Yesterday on the radio I heard a reference to the musical Grease and for the last twenty four hours I have been recovering from the post-traumatic stress I suffered as a result. Ten years ago, due to my calling with the young men in the ward, I was partially responsible for the success of the ward road show, and it was awful. My task was to induce understandably recalcitrant deacons, teachers, and priests to get on the stage in the cultural hall in front of the ward members and to walk backwards and forwards and left and right while making hand motions and singing Go, Greased Lightning.
In SaintSpeak, Orson Scott Card defines a road show as an event at which we attempt to herd all the youth up onto the stage and teach them to sing in unison while swaying back and forth with their hands over their heads. We then like to imagine that we have taught our young people something about Shakespeare’s craft.
I think the original idea behind road shows was to plan an evening at which youth in a stake would stage a short production for members of their own ward, and then take their show on the road, visiting the other ward buildings in turn. The patrons of the arts in the stake could just go to their own building for the evening and enjoy, if that is the word I’m looking for, the rotating performances. You can imagine that such an event requires a tremendous amount of planning, scheduling, and logistical support, with vehicles and pickup trucks standing ready to transport props, costumes and the dramatis personae to their next venue. Awards that looked like fake Oscars were given for things like best costumes, best choreography, best props, etc., and everybody got at least one award.
My experience with road shows has been uniformly bad, although I know other people who have enjoyed them and think of them as valuable. As a youth I was self-conscious, and consequently tried to avoid anything having to do with a stage. I also didn’t get this curious thing that people called choreography, but which looked to me like a woman with a loud voice who barked orders and said things like: “Boys! No! You’re doing it all wrong! You’re supposed to move forward on the SECOND beat! Now, let’s try it again. Ready, AND one AND two. . .”. And of course the singing was even worse. Young men whose voices are in the process of changing don’t know, until they actually open their mouths and vocalize something, which octave their voices will choose to occupy. It is embarrassing, to the point of being painful, to be forced onto a stage at gunpoint and required to sing Broadway songs that were hits in your parents’ generation. The year before Grease, the ward did a variety show which called for four priests to go on stage dressed like The Village People and to perform YMCA. Think of the sixteen year old boys you know, and then imagine how they might react to such a demand. But the director was merciless, and she laid on the guilt. She reminded them that road shows were an official function of the church, approved at the highest levels, and that she had been called by inspiration, by the bishop. Therefore, if they did not support her, it meant that they weren’t supporting the church or the prophet. One of the young men came to me privately and wanted to know if there was some sort of transgression he could commit that would be serious enough to require the bishop to temporarily restrict him from participating in church activities but trivial enough to not interfere with his future mission plans.
Probably the best road show I’ve seen was simply a talent show. A young woman with a beautiful voice wore a formal gown and sang torch songs to piano accompaniment while standing in a spotlight. I enjoyed it at the time, but later became concerned. What did it say about me, that the part of the evening I enjoyed the most was a close approximation of a Las Vegas lounge act? The worst act I’ve ever seen was when the kids dressed in white shirts, ties, name tags and sunglasses and performed a rap number to the tune of Vanilla Ice’s Ice, Ice, Baby. They changed the lyrics to say “baptize, baby”, and the desecration turned my stomach.
Does anybody still do road shows? It’s hard to see them catching on very far outside the corridor, and now, with the trend away from activities that require a lot of time and effort, it’s hard to see them being done at all. Have you had good experiences with road shows? I’m interested in hearing how to plan activities that involve most of the young people in ways that they enjoy.