Road Shows

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.

Comments

  1. I LOVE roadshows, but I haven’t been in a stake that put them on for at least 15 years. My mom always used to be in charge of writing the play/skits we would perform. They were so much fun. I wish this kind of stuff still went on. The church really used to be more of a gathering place where you went to do fun stuff, not just somewhere you went on Sunday, or went to pass off requirements for a church program. I miss that.

  2. In my stake near Sacramento, California our Stake Presidency got up in a Stake Leadership meeting and explained that the Brethren were concerned that the church wasn’t having road shows and dance festivals like they had in the past. They talked about how we’d be doing more of this in the future.

    We moved about 18 months after that and didn’t see much action on it.

    Overall, I enjoyed the roadshows we had as a youth. The problem is that it’s so easy for the leaders to get so carried away with the details that don’t matter that they can ruin the experience for the kids.

    I think they can be good, but wouldn’t want to be in charge of one. ;)

  3. Rebecca and I were co-directors of the Oxford Ward roadshow about 5 years ago. It was a great laugh made better by the fact that we won. Part of what made it great was that the script was written by two (overachieving) boys in the ward. That, plus the electric guitars and drums we played.

    Once, a rich member of another ward paid for the script and props to be professionally produced. When the ward didn’t win, he left the church.

  4. We used to do lip syncs where there were groups of four or five kids who would pick songs and make up routines. It was always fun and didn’t require anything more than being willing to act like an idiot on stage for five minutes.

  5. Steve Evans says:

    Let’s bring ‘em back. They’re sorely needed.

  6. Down here in Southern CA we’ve abandoned the “road shows”. I put that in quotation marks simply because we’d only perform for about two different audiences at the stake center, meaning that we didn’t really hit the road. Anyway, we abandoned them because once every three years now the stake puts on a “musical production”, which is really a road show filled with Broadway musical stuff, and it’s open to everyone in the stake.

    I don’t really miss the road shows. I did have fun with one of the road shows my ward did, but that was mostly because the adults actually let us kids write the show – or at least the concept – and they helped mostly with the execution. The concept, two shipwrecked guy’s meet a Polynesian-type tribe that sings disco music. So that was a blast. Even though I remember the adults in the stake didn’t find it nearly as enjoyable as we did.

    However, the tyrannical supervisors of the road shows didn’t really like ours too much, and I think that was the last of the road shows in our stake. And while I’ve been impressed in the effort of the stake musicals, there is only so much Broadway music I can take.

  7. Kevin Barney says:

    I enjoyed them when I was a youth and they were a regular thing. Since then, our stake tried to resurrect them one year, only involving the whole of each ward and not just the youth. But it was very difficult to get commitments and buy-in from the members and it didn’t come off too well.

    About 20 years ago when we first moved into this stake they did something similar–a film festival. Our ward at that time had tremendous talent, so it was almost unfair. Our film was terrific, and the kids did a great job. I really enjoyed that process even more than the old road shows.

  8. I did an actual road show once as a kid. We perforrmed at the four buildings in our stake. It was excellent fun, and I remember it as a kind of craftsman theatre.

    The competitive element of other road shows I’ve been involved in have left me sour. I actually walked away from the one in London. It doesn’t seem fair to require a ward to put together a show with whatever resources they have, drag their kids on stage and declare winners (and as a result losers). I drew the line when it was clear some wards were spying and cheating. I’m all for theatrical experiences for amateurs — that early road show got me interested in stagecraft that I use professionally as a drama teacher — but make it service-oriented, not competitive.

    As a contrast, a youth centre I worked for in Cali did a great one-day production, complete with songs and dances. We started with 50 kids and their parents at 8 am and put on a free show for seniors at 8 pm. Excellent fun.

  9. Jacob M — what stake is that? ‘Cause I think I saw that roadshow…

  10. In our Stake we do a “Night of a Thousand Stars” once a year, which for many years was a talent variety show, last year was “fiddler on the roof” and this year was a “Broadway Review”. no one is forced to be in it and you have to audition for the opportunity to perform. My wife sang “getting to know you” from The King and I this year with 8 6-10 year olds in tow and did great (of course). It’s always very well received.

    Our stake also occassionally attempts a youth lockin “24 hour roadshow” where the kids have to write and do a roadshow in 24 hours and then perform it at the end. They tried it again this year. The problem with it, from my limited perspective, is that theater in my area is a “girl” thing. Only YW went to the event from our ward.

    When the San Antonio Temple opened, my wife lead the choir for President Hinckley’s devotional, and my Aunt was in charge of musical direction for a gigantic multi-stake roadshow after the devotional. It was really awesome.

  11. addition to my comment #7. The kids participated in the giant show was awesome. The script, meh.

