In the Cultural Hall

January 14, 2005 | 36 comments
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The danger in telling people you write a little bit is that they then assume you can. Last week a friend from my ward called and asked me to write the libretto for a musical show she has been called to coordinate for the stake; a few of the creative decisions had already been made, she told me, but she needed me to write lyrics and a narrative frame for the story. The show is meant to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of our stake, headquartered at the Butler Hill meetinghouse; the stake presidency had designated a “Sound of Music” theme, and the show had been titled, naturally, “Butler Hill Is Alive with the Sound of Music.” Last night, at the end of a three-hour meeting with the other creatives recruited for the project–at which I was utterly floored by everyone else’s encyclopedic knowledge of “The Sound of Music”–we had hammered out the basics: the best seven songs, one for each ward, will be re-written with Mormon-themed lyrics, Herr Detweiler will be the master of ceremonies for an overarching talent show narrative that will link the numbers (just like the talent show at the end of the movie, you see), and we’ll even throw in a salsa number to showcase the Spanish-speaking unit.

Amateur theatricals of this sort have a long history in the church. Nauvoo had a community theater, and Joseph himself directed that a home dramatic company be established. Soon after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, the saints erected a bowery–a makeshift pavilion–on Temple Square to house performances of concerts, plays and dances. In 1853, scarcely five years after arrival, the bowery was replaced with Social Hall, in which a full complement of theatrical exhibitions was maintained during the winter. And in 1862 the Salt Lake Theater, one of the finest facilities of its time in the west, was dedicated: at the service, Brother Brigham 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.”

As Utah gradually become more diverse and more secular by the end of the century, the ward replaced the community as the focal point of church-centered social and cultural life. Colorful dance festivals appeared at June conferences; in the 1930s road show competitions, featuring original mini-musicals, emerged in stakes and wards and persisted for many decades. The church sponsored–and continues to sponsor–a number of religious-historical pageants. Even as recently as my childhood, our stake participated in large regional dance festivals and mounted a full-scale annual musical.

Beginning in the 1960s, though, wards and stakes have diminished somewhat as centers of social and cultural life. The consolidated meeting schedule, the reallocation of tithing funds to pay ward expenses, increasing workplace demands, and the proliferation of competing secular extra-curricular activities for youth and children have all contributed to this scale-back. It’s my sense, however, that recent years have seen a renewed emphasis on stake and regional cultural events, an attempt to recover the cultural traditions that had been somewhat impoverished. Our stake president told us that “Butler Hill Is Alive” was conceived specifically in response to a letter from SLC urging that large cultural events be reinstated; a few years ago I attended a leadership training meeting that conveyed the same message; even the construction of the Conference Center, the establishment of the Orchestra at Temple Square, and the occasional cultural events at the Conference Center seem to suggest this renewed emphasis.

I look over this history approvingly, and in theory I like the idea of recovering a Mormon culture of amateur arts. In reality, though, I am not blessed with an optimistic vision, and I confess that my heart quails at the prospect of long meetings, under-attended rehearsals, last-minute emergencies, and uneven results. I am glad to help my friend, and I am pleased to associate with other people from around the stake, but I acknowledge some dread as I think about the ordeal ahead.

What kind of cultural events do your units sponsor? Have you noticed a recent resurgence in emphasis? Do these events strengthen members?

Oh, and if you can come up with a clever lyric to “How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria,” sister-missionary style, I’m open to suggestions.

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36 Responses to In the Cultural Hall

  1. Kaimi on January 14, 2005 at 11:44 am

    Sorry, I’m all out of clever lyrics for today. But I will grant you permission to use “Put Potatoes with the Veal” if you so desire. :)

    (What’s the context of the song, anyway? Maria is a problematic sister missionary? In what country? Any other constraints? This may be more fun than document review . . . ).

  2. Julie in Austin on January 14, 2005 at 11:46 am

    In a previous life, I taught speech and drama. And I have to say that everyone always underestimates how incredibly difficult and time consuming it is to write a script as a group effort.

