Friday, July 18, 2008

This is Kirtland!

I had the opportunity to attend a performance of This is Kirtland! last night up in Kirtland, about an hour north of Kent. Kirtland played a pivotal role in the rise and development of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and the Church operates an historical area there. Since 2004, the Kirtland Ohio Stake of the Church has produced a musical about the early Latter-day Saints in the area. In 2005, 2006, and 2007 I was part of the cast and even in the first show, 2004, I helped set up the lighting with my dad. When I was part of the 2005 show, I was the first cast member not from the Kirtland Stake. Each year I was a member of the cast, I was a different character. This year, however, with grad school and the unstable situation with the house, I elected not to audition for the show. Looking back on that decision, while I certainly miss performing and the returning cast members I knew, I am glad I didn't do the show this year because I would've been stressed out and way more tired, not to mention I would've had less money due to the high price of gas. I had enough stress from classes, though it was stress that I could handle and I still had time for myself after getting all my papers and readings done for the day. As I said during the first summer session, I couldn't imagine having to come home from class and have only a few hours before I had to get to Kirtland for a rehearsal or show. I really enjoyed having the maximum amount of time to get my work done and really focus on school.

Well, that aside I did attend the performance last night and had a wonderful time. It was the first time I attended a performance of the show as an audience member since the very first opening night way back in July 2004. The big difference this time around in the audience is that I have the play practically memorized (doing some 60 performances and countless more practices will do that to ya) and I know most of the cast. I really enjoyed seeing everyone again and experiencing the show again. It really is a fun little show. Granted, it's hardly a documentary about the Latter-day Saint experience in Kirtland, which lasted from 1831-1838, but it does touch on a lot of the good that happened in Ohio and some of the challenges. The show is performed at the Kirtland Ohio Stake Center on Kirtland Road (SR 306) right near the Church's Historic Kirtland area. Basically it's a small stage in a gym. Many LDS church buildings have gyms and a small stage (in addition to the chapel or sanctuary used for Sunday services), but Kirtland's is one of the only ones I have ever seen that has a real theater floor (as opposed to just carpet) and it is somewhat deeper than a typical church stage. This show also has professional lighting installed (done by my dad!) and uses authentic period costumes, so it's way above a typical stake "road show" or other stake performance.

The Church does pageants all over the United States, usually in areas of historical significance. The largest of these is the Hill Cumorah Pageant near Palmyra, New York. It is performed roughly about the time This is Kirtland! is performed, but it is a completely different production. Hill Cumorah is a huge outdoor pageant that can have upwards of 9,000 people attending each performance. The stage is a complex multi-level structure built on the side of the hill, the very hill where Joseph Smith uncovered the golden plates in 1827 he would translate to become the Book of Mormon in 1830. The pageant dramatizes several important stories from the Book of Mormon. In addition, the actors have no spoken lines as all lines are pre-recorded. The cast and crew is literally in the thousands and people come from all over the country and even outside the US to be a part of it. It is truly a remarkable and impressive production and is the largest outdoor pageant in the United States. This is Kirtland!, on the other hand, is a much more intimate production. The entire cast and crew isn't even 100 and the crew itself is just a handful of people. Most scene changes are done by cast members. Cast and crew members themselves come almost exclusively from the Kirtland Ohio Stake, which excompasses a large section of northeast Ohio from the east side of Cleveland to just west of Ashtabula and as far south as Hudson and Hiram, Ohio. A few members of neighboring stakes (such as myself and others) have taken part in the cast as well, though distance is usually the biggest obstacle to people doing the show that live in outlying areas. A typical audience for This is Kirtland! is a few hundred and the biggest can only be around 600 or so since it is indoors. Another big difference is that This is Kirtland! is a musical; Hill Cumorah is a pageant. It always amazed and continues to amaze me when people even try to compare them. While they both serve to entertain and educate, they do so in vastly different ways. I'm glad we have both of them, though I wish the church would give This is Kirtland! a little more exposure. The pageants at Hill Cumorah and Nauvoo, both run from Salt Lake instead of locally, get a lot of press from the church when they are presented since they are considered "church-wide" productions. This is Kirtland! is a locally produced show, so everything involved with it, including publicity, is handled locally. A few LDS-themed travel sites now mention it, but not the main church website www.lds.org. Hill Cumorah and Nauvoo have people sent to those areas to run their respective pageants. That can be a blessing and a curse if you ask me! I think the consensus here is that This is Kirtland! is better suited as a locally run show rather than one run from Salt Lake.

