Steven Fales has performed his international hit one-man show, Confessions of a Mormon Boy, at least 1000 times since it premiered off-Broadway in 2006, but never quite like this.
Confessions, in which the charming and cheeky Fales tells of his transition from poster-boy of the Mormon church, to a “Latter Gay Saint” complete with conversion therapy and excommunication for his “gender disorientation,” to a drug-addicted gay male prostitute, to, ultimately, the out-and-proud writer and father of two he is today, will hit new heights and plunge new depths at Bay Street from July 17 to 22 with a fully revamped script, and the fresh perspective of director Scott Schwartz.
A sixth-generation Utah-raised Mormon, Fales did not set out to be a writer. But he did want to be a musical theater actor — like all Mormons, right?
“Actually, there are a lot of Mormon entertainers,” Fales chirped. “The arts are really big in ‘Mormondom.’ In some ways, I think Mormons are wannabe Jews, because we love the arts. And a way for us to be accepted as mainstream Americans is to succeed in the arts. Look at Amy Adams. Look at Ryan Gosling. They grew up Mormon.”
Fales studied musical theater at Boston Conservatory before shipping out on his Mormon mission to Portugal, then finished his degree back home at Brigham Young University, where he met his then-wife, Emily Pearson. It wasn’t until 2000, when Fales was sitting in his church court, being tried as a homosexual, that he felt an obligation to put pen to paper.
“It was so fantastical,” Fales said of the trial. “I couldn’t believe this was happening. And it was done so insidiously, with this smile, and it was out to ruin my life. And I knew others were going through the same thing. They don’t excommunicate anymore now like they did, and I think my show has helped the conversation.”
He added, “When I was done with it I thought, someone needs to write about this. No one had really told their excommunication story, especially no gay Mormons. I wasn’t a writer, but that was the point where my art and my life came together. I thought: this is my mission, right now.”
So, believing that a one-man show would be the best vehicle to creatively share his message, Fales decided to get to work writing Confessions of a Mormon Boy, and moved to New York to do just that. But when he got to the Big Bad Apple, Confessions took a back seat.
Sex Work and Stand Up
“I was involved in a ferocious adolescence, you can say,” Fales laughed. “I got swept away into the underworld and got sidetracked.”
His “sex-work experiment” lasted for about nine months before he was able turn his life around, and a big part of that, he discovered, was writing it out.
“I was never going to share about the drugs and the double life, the sex work — that was my little secret,” he divulged. “But as I started writing Confessions, about my excommunication, I knew it couldn’t just be about poor me and how cute I am. I needed to get really honest, and really go behind the smile, and share about how I went from one extreme to the other extreme, and then how I found a middle ground,” he said.
“So, it became more about being human than about Mormonism, or the sex industry, or being gay, or even being a dad; it became about what is it to grow up and deal with your own demons. What it is to survive, and then thrive, Fales added.
Confessions started out as a short stand-up comedy act in 2001; it was important for Fales to find humor in his story. As the piece expanded, he began hosting readings in his apartment and various regional theatres until he’d gathered enough money and interest to rent performance space in New York City in 2002, when he was introduced to the late Tony-winning director Jack Hofsiss, who took a shine to the show.
Hofsiss directed a 10-week run in Miami before Fales took the show on the road to the 2004 International Fringe Festival. Two years later, Fales raised the funds, bought the rights, and mounted the show off-Broadway at the SoHo Playhouse. He’s been making a serious impact on audiences ever since.
“I’ve had straight Mormon dads fall into my arms after the show crying, thanking me for helping them understand their son,” Fales recalled. “I’ve had gay Jews tell me that I’ve helped them come out to their rabbi. And I’ve had a lot of writers who are now doing books and plays and their own one-man shows who saw my show early on, and it gave them the courage to tell their story.”
While courage is certainly key to telling one’s own traumatic story to an audience, sharing it with hundreds of audiences begs courage, charisma, and endurance.
Keeping It Fresh
“At about 200 shows, I hit a wall,” Fales admitted. “It was getting stale. I had to make a flip. I thought, I’m going to go out and just pretend that I don’t know my story very well.”
And so, he prayed.
“God — or, you know, whatever the gods are — reveal something new and fresh to me about my story I didn’t know. And I found that in the white space, in between the lines of my story, it almost became a meditation where I started to discover these new things about my story that kept it fresh for audiences. So, I wasn’t ever really repeating exactly the same show over and over,” he said.
While the show, as a whole, lands just as well in Halifax as it does in Houston, specific reactions have varied widely depending on the region.
“In London, for example, there’s cheeky humor that the Brits just go crazy over, but it makes Salt Lake blush a little,” explained Fales. “There are spiritual nuances to the story in Salt Lake that maybe New York doesn’t quite appreciate, but New York gets the gritty, urban underbelly of where I’ve been. The further west you get, they really appreciate the earnestness and the sweetness — on the East Coast, they don’t like much sentimentality, but I’ve got all the grit and the edge for them.”
In the new Bay Street run, which Fales referred to as “Confessions of a Mormon Boy Revisited,” Bay Street’s Artistic Director Scott Schwartz has helped him mine the script for new gems, and the two have gone fearlessly further with the material over several months of writing sessions.
If the Sag Harbor audience reactions are positive, Fales and Schwartz are gunning for a new and improved off-Broadway run of Confessions of a Mormon Boy in winter 2019. But Confessions is only part one of Fales’s Mormon Boy Trilogy; Bay Street will host readings of parts two and three, Mission Statement and Prodigal Dad, later this month.
Also in the works is Fales’s book, OxyMormon Memoirs, which fleshes out The Mormon Boy Trilogy, several plays and musicals he’s penning, and The Possibilities Foundation, a not-for-profit he’s spearheading to help sex workers and victims of human trafficking transition out of the industry and gain scholarships to reach their full potentials. “Let’s just say that sex work can stunt your growth,” Fales cautioned.
“I’ll tell you a little secret,” the writer began. “When I was 18, at the Boston Conservatory, I was so moved by some of the plays I read, and there was a lot of dysfunction in my family . . . I knew in my heart that one day I would be a writer, but it just took me a while to warm up to that calling. We all have a story. And I just hope that I help you get in touch with yours. And then you’ll share it in some way that’s appropriate for you, because that’s how we change the world.”