    So I was pleased to see that last year, the Church did a call for scripts. I believe the winners were showcased at the Conference Center. I think local cultural efforts would be much, much better for all involved if they had some scripts to choose from.

    (BTW, my script got an honorable mention. :) )

  3. Kaimi on January 14, 2005 at 11:48 am

    Given that I actually had a companion who came down with malaria on the mission, it seems that one possibility is to make it into “how do you solve a problem like malaria?”

    You could turn it into a general complaint about missionary health. That could be a fun song — if a bit icky.

  4. Kaimi on January 14, 2005 at 11:49 am

    Jules,

    Really? Cool!

    What kind of scripts did the church call for? And what was yours about? And do you wanna post it on T & S?

    Kaimi (who thinks that writing scripts would be a thousand times more fun than attorney document review).

  5. Rosalynde Welch on January 14, 2005 at 11:53 am

    Julie, congratulations! What’s the premise, plot, genre? And are these scripts available for local units to use, or are they reserved for use at the Conference Center? (That was my vague impression, when I read about the call somewhere.)

    Kaimi, there’s no particular dramatic context, since the frame is a talent show. Yes, Maria could be a problem sister, though I don’t really like the direction that would take. I think I’d rather have it be a clever–and mostly positive–comment on mission life. Malaria… interesting…

  6. Rosalynde Welch on January 14, 2005 at 11:54 am

    Hmmm, Kaimi, if you don’t actually get around to that document review, you may well have lots of time on your hands for writing scripts…

  7. Jack on January 14, 2005 at 12:09 pm

    While I don’t know what the appropiate lyric would be, I’d say that the sister missionaries’ biggest problem is the elders.

  8. Kim Siever on January 14, 2005 at 12:14 pm

    Our stake is putting on a youth-done play. They sent out a request to all the wards to submit a suggestion for someone to help out with the music side of the things. The first thing our bishopric did was think of me since I am a drama major. I had to explain to them that there is a difference between acting and directing the music aspect of a musical. If that doesn’t work, I will simply tell them I hate musicals and that I will end up puking if forced to do it. ;-)

  9. Bryce I on January 14, 2005 at 12:23 pm

    Our stake staged a production of The Music Man last year. It was a success, by most accounts. I didn’t get to see the production — I had some conflict with my schedule. My wife and kids really enjoyed the show.

    There’s some debate as to whether the stake should do a different production this year. I hope they do — my oldest would love to be in it. However, there was enough time and expense involved to make the leadership think carefully before committing to such an endeavor.

  10. Bryce I on January 14, 2005 at 12:37 pm

    TOTAL Nathan may or may not post this, but it deserves some mention, so I’ll take the liberty of doing it for him.

    Late last year Nathan’s stake filmed their very own Book of Mormon movie. Read the blog-by-blog account here:

    The studio execs make their unreasonable pitch
    Costume design
    Nathan’s script
    Shooting begins, and publicity stills and posters
    The reviews are in. Nathan keeps his day job.

  11. gst on January 14, 2005 at 12:42 pm

    Bryce, if they do put on another production, make sure to invite Mort Guffman.

  12. Bryce I on January 14, 2005 at 12:52 pm

    Oops, forgot this one:

    Stills from the finished movie

  13. danithew on January 14, 2005 at 12:55 pm

    Bryce thanks for posting those links from TOTAL Nathan’s blog. They were a very funny read. Reading them reminded me of a long ago Westchester Ward production of a music video (for a stake activity) that involved shudder the song “Careless Whisper” by WHAM! And I recall shudder that I had a primary role in the video. It really scares me to think someone might still have a copy. My wife would probably pay money to see that though.

    Rosalynde, the one line from the Sound of Music that I think could be used to funny effect is “I need someone older and wiser, telling me what to do …” but I guess that isn’t in the song you’ve been assigned.