  12. Ahhhhhhhh the good old days. Performing with a clock ticking, racing in the back of pick-up trucks with props and costumes flapping in the wind to the next building, watching adults we thought were stodgy old coots act just as idiotic as we did…how times (and law suits)have changed.

    I’ll never forget my high school P.E. teacher dressed as Moses singing “Give me land, lots of land under starry skies above…don’t fence me in”.

    Our stake decided to do “road shows” again three years ago and the kids (who had never heard of such a thing)thought it was a RIOT once they got the hang of it. They performed their skit once for their home ward and then the following night all wards “competed” at the Stake center for a crowd and judges. They had so much fun they’ve been begging the Stake Presidency since then and I heard through my 12 year old that it’s happening again in two weeks.

    Three years ago they used the BOM as a theme and asked each ward to pick a scripture/story from the BOM and submit the chosen story and outline of the script to the stake youth leaders for “approval” before moving forward. I think this kept the “desecration” factor to a minimum and gave a cohesiveness to the event that made it such a great success. They also had “outside” judges to keep it impartial.

    The key to involving the youth is allowing them to have a great deal of input and giving them each “mini callings” that not only highlight their personal strengths but also require them to be in attendance! In the case of the road show, we had the kids who were too shy to perform be things like stage manager, lighting director, sound techs etc. We put the kids in committees (with an adult supervisor)over costumes, props, and help with the script and calling to remind others so that they had a personal investment in the event and they came through with flying colors.

    Our ward leaders have the kids suggest and plan activities so that what they do IS fun to them even if it does involve a little more work on the part of the leaders. Last month our combined YM/YW did a “Fear Factor” event that the kids are still giggling about.

  13. My ward did them once every four years, and that meant I was only in one, and they were roadshows in name only–there were significant differences from the “normal” roadshow plan. For one, they were all put together on one Saturday. You showed up Saturday morning, practiced it for most of the day, and then that night they were all performed. And no other performances on the road or anything, just one big night where all the parents came and watched in one big cultural hall. Also, our stake decided not to do them by ward, they just mixed up all the youth randomly into about 8 groups. I believe the thinking on that was that the small wards and branches didn’t have the manpower to really compete with the bigger wards.

    I had a pretty mixed experience with it. On the one hand I did make some good friends that I probably never would have known otherwise since they weren’t in my ward, but on the other hand, our director was a lady who had written a musical in which we were all singing babies. None of us were very enthused with that idea, and one or two people quietly snuck out of our group and joined one of the other groups in which the kids wrote their own script and songs. Our performance was probably the worst of the night, but a lot of the other ones were great.

  14. Norbert – Huntington Beach Stake. Not to be confused with Huntington Beach North Stake, which likes to call us South Stake, but that is factually incorrect. Sorry, if you’re from either stake, you’ll know what I’m talking about.

  15. Wow, you people surprise me. I’m glad that so many of you have had good experiences, and you are leading me to think that perhaps my traumatic memories were caused by my bad attitude.

    But just to make sure – could all you people who think that people with no talent should perform in public provide us with a youtube link showing yourselves singing (solo) The Surrey With the Fringe on the Top? Then I’ll believe you.

  16. “Shakespeare’s craft”? I think you’re vastly overrating early modern theater.I imagine every production of Grammer Gurton’s Needle (even the ones we imagine Shakespeare played in) were as bad or worse than any ward road show. I’m just sayin’.

    But road shows are for pansies. What we need are regional dance festivals. When I was a youth we traveled three hours, stayed overnight with members, and performed in a dance festival with a gazillion Mormon youth in the Rose Bowl. Now there’s a waste of resources that I could get behind.

  17. When roadshows are done right,they can be a wonderful growing experience. First a good script is needed written with dramatic elements of character development, conflict, interesting dialogue and resolution. No religious, religious culture or toilet humor allowed!
    Then,add some great music with clever lyrics.
    Next a likeable, organized,director with excellent group control skills.
    Ornate sets and costumes are not needed.
    Look, kids get enough of sports and passive leisure experiences. Frankly, many teenage boys are dull in character and their language is some strange mixture of grunts. As drama instructor I have seen many students break out of the cool cage and find the joy of artistic release.
    Produced correctly,a fun road show experience can be had where kids learn to work as a team and express themselves artistically…without grunting.

  18. I live in HB North Stake, been here about 3 years now…and I still couldn’t tell you where the HB Stake boundaries are. (There’s a HB Stake?)

    I’ve been a member of the church about 18 years now, lived in ~15 wards, and have never, ever seen a roadshow. Heard about them lots on the Internet, and that’s it. I’d love to see one.

    The performance our kids put on when the Newport Beach temple opened was pretty dang awesome. I still find it hard to believe that my son wore a costume and sang and danced in front of a stadium full of people.

