Personal revelation is a foundational Mormon belief, so it is not surprising that for his senior project, TDPS major Ben Abbott chose to embark on a highly personal exploration.
Based on interviews with twelve Mormons from around the country, Abbott’s one-man show Questions of the Heart: Gay Mormons and the Search for Identity brings together multiple voices struggling to figure out what it means to both gay and a member of the Mormon Church. Questions of the Heart will play in Zellerbach Room 7 on a double bill with Elijah Guo’s Time and Materials, adapted from the poems of Robert Hass, March 31-April 2.
“The possibility of doing a project like this is what brought me to Cal,“ says Abbott, who plans to pursue an MFA in acting upon graduation. While he approaches the question as a straight, practicing Mormon, the subject is close to his heart and more relevant than ever. “I attended an acting conservatory during the Prop 8 campaigns where many of my friends were gay. It really led me to wonder how we reconcile these two worlds.”
Abbott is particularly drawn to investigating the experience of merged identities, especially identities that people are not readily allowed to acknowledge without risk. “In the Mormon Church, if you are gay, there’s really no outlet for expressing that, and you’re constantly in conflict between your feelings and what the Church teaches.”
Abbott is weaving the stories into a one-man show that he will perform. Although the format can be an intimidating one for actors, he chose the structure in order to honor and create a sense of safety for the interviewees. “I needed to assure them that the person they spoke to was the one who was going to hold on to and tell their stories.” The solo performance is also symbolic of his process, as he himself struggles to grasp the complexity of his subject’s experiences.
His research led him to connect with multiple people in the Bay Area and beyond, including local author and playwright Carol Lynn Pearson, whom Abbott refers to as “The Mother of Gay Mormon Issues.” Other incorporated voices are those who are openly gay Mormons, some who have been excommunicated from the church, those who are closeted, and some in mixed- orientation marriages. “Every interview was unexpected. Some were very difficult to hear.”
What surprised him the most however was the love that many gay Mormons still had for the church. “Through doing the project, I find myself more hopeful for the future,” Abbott explains. “Historically, the Mormon Church has managed to adjust to stay relevant in society despite not always being in sync with mainstream American culture. I’m not certain what will happen, because progress means different things to different people. But the future will be interesting.”
TICKETS AND INFORMATION
Time and Materials & Questions of the Heart: Gay Mormons and the Search for Identity opens on Thursday, March 31st at Zellerbach Hall Room 7 on the UC Berkeley campus and runs through Saturday, April 2nd.
Performance times are as follows:
March 31 and April 1 at 8pm; April 2 at 2pm and 8pm.