have a section where you can search for or post artist profiles. This website was difficult to use, because it requires you to create an account first. It also doesn't let you put in multiple dates at once, you have to create a new event for each date of the performance.

I don't really know how many audience members these community events calendar listings brought in for us. But it's a great way to get the attention of people who are actually out there looking for events to go to--and it's free advertising!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Transparent Budget for Wilford's Conversion

Now that I've had a month to recuperate from Wilford's Conversion, I'll be posting now and then about the work that went into it, the information I gathered, and the lessons I learned. Here's a summary of our budget:

We made $1089.50 selling tickets at the door. $5 each for adults. That means we had 217.9 paying audience members. (My dad told me that he let someone in for $4.50.) This worked out great for us, because I spent money based on the expectation that we would have at least 180 paying audience members. And then, of course, there were expenses I didn't originally anticipate . . . In summary, we got very close to breaking even.

Total Spending        $1282.29

Actors' Pay                $480.00
Costumes                   $398.95
Tithing                       $108.95
Sound                         $100.00
Publicity                       $87.79
Props                            $49.97
Scripts/Binders            $24.03
Auditions                     $19.85
Playbill/Tickets            $12.80

Although we didn't make a profit, I decided to pay tithing (Yes, I'm a Mormon) on what we made in ticket sales. The "Auditions" cost was the cost of printing audition posters, and other audition forms. Actor's pay depended on the size of the role. Each actor earned $10-$80.

I was very grateful to find a sound guy willing to provide the equipment, and man the sound board for three performances. However, working with a cheap system proved to be a liability in the end. For future performances, I will make sound a bigger budget priority. Planning to perform outdoors didn't work out for us, either. I'll be posting soon about affordable performances spaces that I want to consider. Many of these will come with their own mic system, or be small enough that actors can easily project their voices.

I certainly spent more money on costumes than I would have liked. My original plan was to spend only $200. The most expensive items were men's early 19th century jackets rented from Hale Center Theater (both the West Valley City, and Orem locations). I tried to justify keeping the actors in shirts and vests, but in the end, I decided it didn't make sense for the actors to go without jackets in the play's winter scenes. I'll post more on costumes soon.

Next year, I plan to spend more money on advertising, and host a greater number of performances (5 or 6 instead of 3).