  19. Hi Mark, Lovely post. It brought a smile to my face and bittersweet memories to mind. When I was a kid in the seventies we lived in a variety of wards in SL County. Some productions we participated in where down right awful; other productions were quite good. I experienced the good, bad, and ugly. In all of the road shows I participated in the uniform feeling was one of yuck!!! Social anxiety rears its ugly head the most while singing and dancing (badly) due to self-consciousness of youth.

    My #1 Son refused to participate when he was YM. We did not make him. My #2 Son has participated, but says he never will again. Again we aren’t going to push. DH Mike NEVER participated in road show. He turned out fine.

    I had to laugh at the thought of YM dancing to “Greased Lightning”. When I was in YW’s in the 70’s the show came out. Some of the Laurels in our YW’s group talked the leaders into taking us all to see “Grease”. I remember thinking after seeing the movie, “Wow shocking message. Great music. Everything else was just ok”. The very next Sunday; a Stake Counsel member came to speak at our ward. The message he left our ward was, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRMCUMSTANCES LET YOUR YOUTH SEE THE EVIL AND ABONIMABLE MOVIE _GREASE_.” Parents, Bishopric members and all glared at their daughters and at the poor YW leaders who had led us all astray. I’ll tell you what after that talk; I thought that the movie was fantastic!!! Funny to me, that after all these years a song from “Grease” would be sung at a Church activity.

  20. It has been said that nostalgia is “taking a memory down from the dusty attics of our brains, dusting it off a little, and selling it again for three times its original value.”

    You guys can keep your memories, but I say good riddance.

  21. Susan M – The main boundary between the two is GoldenWest, I think. I know that the northern most end of HB stake is Edinger. And the old timers from HB North like to call us HB South, because they think of themselves as the “true, original” HB Stake. It used to be a bigger deal than it is now, but it’s a fun, retarded rivalry thing. End Threadjack. :)

  22. But road shows are for pansies. What we need are regional dance festivals. When I was a youth we traveled three hours, stayed overnight with members, and performed in a dance festival with a gazillion Mormon youth in the Rose Bowl. Now there’s a waste of resources that I could get behind.

    I was there too, jw. I was sceptical about it going in, but I met scads of girls despite wearing a cha-cha outfit with rainbow coloured ruffles going up the sleeves.

  23. D. Fletcher says:

    “But road shows are for pansies.”

    What was that remark?

  24. Oh, I’m remembering the lyrics to one of the roadshow songs we did when I was a Beehive.

    Sung to “I’m Just Wild About Harry”
    I’m just wild to be a mother
    And wife to my honey bee.
    The tender blisses of his kisses
    Fill me with ecstasy…

    And, then, a Mormon feminist was born.

    I have to say I’m glad they aren’t around in our stake anymore (even though I love musicals). They were a lot of work and only appealed to a small number of the youth.

    Great post, Mark! I haven’t thought about roadshows for years.

  25. Mark IV-“But just to make sure – could all you people who think that people with no talent should perform in public provide us with a youtube link showing yourselves singing (solo) The Surrey With the Fringe on the Top? Then I’ll believe you.”

    *cocks head to side, smacking gum and twirling hair*…
    “Dude…like….what’s a “surrey” and why does it have fringe on it?”

    THAT’s for insinuating that all of the road show alumni here have no talent….*sniff*

    :-)

  26. abish,

    When it comes to LDS youth performing in road shows, I’m pretty sure that the powers that be would rather have them sing about the surrey with the fringe on top than that other song from the same musical, <em>I’m Just a Girl Who Cain’t Say No</em>. But if you would rather demonstrate your talent by providing a youtube link of your ability to imitate Ado Annie, please feel free to do so. :-)

    Emily CC, those lyrics are truly appalling. They remind me of another lowlight in my road show career, when a young man sat in a chair on stage while two of the Laurels slithered all over him doing what in any other setting would have been called foreplay while singing “Santa Cutie, come on down my chimney tonight.” It was disgusting.

  27. Roadshows can be fun, but now that I am a YW leader, the thought of actually putting one on makes me want to curl up in a fetal position in the corner.

  28. Guy Noir, Private Eye says:

    Rebels! Conspiritists!
    You All KNOW that Roadshows(r) are a Required part of the Lord’s plan for Salvation/Exaltation!!
    Why do you kick against the pricks???

  29. #20-Amen!

    I grew up in Nashville and our stake had roadshows every two years or so, while I was growing up. I hated it. I didn’t want to be involved and when I was forced to participate, I ended up playing football in the parking lot of the stake center. Looking back, perhaps it would have been a good opportunity.
    On a side note, the last 15-20 years have been very good music and lyrics come to the roadshows. Mainly as a result of being in Nashville and having hopeful and talented singer/songwriters there.

