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Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Roof Overhead Won the Association for Mormon Letters Award for Best Drama

I hope people don't mind if I'm self indulgent in relating something exciting that happened to me this weekend. My play A Roof Overhead (which was produced by my Zion Theatre Company as well as Arizona State University's student theater, Binary Theatre Company) won the Association for Mormon Letters Award for Best Drama in 2012. I also received an Honorary Lifetime Membership Award for my work with ZTC and my editorial work for the upcoming Saints on Stage: An Anthology of Mormon Drama. For more about the Conference and who won what awards go to: http://blog.mormonletters.org/?p=6111

It was such a lovely weekend at the AML Conference, filled with beautiful people, fantastic presentations, and a pervasive spirituality. Here are the citations from the AML for the awards I received:

AWARD IN DRAMA for 2012: A ROOF OVERHEAD

A Roof Overhead, by Mahonri Stewart, exemplifies what I like most about Mormon theatre: real Mormons, in real situations, who do their best to overcome their weaknesses, who don't always succeed in the time-frame of the play, yet the leave the audience with hope that a resolution will be forthcoming.

Like life.

The Fielding Family is the center of this story, but they are not THE story. The people who come into their lives, who interact with them through the course of the play, are the story. The play is more of an ensemble piece than a play about any single person.

Again, like life.

And the people who interact with the Fieldings? You couldn't find a more diverse (and interesting) set of characters. Sam Forest (a "woman of presence" to quote from the stage directions) is a self-proclaimed atheist seeking to rent a basement apartment from the active Latter-day Saint family, the Fieldings. Her friend, Ashera, is a Wiccan. Tyrell Howard, a young LDS African-American, the boyfriend to Naomi Fielding, in her twenties and contemplating a mission. How each of these interesting characters interacts with the Fieldings, and with each other, makes for a compelling evening of theatre.

As to be expected from a Mahonri Stewart play, the title A Roof Overhead is thematically telling. What happens under the roof of this home full of loving but flawed people is what draws us into their lives. Most, but not all, of the interaction between family members and friends is pleasant and happy, but even when characters steer us into uncomfortable areas that still challenge Church members today (like, for instance, Blacks and the Priesthood), we are presented with multiple sides of those issues in a fair and balanced manner. No one seeing this play would consider it unbalanced. The father Maxwell Fielding is fond of saying throughout the play, "It's about being fair." A Roof Overhead is nothing if not fair.

Stewart's skill at dialogue and characterization, mingled with just the right amount of humor, drama, and pathos, anchors the play--we become more than mere observers. We become members of a diverse set of characters and we, characters and audience alike, share this roof overhead.

What this play says to Mormons is, "We are not alone in the world. We need to learn to get along with others of different, or sometimes, no faith."

Like life.

 And then:



AML HONORARY LIFETIME MEMBERSHIP AWARD

Mahonri Stewart's contributions to Mormon theatre and drama are many many-faceted.

First, he spearheaded the publication of, and served as editor for, Saints on Stage: An Anthology of Mormon Drama, which will be soon published by Zarahemla Books. This volume should join Angela Hallstrom's Dispensation: Latter-day Fiction. Tyler Chadwick's Fires in the Pasture: 21st Century Mormon Poets, and two Eugene England volumes, Harvest: Contemporary Mormon Poems and Bright Angels and Familiars: Contemporary Mormon Stories, as the most significant anthologies of Mormon literature in our history. A collection of Mormon plays has long been needed; Stewart took it upon himself the task of making it happen.

Second, drama is meant for performance, and Mahonri Stewart has taken the production lead as well. Zion Theatre Company, which he founded, has featured his own plays, but also plays by a number of authors, all plays of high moral character, plays that resonate with humankind's better nature. Still actively producing, Zion Theatre Company has become a premiere venue for the production of Mormon Drama.

And third, Mahonri Stewart is a fine playwright in his own right. Such plays as The Fading Flower, Farewell to Eden, The Death of Eurydice, Rings of the Tree, and The Opposing Wheel demonstrate his strengths as a writer. His plays show an indefatigable love of historical research, a deep curiosity about the world, profound spirituality and a strong dramatic sense.

In short, Mahonri Stewart gets good things done. For his energy, his enthusiasm, his commitment to the dream of Mormon drama, and the balance he achieves between spiritual integrity and dramatic power, the Association for Mormon Letters is pleased to honor Mahonri Stewart.


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