  14. Rosalynde Welch on January 14, 2005 at 12:58 pm

    Danithew, we’re adapting “Sixteen Going on Seventeen,” too. It’s going to be a review of the youth program by ages with the associated activities–mutual, youth conference, stake dances, missions, that kind of thing. Again, I’m open to suggestions. Wide open.

  15. danithew on January 14, 2005 at 1:04 pm

    I believe that the line “I need someone older and wiser telling me what to do” is sung with sincerity. Perhaps in the new modern independent-woman version, the line could be laced with a bit of sarcasm?

  16. Bryce I on January 14, 2005 at 1:10 pm

    Clearly, you have six verses that suggest themselves:

    Young man 13 going on 14
    Young woman 13 going on 14
    Young man 15 going on 16
    Young woman 15 going on 16
    Young man 18 going on 19
    Young woman 18 going on 19

    expressing anxiety over the changes that are to come.

    The older and wiser ym/yw (who is 14 going on 15, 17 going on 18, 19 going on a mission/20) gives advice back.

    The obvious punch line is the YW leader who is 29 going on 29.

  17. danithew on January 14, 2005 at 1:20 pm

    I think I just lost a comment so I’m typing this again. Sheesh. :)

    Here’s the lyrics to the “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” song:

    [Rolf:]
    You wait, little girl, on an empty stage
    For fate to turn the light on
    Your life, little girl, is an empty page
    That men will want to write on

    [Liesl:]
    To write on

    [Rolf:]
    You are sixteen going on seventeen
    Baby, it’s time to think
    Better beware, be canny and careful
    Baby, you’re on the brink

    You are sixteen going on seventeen
    Fellows will fall in line
    Eager young lads and rogues and cads
    Will offer you food and wine

    Totally unprepared are you
    To face a world of men
    Timid and shy and scared are you
    Of things beyond your ken

    You need someone older an wiser
    Telling you what to do
    I am seventeen going on eighteen
    I’ll take care of you

    [Liesl:]
    I am sixteen going on seventeen
    I know that I’m naive
    Fellows I meet may tell me I’m sweet
    And willingly I believe

    I am sixteen going on seventeen
    Innocent as a rose
    Bachelor dandies, drinkers of brandies
    What do I know of those

    Totally unprepared am I
    To face a world of men
    Timid and shy and scared am I
    Of things beyond my ken

    I need someone older and wiser
    Telling me what to do
    You are seventeen going on eighteen
    I’ll depend on you

    All this “little girl” talk should seem a bit condescending in this day and age. So this song is ripe for alterations, satire, etc.

    Maybe I’m being influenced a bit by the fact that I just listened to the Destiny’s Child song “Independent Woman” but my thinking is that these lyrics could be altered a bit to express a new more modern teenage female attitude. Of course I doubt you have a Beyonce to work with.

    Even if you don’t change the lyrics, if you have the right girl playing the Liesl part, she could probably elicit laughs just by rolling her eyes a bit as she sings some of these lines.

    The more sincerely Rolf plays his part and the more sarcastic Liesl gets, the funnier it could be. At least that’s my take on it.

  18. Matt Astle on January 14, 2005 at 1:24 pm

    Here’s a start on the original request, taking Kaimi’s suggestion of malaria and opening it up to the catalog of missionary problems, and how they can be solved:

    She prays with me and scrapes her knee
    Her dress has got a tear
    It’s raining on our way to church
    And nobody is there.
    A bird flies overhead
    And leaves a present in my hair!
    The answers all are here in the White Bible!

    CHORUS:
    How do you solve a problem like malaria?
    How do you overcome JW libel?
    How do you deal with dirty men who scare ya?
    It’s in your pocket! The Rulebook! The White Bible!

