Thursday, January 13, 2011

Smith Unearthed Reveals the Foundation of Mormonism

Media Contacts:

Melissa Hill Grande
412.561.6000 x203



New Classics presents Smith, Unearthed in January

New play by Erik Ramsey explores myth and magic

behind foundation of Mormon religion

Pittsburgh, PA -- January 10, 2011. The New Classics Series returns on Sunday, January 23rd at 7:00 p.m. with Erik Ramsey’s play Smith, Unearthed, directed by Martin Giles and performed in the Charity Randall Theatre at the Stephen Foster Memorial in Oakland. New Classics is a cooperative program presented by the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Theatre Arts and Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre. The series is intended to highlight new works and showcase up-and-coming playwrights.

The reading is free and open to the public, and will be followed by a talk-back with the cast and audience. The moderators will be series coordinators Melissa Hill Grande, PICT Associate Artistic Director and Director of Marketing, and David Peterson, a graduate student in the Ph.D. program of the Department of Theatre Arts.

The reading will feature actors from the University of Pittsburgh Department of Theatre Arts, including Julianne Avolio, Aric Hudson, Martel Manning, George Moira, Sarah Turocy, and Jordan Walsh.

Smith Unearthed poses this question: How did Joseph Smith, Jr., a failed oracle and convicted conman, rise to become the prophet and founder of the Mormon Church – arguably the fastest growing religion in the world today? The play chronicles the days leading up to Christmas, 1825 when Joseph Smith, Jr. and his father, on the run from the law as confidence men and scammers, return in disgrace to the family farm in upstate New York to save their house from being repossessed. In the process of escaping the clutches of both their creditors and the investors they’d recently fleeced, they lay the foundations of Mormonism.

Based on historical accounts of Mormonism’s early years, the play dramatizes the moment in time when Junior first begins to believe he has been spiritually imbued with the true story of the American continent: that Native Americans are actually a lost tribe of Israel and that he, Joseph, is the one man who knows the history of Jesus Christ’s appearance to them here. Disillusioned by his failures dowsing for precious minerals as a “seer for hire”, and disappointed in himself for turning his gift for divination into a cynical grift, Junior hopes to marry and find a simpler life free of prophecy, real or invented. But instead of climbing from the legal and ethical hole he’s dug himself into, he digs deeper and strikes a different kind of gold: he invents Mormonism. No scholars deny Smith practiced magic, but no one knows for certain if that magic was simply a combination of charisma and sleight of hand or truly anointed and supernatural. Smith Unearthed asks an audience to divine the truth of the matter for themselves.

Erik Ramsey is an Associate Professor of Playwriting in the MFA Playwriting Program at Ohio University. His plays have been produced around the country, and Samuel French and Dramatic Publishing have published several of his short works. His recent play, Lions Lost, has been developed at numerous regional theaters including Cleveland Public Theatre, American Stage, Victory Gardens, and Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre. Currently, he is writing a trilogy of historical dramas about the surprising turn of events that boosted Joseph Smith from life as a small time con-artist to Prophet of the

Mormon Church; the first in the series, titled Smith, Unearthed, has been read or featured at the International Society of Contemporary Literature and Theatre Conference (Estonia: 2007), the Gwen Frostic National Reading Series at Western Michigan University (Nov, 2008), and at Brick Monkey Theater Ensemble (Dec, 2008). His two textbooks, "The Art of Theatre: Then and Now" and "Experiencing the Art of Theatre" are in their second edition from Wadsworth (2010), and are in use at over 100 colleges and universities nationwide. In 2007 Erik was named a Kennedy Center Faculty Fellow for his work as a new play development specialist and in 2010 he was appointed as Director of Innovation, Research and Theory for WordBRIDGE Playwrights' Laboratory after many years of developmental dramaturgy nationwide working with both professional and emerging playwrights. This past September he taught master classes in playwriting and play development technique at Lubimovka Playwrights Laboratory in Moscow, Russia.

Martin Giles is a Pittsburgh-based actor, director and playwright. His recent production of When the Rain Stops Falling for Quantum Theatre was named one of the top productions of 2010 in both the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. For PICT, Giles most recently directed The Dumb Waiter (Pinter Celebration), and the world premiere of his own play, Beautiful Dreamers. His upcoming projects for PICT include playing Teddy Platt in Alan Ayckbourn’s House and Garden, and playing Doctor John Watson in The Mask of Moriarity.

Persons who are unable to attend the reading in person will be able to view it online via LIPLO™ (Live and in Person, Live and Online), a new internet technology pioneered by PICT Operations Director Stephanie Riso and Alex Geis. Geis of 21 Productions and videographer Randy Griffith of RLG Creations will live-broadcast the readings, and viewers will be able to respond via live chat as they watch the performances on the LIPLO™ website,

The final reading for the New Classics season will be Hangin’ Up My Heart by Michael Schwartz, directed by Michael Fuller. It will be held in the Henry Heymann Theatre on Sunday, March 27 at 7:00 p.m.

For more information about “New Classics,” contact Melissa Grande at 412.561.6000 x203 or

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The University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Theatre Arts (founded in 1982) offers the BA, MA, MFA and PhD degrees in Theatre Arts. All faculty members are active in both teaching and artistic / research activities. The department shares a philosophy of theatre education, the chief feature of which is the firm conviction that theory and practice, academic and creative work, and educational and professional theatre must be integrated for a successful program of theatre education. The University of Pittsburgh Repertory Theatre is the department’s flagship theatre company with performance spaces in the landmark Stephen Foster Memorial and the Cathedral of Learning.

Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre was founded in 1996 to diversify the region’s theatrical offerings by providing Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania audiences with high-quality, text-driven, affordable productions of classical theatre and the works of classical and contemporary Irish playwrights and to significantly improve employment opportunities for local talent in all facets of theatrical presentation and production. PICT is a Small Professional Theatre (SPT) affiliated with Actors’ Equity Association, and a constituent member of Theatre Communications Group (TCG) and the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council. PICT is the Professional Theatre in Residence at the University of Pittsburgh and PICT productions at the Charity Randall and Henry Heymann Theatres are presented in cooperation with the University of Pittsburgh – Department of Theatre Arts.

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