Well, being back definitely brought back a lot of memories for me. There are a lot of things I missed not being in the show this year, but also a lot of things I certainly didn't miss. I deinitley missed the people. Working with most of them for three straight summers was something I really enjoyed, so it was very nice to see them again and not only be remembered, but also to realize that I was missed this year. I also missed just performing as I enjoy being on the stage in front of an audience. I did get lots of opportunities to perform the national anthem these past few months, but being in a production like that is always special. Of course there were things I didn't miss either. For one, the commute from Kent to Kirtland is about an hour one-way, so with gas so high I didn't miss that long commute, especially as the show gets closer and I would have to make it every day. I also didn't miss the stress that comes with the rehearsals, particularly the final two weeks when they tend to be long and tedious, not to mention hot with the lights and costumes. I definitely don't miss the whole craziness with stage makeup. In a theater as small as the Kirtland Stake Center, very little stage makeup is needed, yet the makeup crew didn't seem to take that into account. It was like stage makeup had to be the same regardless of where it was being performed. Sorry...that's not the case! So many cast members were wearing such heavy makeup, especially the young kids. I noticed some cast members at the show last night that again had WAAAAAY too much makeup on. The point of stage makeup is to help the audience make out facial features better under the bright lights. If audience members can tell you have makeup on, you have too much. My first two years in the show I was so tan from working outside every day at Geauga Lake that I didn't even have to wear any makeup as I have dark eyes already and my skin looked like it had foundation on it from being darker. Last year, though, I wasn't as tan and the makeup lady insisted I wear stage makeup (she wasn't very tactful at giving makeup advice either). I did, but only minimal blush and foundation and Becky was responsible for putting it on. Lastly, I didn't miss some of the attitudes that seemed to exist. I always felt like I was viewed as some musical and theater novice despite my experience being in larger shows and what I had done in college. It was like my talents and abilities were being ignored, or at least so it seemed. It wasn't horribly bad, but I remember feeling that way when I would offer my opinions on things and it would get brushed aside.

Despite the negatives I've experienced at times, once the performances started the negatives pretty much disappeared, plus I enjoyed the associations and friendships I developed with the cast and crew (we came up with so many spoofs on just about every scene...). If not, I wouldn't have come back for my second and third year for sure! Being on stage and in character is quite an experience, but even more so when that character is a real person who lived a short distance from where the performances are! I fully intend on doing the show next year, though I recognize it will likely be very different as there will be a new director among other new cast and crew members. Grad school will be done by next May, so hopefully I will have at least a summer job so I can afford the gas to commute to Kirtland.

Notes on pictures: 1. Picture of the closing scene in this year's performance on July 17th; 2. Picture from song "He lives!" from the 2005 (my first year) show where I played several minor characters (as a member of the male chorus) including John Johnson; 3. Picture from the 2006 show where I played Professor Seixas and was also in the chorus; 4. Picture from the opening scene of the 2007 show where I played Newel K. Whitney; 5. Picture of the "Whitney family" at the end of the 2007 show run.

1 comment:

Cami said...

I'm Cami Robison and I was able to participate in this play for my first time in 2008. It has been the greatest experience in my life. I was able to play the part of the Whitney's daughter. I'm definetly going to be in it again next year if possible because you can feel the spirit so strong and it is a wonderful experience. If you have not seen this play, you should try to. YOU WILL NOT REGRET IT!!