To me, I’ve always felt that the Broadway community has opened their arms to everyone. And I mean anyone and everyone. It’s a safe place. As an educator, this is one of the biggest things I stress to my students. There’s absolutely no bullying at any level in my classroom. It’s extremely important that everyone has a place in the theatre no matter what your sexuality is, your religion or your ethnic background. It’s what the theatre is all about.
Some people might ask, “Why did I go to The Book of Mormon”? – a show that I’ve already called out for its offensive nature. So hear’s the answer: I wanted to have an opinion on this show. I wanted to be able to respond when people asked what I thought. I felt it was important, since I am Mormon and a part of the theatre community.
Today’s theatre experience was unlike anything I’ve experienced. In my safe place, I was verbally assaulted, bullied, humiliated, and I felt really disappointed in the Broadway theatre community. The incredibly horrible and offensive jokes went off without a hitch. Somehow the audience thought it was okay to laugh at Mormons and the people of Uganda.
I wonder what they would have thought it if was about their religion or their ethnic background? What if the musical belittled your sexuality? Would that be okay?
Generally, the writers of “South Park” are equal-opportunity offenders, meaning they make fun of everyone and anyone. It’s their shtick; do I agree with it or watch it? No, but at least it’s equal. The Book of Mormon takes everything sacred to the Mormon community, places it out-of-context (coupled with a lot false information) and makes light of the entire thing. Then they wrapped the entire production with a bow when it trivializes and minimizes the struggles of the people of Uganda. It’s humiliating on every level.
It was really hard for me to sit through the entire production, but I did. (I was very tempted to walk out during “I Believe” in the second act.) I think, first and foremost, I was offended by the Ugandan plot line. Last week, I went and saw Ruined at Berkeley Rep – a Pulitzer Prize winning play – that focuses in on Mama Nadi, an owner of a bar and brothel, in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo. It dealt with the horrible atrocities that the women go through: rape, genital mutilation, starvation, and physical and verbal abuse. It was heartbreaking to watch and I left the theatre speechless.
To go from a very moving theatrical experience to a musical that literally makes fun of everything that made that play so special was heartbreaking all over again, but for all the wrong reasons.
When is it okay to make fun of genital mutilation? Or murder? Do we, as a society, not have any common decency?
This satire, or humor, was only there to humiliate and make fun. There was no witty political banter, or special insight they wanted discuss. It was all school-yard bullying, but instead of on the school-yard, they took it to Broadway. And it’s appalling that the writers, Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez, thought the subject matter was even humorous. While, there was a (sorta) sweet message at the end that “tied” the musical up, it’s hard to feel that it was genuine or from a place of respect after sitting through two hours of outright bullying.
Now to get to the material that was personally offensive.
Three years ago, I moved back to my home in the Bay Area, California, after a decade long absence. While I was gone, I lived in Pennsylvania, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona, and Florida. I spent that time getting my degree at Brigham Young University, going on a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and joining the work-force after graduating. When we moved back, I was instantly welcomed into the theatre community in the Bay Area. They quickly took me into their arms and made me feel at home again.
As a Mormon, the last couple of years in California have been hard to be a part of the theatre community and be wrapped up into the Prop 8 mess. But, from the very beginning I supported my gay and lesbian friends. I didn’t post signs; I didn’t donate money and I voted no against Prop 8. I continue to support them every day. Not every Mormon in California supported Prop 8. I was even proud of the gay community when fought back with respect and honor instead of hatred and violence.
It’s simple: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Just because you don’t believe or feel a certain way, it doesn’t give you privilege to mock the sexuality, ethnic background or sacred beliefs of another and especially not on Broadway — the place of acceptance and love for all.
The Book of Mormon is now officially a way to spew disrespect and hatred that’s shrouded in campy musical theatre lyrics and songs. They took my one safe place and stomped all over it. Because it’s a Broadway house, it was okay for an audience to laugh and praise it. I was even embarrassed that someone wasn’t stopping it. If I heard this kind of disrespect in my classroom I wouldn’t let it continue and generally there would be major consequences for the student(s).
This type of behavior doesn’t do anything for the cause of religious, racial and sexuality equality. I’m continually fighting for equality for my friends and yet I sat through one of the most personally offensive things I’ve ever seen!
How did this all happen?
The scariest part of this production was the sly, crafty and very skillful way they are presenting the material. The score and book are very strong. The songs are catchy, well-written and the lyrics are very witty. The musical direction, vocal arrangements and orchestrations by Stephen Oremus (Wicked, All Shook Up and 9 to 5) are fantastic — some of the best I’ve heard in awhile. Even the performances are excellent. Andrew Rannells has an awesome voice and his depiction of Elder Price was great. Josh Gad will be getting a Tony nomination for his portrayal of Elder Cunningham. He was hilarious and the best part of this production. The inventive and creative choreography and direction by Casey Nicholaw was equally as impressive.
My biggest fear is that come Tony Award season, it wins Best Musical and then has the opportunity to continue to entertain thousand of audience members with its off-color humor and disrespectful subject matter. It’s only lending a hand at keeping tensions up between the Mormon and homosexual communities — something that doesn’t produce any positive results on either side, especially when both are in the arts and theatre community.
I felt awful after I saw The Book of Mormon today. I felt betrayed by the community I’ve come to love, support and trust. I’ve made it my life. I teach, perform, critique and basically live and breathe theatre. After today, I lost some of my faith in the community. I lost a lot of respect for the producers, performers and writers who made this possible. I lost a lot of respect for the Broadway community that is supporting it.
If you plan to see this, I want you to think about what you are applauding for when you jump to your feet at the end of the musical. What jokes are you laughing at? Does it make you a better person for joining in on the bullying? Why are you supporting this?
I would love to take back the money and time I spent at that theatre today. I wish I had seen something else, but I’m glad I have the opportunity and my own platform to take a stand. Someone has to say something; I guess it’s me.
I strive to live by a simple rule that I say over and over in my classroom: respect.
Respect yourself, respect your surroundings and respect one another. That is what we should be singing about on Broadway.
Comments: Keep them respectful. That’s all I ask. (All disrespectful comments will be deleted.)