  19. Jeremy on January 14, 2005 at 1:44 pm

    When I was in the YM presidency each quorum and YW group was asked to prepare a skit for a standards-themed show. We were assigned the themes of compassion and friendship, or something like that. I sat down with the teachers’ quorum and, inspired by out recent screening of classic church movies, we emerged from a brainstorming session with the rough outlines for a remake of the old favorite, Cipher in the Snow — except the boys decided to set our version in a skate park. And instead of dying face down in the snow because all the other kids hate him (seriously! In case you haven’t seen it, that’s what happens in the original! This message brought to you by the CoJCoLDS!), our main character is befriended by a band of Samaritan skaters, and, in fact, learns some mad skillz and ends up kicking the mean kids’ butts in a skate competition.

    I was enthusiastic about the project, but after several mutual nights of unsuccessful storyboarding and filming (it was like herding cats. on skateboards.), I finally gave up and told the boys if they wanted to do it they’d have to finish it on their own. Once I wasThey met together one saturday and finished all the shooting, then a couple of the guys got together to do the editing. By the time they were done it was film festival worthy–fancy titles, background music, sound effects, fancy cinematography, even an authentic looking FBI warning at the beginning and some outtakes at the end. Everyone was quite impressed.

    The most gratifying part, however, was the kid that played the cipher was new in the ward and hadn’t yet been fully accepted into the other boys’ circle of friends; over the course of the project life imitated art and the boys developed a heartwarming rapport.

  20. Kevin Barney on January 14, 2005 at 2:01 pm

    When I was a boy in the early 70s they still did road shows, but now they are almost (not quite) extinct in our stake. For awhile they tried to alternate athletic and drama years, but that didn’t work. There have been one or two years where road shows were put on, but in our ward at least, the interest was almost non-existent, and the results were pretty pathetic.

    The best of these types of experiences that I can recall was a film festival held about 16 or 17 years ago. This was oriented around the youth, and each ward made a little 10-minute movie on videotape. I think the kids had more fun, and the end result was probably more interesting. Our ward had an unfair advantage, with lots of talented and creative people to help, and we ran away with top honors.

    Anyway, road shows are a slowly dying relic of Mormon culture.

  21. Rosalynde Welch on January 14, 2005 at 2:26 pm

    Bryce, yes, that’s the precise idea. And the YW leader’s “29 going on 29″ is priceless! (Of course, I *am* 29 going on 29…)

    Matt, I love it! I think that’s just the angle I want–a gently exasperated laugh at the idiosyncrasies of mission life, just as the nuns in the movie are gently exasperated with Maria.

    Jeremy, what a great experience. I enjoy working with the youth, and I’ve spent more time in youth programs than in any other calling, but I must admit that I’ve never seen them step up the way you describe. I’ll chalk it up to my poor leadership skills. Or skillz, I suupose.

    Kevin, good comparison to the athletic programs. Church athletics are one area in which I flatly decline to participate … choir, road shows, youth conference, girls camp I can be coaxed into–mostly because I’m terrified that if I refuse I’ll be punished by being called as next year’s director! But because there’s no chance in this life that I’ll ever be called as stake athletics director, I smile and say “No thank you!” without fear.

  22. Bryce I on January 14, 2005 at 2:30 pm

    I guess there’s also the YM leader who’s 45 going on 15, trying to rediscover his lost youth, playing practical jokes, trying to play basketball with the boys only to throw out his back…

  23. danithew on January 14, 2005 at 3:31 pm

    Rosalynde,

    Is it your experience that declining an invitation to participate in something ends up in you getting a calling you don’t want (that is related to the activity you declined to participate in)? I’m just curious.

  24. Chad Too on January 14, 2005 at 11:15 pm

    Ahem.

    “Malaria” does not rhyme with Maria.
    “Diarrhea,” on the other hand… ;-)

  25. Kaimi on January 14, 2005 at 11:28 pm

    Well, with apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein (and to anyone else whose delicate sensibilities will be offended by an awful knock-off):

    Nineteen, Going on a Mission (sung to “Sixteen, going on Seventeen”).

