Eric Samuelsen

Called “the Mormon Ibsen,” Eric Roy Samuelsen, born April 10, 1956, was considered one of the most significant Mormon playwrights of his time. His work received the Association for Mormon Letters (AML) Drama Award in 1994, 1997 and 1999, as well as the 2012 Smith-Pettit Foundation Award for Outstanding Contribution to Mormon Letters. He ran Brigham Young University’s playwriting program from 1999-2011, and served as AML president from 2007 to 2009.  In 2003, Samuelsen began working with Plan-B Theatre in Salt Lake City, producing a play a year for them beginning in 2006. In 2012, Samuelsen was diagnosed with polymyositis, a rare degenerative muscular disease; that same year, he retired from teaching to become Plan-B Theatre's playwright-in-residence.

Though born in Provo, Samuelsen spent much of his early life in Bloomington, Indiana where Samuelsen’s father, Roy, an immigrant from Norway, worked as an opera singer, introducing his son early to the joys of the theater. Samuelsen himself spent his two-year mission for the LDS Church in Norway and this experience, along with his father’s personal history, helped inspire his 2017 play “The Ice Front.” 

Samuelsen’s first play, “Letter from a Prophet,” debuted in 1978 at BYU where he was an undergraduate majoring in theater.  He received his BA in 1983, then returned to Bloomington to earn his PhD at Indiana University in 1991. He taught briefly at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio before leaving to work at BYU in 1992.

Though he was a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Samuelsen was known for crafting flawed LDS characters, as well as characters that challenge conservative Mormon belief. Through his characters, he preferred to explore spiritual and personal ambivalence rather than rigid dogmatism, something that shaped his controversial and well-received 2011 play “Borderlands,” which features an openly gay Mormon teenager. 

Samuelsen, who was straight and married with four children, forged strong relationships with LDS closeted gay students at BYU, who, he told Catalyst magazine “were treated abominably” by his institution. According to a statement from Plan-B Theatre, Samuelsen “advocated for the equality of all, for the protection of all, at great personal cost. Many LGBTQ people are alive today because of him.”

During his life, Samuelsen saw more than two dozen of his plays produced across the United States, including California, New York, Indiana, Louisiana and Utah. About his faith and most famous play, he wrote, “I…recognize that Mormonism, though it works for me, doesn’t work for everyone. Sunstone Magazine has a column called "Borderlands." My play intends to honor those who live in the margins, those for whom Mormonism exists as a liminal state. I wanted to honor my borderland friends, to tell their story with compassion and accuracy. I don’t want to judge; I want to describe.”

Eric Samuelsen died on September 20, 2019. He was sixty-three years old. 

Bibliography

1980s

  • Emma. Opera libretto. Produced at BYU1984. Subsequently, produced by Hell's Kitchen Opera company in 1984.
  • Sex and the New York Yankees. One act. Produced by Bloomington Playwrights Project, Bloomington Indiana.

1990s

  • Accommodations. Produced at BYU, 1993. Subsequently published in Sunstone Magazine, June 1994. Won AML annual award in drama in 1994. Directed by Thomas Rogers. 
  • The Seating of Senator Smoot. Produced at BYU, 1996. Directed by Robert Nelson.
  • Gadianton. Produced at BYU, 1997. Directed by Robert Nelson. Subsequently published in Sunstone. Won AML award in drama, 1997. Subsequently produced at University of Louisiana at Monroe. Anthologized in Mahonri Stewart, Saints on Stage. Zarahemla Press, 2013.
  • Without Romance. Produced at BYU, 1997. Subsequently produced at Mormon Arts Festival.
  • The Christmas Box. Adapted from the novel by Richard Paul Evans. Music by Murray Boren. Produced as a musical at BYU, Pardoe Theater, 1997. Directed by Rodger Sorensen. 
  • Winding Sheet. SLAC staged reading, Dec. 1998. 
  • Coughlaugh. A theatrical experiment in one act. Blaine Sundrud directed a production at BYU in 1998. Later produced in 2010 at Brigham Young University.
  • The Way We’re Wired. Produced at BYU, 1999. Won AML award for drama, 1999. Subsequently produced by Nauvoo Theatrical Society in Orem in 2003, directed by Eric Samuelsen. Also adapted by Samuelsen into a novel, Singled Out, Cornerstone, 2000.

