Growing up, I was not good at, or interested in sports. I hated Boy Scouts. To be honest, I was a very much an ugly duckling with nothing to do and no real interests, beyond reading every Hardy Boys book I could get my hands on.
Then, I found theatre. I found something I liked and something I was good at. And that changed my life. I started acting and at 15 I started directing. I did that until I went to college. During this time, I would save every penny I could and go down to Pegasus music in Bountiful and buy anything I could find out of their small "soundtracks" section. This was how I became familiar with hot new shows I couldn't go see like Phantom, Into the Woods Cats, and Les Mis as well as older shows like Mame, Camelot, and Brigadoon and so forth.
I did theatre like most kids did sports--played them, watched (in my case listened to them) them, read about them, and I thought about them almost all the time. I read everything I could find about Broadway and musical theatre. It became a part of me.
I grew up and while theatre continued to be part of me, other aspects of my identity grew as well. I spent two years on a mission for my church and in the crucible of illness, discovered that the things I had been told all my life, the things I had accepted, were true. I became a committed--though deeply imperfect--follower of Jesus Christ.
I came home, went to college, got married, went to more college, had kids, and went to more college. All this time, I also did a lot of church stuff.
Here I am now, almost forty, with three degrees and a job in theatre, especially musical theatre. I am also active in my church. Next to my family, these two things compose the largest part of who I am and what I do.
So, it's interesting (to me at least) that these two things have collided somewhat.
The Book of Mormon Musical just swept the Tony awards, which are Broadway's equivalent of the Oscars. Produced by the creators of South Park, this musical is supposed to be both incredibly coarse and crude (most of the songs could not be broadcast on the television for the Tonys, nor can the lyrics or even some titles be printed in newspapers) and yet also rather sweet. Full disclosure: I have not done my habitual thing where I buy the cast album and read all about it because there are elements that sound offensive. So, I'm going largely on what I've read in the NY Times and heard from a few theatre people. It's about Mormon missionaries in Africa. It apparently ridicules religion but shows the missionaries as being devoted, decent chaps (that's my understanding--again, I haven't seen it, so I'm trying to be fair).
So, here I am a musical loving theatre guy and an active Mormon. What do I make of this show that everyone loves? It's not just that people like the show. It's apparently a very well done-production, and has actually been credited with bringing back my beloved musical theatre as an art form. At the same time, this show treats my faith and beliefs, one of the deepest parts of my identity, as a joke.
I'm pretty much a first amendment absolutist. I believe that a country that provides protection for missionaries preaching about The Book of Mormon also needs to allow people to mock those beliefs. That's just the way it is.
I don't think it's productive to get upset or boycot or things like that, either. The Church's official statement is a one sentence thing that basicaly amounts to: "Meh."
Personally, I think we all just need to grow a thicker skin and stop being offended at everything. Freedom of Speech is an incomparable gift and the cost is that we might hear things that offend us.
I just wish this were practiced more equitably. Why is it ok to mock Mormon beliefs and things we hold sacred, but jokes about other more favored minorities. are immediately off-limits. Imagine if people made a Koran: The Musical! or a musical making fun of feminists or homosexuals. First of all, it would NEVER be done. No one would back the show or agree to be associated with it. But if it did somehow get through, it would be boycotted, bashed, and denounced loudly and often. But Mormons--that's another story. It's just good clean fun and if they don't like it, then they need to lighten up and develop a sense of humor--that's the cultural subtext I'm reading.
In the early days of the Church, it was legal in Missouri to kill a Mormon (true story). The early Mormons eventually walked across the United States, from Illinois to Utah because they were murdered, beaten, raped and eventually driven out.
So, one potty-mouthed Broadway musical is not that big of a deal in the long run. To be honest, I'm not all that bothered by it, and I'm not bothered that people like it. I've just decided to ignore it and go about my business.
The Book of Mormon is a volume of scripture that goes along with the Bible in testifying that Jesus Christ is real, powerful, and personal. The two books have changed, and continue to change my life.
I think it's wonderful to live in a time and place when freedom to information is so great and the freedom to produce information is so great that you can find The Book of Mormon online. The corollary to that is that there will the freedom to make fun of it.
So, here's my advice to Mormons: don't get your hackles up. You don't have to watch it, like it, listen to it or go see it. You don't have to pretend to laugh at something that is offensive just to show you are hip or cool or not stuffy. Just ignore it. If the gospel is true, and it is, then this stuff will happen. But it can't really hurt us and it can't stop the work from progressing. But let's please not join the tiresome ranks of the joyless, humorless Politically Correct.
If you aren't a Mormon, and you like the show, then enjoy it. But be aware that your Mormon friends or co-workers might not share the joke. Chances are they won't be upset that you saw it, but may not see the humor in it themselves. You might also read a bit about The Book of Mormon and what it means to an active Mormon. There is a short summary here (you can order them for free online here and some missionaries will bring you a copy like in the play. Or, just ask a friend to give you one--we have lots). Here's a quick video clip where a living Apostle explains a little about the book (note: it won't be nearly as entertaining as the BOM musical!) but it might help you understand where we're coming from.
Okay, now I need to go to my summer musical theatre camp and teach the next generation of rising Broadway stars!
UPDATE: Ok everyone, I appreciate all the hits and the comments I've received for this post. I've had far more hits today than I ever get.
My intent with this post was just to share some personal thoughts and feelings on a phenomenon that has had some interesting implications for me.
I'm not really trying to start anything. In fact, my hope was to sort of contribute to peace by suggesting Mormons not get too upset by the play and to suggest that those who aren't Mormons possibly understand why their Mormon friends might not find it as funny as everyone else does.
I seem to have missed the mark on that and appear to be generating more heat than light here. Don't get me wrong, I think there's a place for spirited debate in our society. But that's not really what I wanted to start on my blog today.
One of the things I like most about my life is that I have a lot of people I care about from all religions, no religions, as well as different backgrounds, races, and regions. I love them all equally and would like to keep the peace.
There are plenty of other places to discuss this issue, so I think I'm going to turn off the comments for now.
Have a good night!