    Young Elder: I am nineteen
    Going on a mission
    Off to the MTC
    Learning the lingo
    I’m just a gringo
    Trying to stay in key

    I am nineteen
    Going on a mission
    Heading off two by twos
    Learning to hike
    And riding a bike
    While wearing my Sunday shoes

    Totally unprepared am I
    To contact or to preach
    Timid and shy and scared am I
    Of folks who I might teach
    I need someone older and wiser
    Telling me what to do
    DL: I am 21, still on a mission
    I’ll watch out for you.

    DL:I am 21,
    Still on a mission
    My girlfriend’s okay
    Told me she’d wait
    But she had a date
    And now she’s his fiancee

    I am 21
    Finishing the mission
    Lonely as I can be
    Heading back home
    I’m feeling alone
    Who’ll want to talk to me.

    Totally unprepared am I
    To flirt or date again
    Timid and shy and scared am I
    Of things beyond my ken
    I need someone older and wiser
    Telling what to do . . .

    Girl: I am nineteen
    You were on a mission
    I’ll take care of you.

  26. Kaimi on January 14, 2005 at 11:30 pm

    By the way, I had extensive assistance from Mardell on that last post.

  27. Kaimi on January 14, 2005 at 11:39 pm

    Hmm, perhaps the girl at the end should say something like

    “I have a boyfriend
    He’s on a mission
    I’ll take care of you.”

    Or some other sort of Dear-John-vicious-cycle kind of humor. There are probably some options here, though it’s a little hard to make it work with the short space provided.

  28. Rosalynde Welch on January 14, 2005 at 11:54 pm

    Kaimi, brilliant! How fortunate I am to have a frustrated songwriter as a friend! I knew there was a reason I should post about this… The best verse is

    DL:I am 21,
    Still on a mission
    My girlfriend’s okay
    Told me she’d wait
    But she had a date
    And now she’s his fiancee

    Rodgers and Hart, make way for Wenger and Wenger!

    (These are great, I’m definitely using them!)

  29. Julie in Austin on January 15, 2005 at 10:07 am

    Kaimi and Ros–

    I think the call was for one act plays and reader’s theater scripts. As far as I know, there are no publication plans–which is a shame. I say that not because of my personal involvement (what I wrote was a little cheesy and I’m not convinced it deserves an audience, but I felt my usual moral obligation to be sure there was something on the table about early Christian women) but rather because I think not having scripts available is somewhat akin to not having music available to choirs and requiring them to write their own; there would be a serious decrease in the quality and quantity of church music were that the case.

  30. danithew on January 15, 2005 at 10:20 am

    Kaimi and Mardell,

    Nice work on those lyrics!

  31. Rosalynde Welch on January 28, 2005 at 2:05 am

    All right, so if anybody’s still interested, here’s what I’ve come up with so far.

    To the tune of “How Do You Solve a Problem like Maria?” (with thanks to Matt Astle for the opening lines!):

    She tracts with me and scrapes her knee; her dress has got a tear.
    It’s raining on our way to church and nobody is there.
    A bird flies overhead and leaves a present in my hair!
    Oh, mission life is making me quite crabby!

    The district meeting’s gone so long we’re running late again;
    Investigators disappear, the bus breaks down, and then
    We meet a golden contact in the taxi and that’s when—
    I realize a mission’s not too shabby!

    I’d like to say a word about this trial:
    A mission makes me smile.

    How do you solve a problem on your mission?
    How do you carry on when life is cruel?
    How do you find the words for this condition?
    A “trial by fire”? The “best two years”? A “jewel”?

    Many a thing a mission life can teach you
    Learning to serve and love and understand;
    Companions who sleep too late, and gaining a little weight,
    All help you appreciate this promised land.
    How do you solve a problem on a mission?
    Love, work and prayer, and scriptures in your hand!

