Drama

by Charles Metten

Latter-day Saints have supported and participated in theatrical activities throughout their history. Members of the Church established one of the first community theaters in America at Nauvoo, Illinois, in the 1840s. The Prophet Joseph Smith directed that a home dramatic company be established. He taught the Saints to seek after all things "virtuous, lovely, or of good report, or praiseworthy" (A of F 13). These included theater, drama, and the related arts—music, dance, painting, singing, acting, and writing. Theatrical activity in Nauvoo did not cease until 1846, when the city was besieged and the Saints were driven out.

Soon after arriving in Salt Lake Valley in 1847, the Latter-day Saints erected what they call a bowery (a temporary shelter made from placing tree boughs on a frame structure) on the southeast corner of what became Temple Square. Three successively larger boweries replaced the first. Concerts, plays, and dances were performed there. President Brigham Young observed, "If I were placed on a cannibal island and given a task of civilizing its people, I should straightway build a theatre" (Skidmore, p. 47).

Social Hall in Salt Lake City was formally dedicated in 1853, scarcely more than five years after the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in the valley. In Utah and the Mormons, Benjamin G. Ferris described the presentations held there: "During the winter they keep up theatrical exhibitions in Social Hall, and generally the performances are better sustained in all their parts than in theatres of Atlantic cities" (quoted in Maughan, p. 5).

The Salt Lake Theatre, one of the finest theater buildings of its time, was dedicated in 1862. Brigham Young believed that it had been created for an ennobling purpose. During the dedicatory service, he said, "On the stage of a theatre can be represented in character evil and its consequences, good and its happy results and rewards, the weaknesses and follies of man and the magnanimity of the virtuous life" (quoted in Maughan, p. 84).

The tradition of theater continues in the Church today. Latter-day Saints write and produce plays, musicals, and roadshows. Roadshows are original mini-musicals, locally created and produced under the sponsorship of ward and stake activities committees. The Church also sponsors religious pageants, including those presented annually in Palmyra-Manchester, New York; Nauvoo, Illinois; Independence, Missouri; Temple View, New Zealand; Calgary, Canada; Oakland, California; Mesa, Arizona; and Manti and Clarkston, Utah (see pageants).

Brigham Young University in Utah and Ricks College in Idaho have theater departments that train playwrights, actors, directors, and designers. The Promised Valley Playhouse in Salt Lake City is owned and operated by the Church. It stages its own productions, and its facilities are also available for stake and ward performances.

(See Daily Living home page; The Arts home page)

Bibliography

Clinger, Morris M. "A History of Theatre in Mormon Colleges and Universities." Ph.D. diss., University of Minnesota, 1963.

Gledhill, Preston R. "Mormon Dramatic Activities." Ph.D. diss., University of Wisconsin, 1950.

Maughan, Ila Fisher. Pioneer Theatre in the Desert. Salt Lake City, 1961.

Skidmore, Rex A. "Mormon Recreation in Theory and Practice: A Study of Social Change." Ph.D. diss., University of Pennsylvania, 1941.