Mormons and Entertainment

by the D’s, Duane Hiatt and Dick Davis

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    “All the world’s a stage,” said Shakespeare. Today that’s an understatement. The world is not only a stage, it’s a color TV dominating the living room and a drive-in screen commanding the skyline. It’s 10,000 car radios lined up on a freeway, and a home quadraphonic tape deck loud enough to peel the wallpaper, and seeping through it all, the steady anesthetic rippling of canned background music.

    Yet with all this “entertainment,” America is developing few great entertainers. One reason is that there is practically no training ground for a performer to work up from aspiring to inspiring. Time was when vaudeville—the tap dancing, Irish tenoring, Gallagher and Sheening throb of America’s show biz pulse—provided this training. Stumbling, quivering-voiced hopefuls starved, practiced, performed, and moved on to the next town (sometimes by popular demand). They perfected their acts and dreamed of vaudeville heaven—the Palace Theater, New York City.

    But vaudeville shuffled sadly off into the wings in the late ’30s. Not even an encore. Some people say it was death by suicide. True, the depression staggered it, but when vaudeville passed up the family ticket to grab for the easy stag show buck, when it went for the sleazy laughs and the cheesey girls, it split the house and pulled its own final curtain. Such is the fate of those who try to entertain by reaching the hormones instead of the heart.

    Today there is almost no apprenticeship program. A performer is either a no-name or a household word, and often his talent doesn’t have that much to do with it. At least as important are the recording studio engineer’s imagination, the hired back-up musicians, the advertising and distributing people, and a long list of efforts vaguely labeled “promotion.” Show business today would be better off with more show and less business.

    Maybe that’s how the world wants it, but Mormon tastes ought to be more demanding. Art, including popular art, usually reflects the culture from which it springs. We Mormons have a unique culture and the greatest message in the world. We should produce outstanding entertainment, and we are getting better at it.

    Our Aaronic Priesthood MIA productions are the world’s most successful amateur hours. BYU, Ricks College, the Church College of Hawaii, and program bureaus at LDS institutes provide some opportunities for good amateurs and semipros. There are some professional opportunities for good LDS talent.

    As with every other phase of the kingdom, Mormon entertainment will “roll forth,” but it won’t roll by itself. Participants on both sides of the footlights will have to support and demand entertainment that is not only clean but meaningful and well-done. In the final analysis any entertainment given by or for Mormons must measure up to the standard set up in Moroni 7:12–17 [Moro. 7:12–17]. It “inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ.” (Moro. 7:16.) Popular entertainment has the capacity to do this as well as its opposite.

    Whether you plan to be a stage immortal, the hit of your family home evening, or just a member of the audience, here are some points you might consider.

    Timing. Partly you’re born with it; partly you can develop it. Can you feel when things are frantic or dragging on stage? Timing—especially comedy timing—is a matter of milliseconds.

    Pacing. Pacing is an overview of timing—how the whole show feels as it runs. Pacing is also what the director is doing when the timing is off.

    Variety. Smiles, giggles, tears, suspense, relief, motion, stillness, loudness, and softness make a good show if you get them in the right proportions and arrangements. But it’s like Grandma’s bread. There are recipes you can follow, but it doesn’t taste like Grandma’s until you’ve done it as many times as she has.

    Humor. “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Never be redundant, superfluous, circumlocutory, sesquipedalian, loquacious, or verbose!

    Confidence. Believe in yourself. Here are some of the people who were told they had no talent: Enrico Caruso, Dick Cavett, George Bernard Shaw, Melvin Glutz. (You’ve never heard of him. He really didn’t have any talent.)

    Originality. Show business is like army orders. The original is on top with a dozen carbons underneath.

    Dirty Material. There is no excuse for using dirty material these days when dry cleaning is so cheap and convenient.

    Stage Fright. Don’t be afraid. Nobody has been hurt by a stage since 1873 when the Wells-Fargo tipped over.

    Talent. Talent is not just singing, dancing, or blowing a horn. Talent is anything you do well. Everybody has some. You just have to develop it and find the right place for it. If everyone runs away when you stand up to perform, remember that’s a talent too. Genghis Khan became a star.

    Have you ever imagined the marquee lights blinking your name on and off? The drum rolling, the spotlight focused on the curtain, the audience hushed, expectant, the announcer saying, “And now, ladies and gentleman, the fabulous …”

    Ever dream that? Yes? No?

    Maybe you think Johnny Carson was Kit Carson’s brother and Gone with the Wind was a weather report, or maybe you’re like Dick and me, with so much ham in you you’re afraid to walk past a supermarket. Whichever you are, entertainment is still a big part of your cultural environment.

    Illustrated by James Christensen