    When I’m tracting I’m afraid, knocking doors I’m all dismayed,
    And my green companion doesn’t have a clue!
    Long discussions can be tough, cancelled baptisms are rough,
    But I know with faith and hope I’ll make it through.

    We’ll out-baptize all the elders, this week’s number will be stellar
    Then we realize we’re coming down with flu!
    Life is thrilling, life is cold; life is tragic, it’s pure gold;
    It’s a headache, it’s a blessing, it’s all true!

    How do you solve a problem on your mission?
    How do you carry on when you’re adrift?
    How do you find the words for this condition?
    An “awesome adventure”? A “spiritual high”? A “gift”?

    Many a thing a mission life can teach you,
    Learning to serve and love and understand;
    Companions are always great, even when they sleep late,
    They help you appreciate this promised land.
    How do you solves a problem on a mission?
    Love, work and prayer, and scriptures in your hand!

  32. Rosalynde Welch on January 28, 2005 at 2:07 am

    And to the tune of “So long, farewell” (there’s obviously some stake-specific historical material in this one, use your imagination):

    There’s a sad sort of buzzing from the bell in the hall
    Saying, “Time to be on your way!”
    But mem’ry and friendship need no chime to tell time;
    They’ll never ever slip away. (Away, away)
    Regretfully we part ways,
    But you’ll be in our hearts’ gaze–

    We say goodbye
    To you!

    So long, farewell, to all who’ve come and gone–
    Hello, come in, to those who carry on!

    So long, farewell, to welfare farms and bus trips–
    We plan to keep the ice cream social picnics!

    So long, farewell, to leaders, friends and teachers–
    But not so fast, dear President Sylvester!

    So long, farewell, to twenty-five great years–
    Let’s greet the next with harmony and cheer!

    It’s time to go, Pres. Finlinson is snoring–
    He has to give a talk tomorrow morning!

    So long, farewell, to all who’ve come and gone–
    Goodbye
    Goodbye
    Goodbye (etc)

  33. Rosalynde Welch on January 28, 2005 at 9:51 am

    And the grand finale…

    Butler Hill is alive with the sound of music
    For twenty-five years, and for years to come.
    The songs fill our hearts with the sound of music
    Together we’ll see all we can become.

    Together we’ll work and we’ll grow through the months and years
    Like the bright crescent moon;
    We’ll bud and we’ll bloom through the joy and tears
    Like the roses in June.
    We’ll laugh and we’ll play like the warm sweet breeze
    Of Missouri in spring,
    We’ll find and we’ll share
    All the sweetness the gospel can bring!

    Butler Hill is alive with the sound of music
    We’ll press forward now, as we have before,
    Our hearts will be blessed with the sound of music
    And we’ll sing once more.

  34. annegb on January 28, 2005 at 10:34 am

    I just did something like this on a small scale on accident. I had an idea, pushed to get my way (imagine that), and wrote a sample script, dashed it off, and told the people in it to make up their own, sort of like that.

    They just said what I wrote, and it turned out to be a huge pain in the neck, putting it all together. I thought they would have more imagination than that.

    But the problem of writing it, and the problem of putting it on are separate ones. I think writing it was easier, well, because I put so little effort into it.

    Getting everybody together, setting it up, that was a terrible experience. I needed medication to deal with my obsessive tendencies and everybody else needed medication to deal with me. I never want to do that again. I really thought they would just take my ideas and do the work.

    On another note, I really hate all these cultural, get together, I call it busy work. I don’t see how these activities make us closer to Christ. It seems they take your money and your energy and leave everyone drained, not uplifted.

  35. Sheri Lynn on January 28, 2005 at 11:25 am

    Sister Welch, with your kind permission, I’d like to print that out (post 31) for the sister missionaries in my branch. They are just darlings, truly showing love unfeigned for everybody.

  36. Rosalynde Welch on January 28, 2005 at 11:35 am

    Of course you may, Sheri! We don’t have sisters in our ward, and I miss them.