  30. Guy Noir, Private Eye says:

    Roadshows suck unless you’re Goody Two-Shoes.

  31. I didn’t see anybody kick against you Guy.

  32. Mark, this is a funny post, but I think you are missing the whole point of the roadshow. Ours were always original material, not some lip-synch or ripping off of popular tunes or broadway rehash. We actually had someone (or several someones) write an original script with original songs. It was cool, or at leat more cool than what you seem to have been involved in. I have some fond memories of those productions.

    Please note that there is no way to desecrate “Ice Ice Baby.” It is already the definition of desecration itself. It ruined “Under Pressure” forever.

    Jacob and Susan, thanks for the HB memories. I was a missionary there and those names are music to my ears.

  33. MCQ,
    I once heard someone say, when Under Pressure came on in a store in Provo, “These guys totally ripped off Vanilla Ice.”

  34. The Greatest Roadshow Stories Ever Told

    Roadshows, Part I

    Roadshows, Part II

    For some reason, things get really messed up when I try to include all the links in one comment, so I’ll try splitting them up.

  35. The Greatest Roadshow Stories Ever Told, continued
    Roadshows, Part III

  36. The Greatest Roadshow Stories Ever Told, concluded
    Roadshows, Part IV

    Roadshows, Part V

    Roadshows, Part VI

  37. Here are my memories of the Road Shows of my youth in the 1980s.

    When I was 12 our ward tried to put on a show where the theme was “What if Fat was Attractive”. The characters were to be in padded suits and it was full of fat jokes. I remember we were supposed to sing “She’s Big and Round” to the tune of “I get Around” by the Beach Boys. The bishop got wind of it and put the breaks on the production half way through the rehearsals because he thought it might hurt some peoples feelings. Ironically, they replaced the fat script with one with all Hispanic characters. The plot involved King Chimichanga and Queen Margarita trying to marry off their daughter Princess Sopaipilla to suitors with names like Don Enchilada, Senor Jalapeño, and Greedy Gringo. She agreed to marry the one who made the spiciest taco. I’m not sure how a bunch of white kids from the suburbs speaking in bad Mexican accents like Speedy Gonzalez and dancing around in sombreros to La Cucaracha was more culturally sensitive than making fun of fat people. I guess we’ve come along way since 1982.

    Most of the road shows I’ve been involved with they just changed lyrics to popular songs (a la Weird Al Yankovic) to fit the play. The last road show I was in, we had an over achieving young women’s president who actually wrote all original music for the entire show. I assume she spent hundreds of hours at the piano writing it. I remember her well because all during the production she was backstage in hysterics because we were “doing it all wrong” and “ruining the whole show”. The night of the actual play she just ran out of the gym crying. This was also the road show where the young women broke in the bickering clicks over jealousy about who got the leading parts in the show. I guess some people just take road shows too seriously.

    Now that I think about it, I don’t think I was improved spiritually or culturally by my road show experiences. I’m not sure what the point was.

  38. Wow, Kurt. Just Wow. I am speechless.

  39. I helped write a Roadshow a few years back and it went really well. We took “Untold Stories in Mormon History” as our theme.

    One of our greatest hits was the song we sung during our “Pioneer Story” in which Jello swept the Mormon world. It was our rendition of the “Hello, hello” primary song.

    Here are the lyrics for those interested:

    Jello, jello. Jello, jello.
    We made it out of bond marrow.
    Jello, jello. Jello, jello.
    We made it out of meat.

    We cooked it up until it was gel.
    And then we gave it a very fruity smell…

    Jello, jello. Jello, jello.
    We made it out of meat.
    Let’s eat!

  40. I am befuddled by my inability to post links to the remaining parts of The Greatest Roadshow Stories Ever Told, but you can read Parts IV-VI by clicking on Part III and scrolling down.

  41. Steve Evans says:

    LF, our spam filter picks up most comments that have a lot of HTML links.

  42. Left Field, Liz, and Kurt:

    Thanks for the links and the hair-raising details of your experiences in road shows. I am aghast. It is clear that miracles still exist, because it is a miracle any of us are still active after undergoing that kind of abuse as youth.

    For another side (the good side) of youthful stage productions, you can go to newera.lds.org, select the June, 2007 issue, and look for the article entitled Bringing Abish to Life. It gives details about what a stake in the Seattle area did, and it sounds pretty good.

  43. Kurt and Liz,
    I am laughing so hard I have tears in my eyes.
    Thanks I needed that,

  44. Mark,

    How did you get around the lyrics in Greased Lightning? As I remember it, the song describes male teenage aspirations for an interesting evening with local girls, and doesn’t leave much to the imagination. I guess I’m hoping you took some editorial license.

  45. jimbob, although I had nothing to do with the script or the songs, I’m pretty sure that we used the CleanFlicks version.

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