For many years, the most sophisticated theatrical events to occur in the Salt Lake Wilford Stake were traditional road shows. Every once in a while there was a sparkle of opportunity, with an occasional musical written by a talented stake member but, for the most part, there were few outlets within the stake organization for expression of theatrical and musical talents.
Then, about eight years ago, while David Mayfield was stake president, he came to see a production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" in one of his wards. Following the show, he asked if something similar could be done at a stake level. The director, Craig Camp, was called as the stake cultural arts specialist, and within a year the stake mounted a production of "Pirates of Penzance," surprising stake and community members.
"We were stunned by the vocal quality we found right here in our own stake," said assistant director Heidi Camp, Craig's wife. "Musically, 'Pirates' is a pretty tough piece, and we were bowled over by the voices we heard in auditions."
The production was followed two years later with "Scrooge!" which incorporated a cast of more than 70 singers, dancers, costumers and scenic designers playing to a full house each night.
The stake plays quickly became a tradition, with more and more individuals wanting to participate. Brother Camp surrounded himself with a solid production team, including a costumer, musical director, choreographer and production manager. The group has been together through each of the shows.
Endeavoring to increase involvement, the Camps next took on "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" with a full band directed by Carolyn Creer and a cast of more than 150, including a 50-strong children's chorus.
"Many people thought we were nuts to try to pull this show off in a Church setting," Brother Camp said. "There was concern about the 'worldliness' of the script and music, and we received several comments about whether or not this was an appropriate theatrical selection for a Church production."
He contended that the show itself was not worldly, rather it was the various interpretations of the show that had become more or less inappropriate. After months of prayerful consideration, the production team settled on an approach that would work for the stake audience. The show was set as a Primary "sharing time" with the "sharing-time leaders" taking the role of the narrator and telling the story with oversized flannel board figures to the "Primary" (the children's chorus and the audience).
Then, a tougher challenge faced Brother Camp: how to involve stake members in the theatrical productions who could not sing or dance. This year's production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was the result. Presented Nov. 19-22, the show had a smaller cast (only 28 players) and included both veteran actors and those who had never been on stage or uttered a line of Shakespeare. The show continued the stake's tradition of quality costumes, sets, lighting and sound, and fun choreography.
To make the show more approachable, the Camps incorporated a "green show," borrowing from the successful tradition of the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City. Singers, jugglers, fiddlers and comedians provided "pre-show" entertainment and madrigal music.
Over eight years, the stake's support of theater has provided opportunities for families to perform together, for children to sing and dance, for older cast members to mentor and teach younger ones.
"It's all about leadership," Brother Camp said. "We're blessed that our stake leadership shares our vision of how these productions fulfill the mission of the Church. With their commitment of time and resources, we've been able to see miracles happen."