2000s

  • A Love Affair with Electrons. Produced at BYU 2000. Directed by Eric Samuelsen.
  • Three Women, 3 one act plays on Mormon women, VIP Arts' Little Brown Theatre, Springville, 2001.
  • What Really Happened. Produced at BYU, 2001. 
  • Magnificence. March 2002, BYU Margetts. 
  • Peculiarities. Several one acts, produced in several iterations. Tony Gunn directed four one acts in Springville, 2005. Plan B Theatre produced three one acts, including Kiss, which was not included in the production Tony Gunn directed. Jerry Rapier directed a film version, with all six short plays included.
  • Family. Produced at BYU in 2005. Directed by David Morgan. Won AML Drama award, also published in Sunstone. Subsequently produced Dixie College in St. George, UT, in 2006. 
  • Miasma. First done as ten-minute play for Plan-B Theatre Company SLAM, 2005, as The Butcher, The Beggar and the Bed-time Buddy. Subsequently produced as full-length play at Plan-B, 2006, published in Plays from Beyond the Zion Curtain.
  • Blood Pudding, 10-minute play, Plan-B Theatre Company SLAM, 2006.
  • Behind the Blue Door, 10-minute play, Plan-B Theatre Company SLAM, 2007.
  • Burning Desire, 10-minute play, Plan-B Theatre Company SLAM, 2008.
  • Perfect Circle, 10-minute play, /Theatre Arts Conservatory Student SLAM, 2009.
  • Inversion. Produced by Theatre Arts Conservatory, Salt Lake, Rose Wagner, 2008.
  • Intersection. Produced by Theatre Arts Conservatory, Salt Lake, Rose Wagner, 2009
  • He and She Fighting: A Love Story. New Play Project in Provo, 2010. Directed by Davey Morrison-Dillard.
  • Amerigo. Produced by Plan-B Theatre Company, 2010. Subsequently, published in More Plays from Behind the Zion Curtain.
  • Borderlands. Produced by Plan-B Theatre Company , 2011. Directed by Jerry Rapier. Published in Sunstone, July 2009, and in 2012 in Plan-B’s Even More Plays from Behind the Zion Curtain.
  • The Plan. Brinton Black Box Theater in the Covey Center for the Arts, Provo UT, 2011. Published in Sunstone, July 2009.
  • Blind Dates. Covey Center for the Arts, 2012. Four humorous short plays, all with the same title, about blind dates gone wrong. Inspired by the late Horton Foote’s original work. Eric Samuelsen, J. Scott Bronson and Melissa Lelani Larson created original works to go along with the original play by Foote. 
  • Nothing Personal. Produced by Plan-B Theatre Company, Rose Wagner, 2013. Directed by Jerry Rapier.
  • Radio Hour Episode 8: Fairyana. Produced by Plan-B Theatre Company, Rose Wagner, 2013. Directed by Cheryl Ann Cluff.
  • Clearing Bombs. Produced by Plan-B Theatre Company, Rose Wagner, 2014. Directed by Eric Samuelsen.
  • 3. Produced by Plan-B Theatre Company, Rose Wagner, 2014. Directed by Cheryl Ann Cluff. Includes three short plays, Bar and Kell, Community Standard, and Duets, two of which were earlier produced as Three Women.
  • Kruetzer's Sonata. Produced by Plan-B Theatre Company, Rose Wagner, October 2015, Jerry Rapier directing.
  • The Ice Front. Produced by Plan-B Theatre Company, Rose Wagner, 2017.
  • Cassandra. Produced at the Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival, 2018.

Links

15 Bytes: Eric Samuelsen in Three Acts

Mormon Iconoclast