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University of Iowa News Release

 

Jan. 18, 2008

Feb. 1 world premiere chronicles attempts to reverse homosexuality

The University Theatres Mainstage will present the world premiere of "14," written and directed by University of Iowa Department of Theatre Arts faculty member John Cameron, at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1, in the David Thayer Theatre of the UI Theatre Building. Additional performances will be at 8 p.m. Feb. 2 and 6 to 9, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 3 and 10.

The production is part of the annual Partnership in the Arts series sponsored by the Department of Theatre Arts. The goal of the partnership is to give new and innovative scripts an opportunity for development.

Sometimes humorous, sometimes heartbreaking, this disturbing tale examines one man's journey to find truth and ultimately, the forgiveness that only he can give.

In the mid-'70s Cameron was one of 14 gay men, most of them Mormon students, who were the subjects of a controversial "reparative therapy" experiment at Brigham Young University (BYU) that used electro-shock aversion therapy in an attempt to alter their homosexual behavior. The research subjects signed documents absolving the university of culpability for any damage they suffered.

Conducted by doctoral student Max Ford McBride and documented in his dissertation, the research has been largely overlooked by the non-Mormon community, even though two of the men committed suicide shortly after the experiment. Now, 30 years later, Cameron takes a hard look at the experiment and its effects on his life.

Set in the year 2000, "14" follows the events that unravel after a college professor, Ron Sorenson, is contacted by a young lesbian journalist who has discovered he was one of the 14 subjects.

Sorenson first declines to be interviewed until he learns that Merrill Bateman, who became president of BYU in 1996, claimed he could find no evidence the experiment ever took place on the campus. Infuriated, Sorenson agrees to talk and in doing so begins a journey that will forever change him. He is forced to face the mistakes of the past, and his life begins to fall apart as he enters a world of dark and sometimes funny memories, violence, music -- and the visceral horror of the experiment.

"The decision to write the play was a very long time coming," Cameron says. "In the 25 years before I began work on the script, the idea never crossed my mind. To begin with, I was not overly proud of my decision to do the therapy and told very few people about it. It wasn't a subject that I wanted to share. Also, I had spent so much of my life trying to forget and minimize what I had done that I had somehow convinced myself that most people would find it more disgusting than interesting. I thought the subject matter just wasn't worthy of attention."

But then he stumbled on a Web site for the Mormon gay organization Affirmation (http://www.affirmation.org) and read an extensive history of homosexuality at BYU. "I was stunned by what I read," he said. "I learned that my experience belonged to a much larger community. I learned about the purge. I learned that my therapy was not an isolated event, but simply one of the more visible elements in a long history of abuse. It really shook up my very safe, insulated life."

Cameron contacted the writer of that history, Connell O'Donovan, and as a result he was approached by a journalist, who requested an interview. "At first, I was very skeptical of doing it, but when I learned of Merrill Bateman's denial I was infuriated," he explains. "So I agreed to it, but had no idea what I was getting myself into.

"As we talked by e-mail and phone over a period of a few weeks, I was forced to relive the experience in detail for the first time in over two decades. The result was a three-year depression. I finally began to deal with what I had done to my life and it was pretty hard to face. Writing the play was a way for me to work though my anger and isolation."

The Partnership in the Arts series has previously always involved importing professional theater artists, teams and companies. Cameron, head of the acting program of the UI Department of Theatre Arts, says: "It's unusual that a play by a faculty member is being presented as the Partnership in the Arts. That opportunity generally goes to artists from outside the UI. I feel very privileged that my colleagues feel this play was worthy of the exposure.

"I did a public reading of the play last year, and many of my colleagues attended. A few weeks later, they proposed that we do a production. They felt it was an important topic that deserved to be heard. I was flabbergasted and thrilled. I work with some amazing artists here, and I'm very proud of them. Those who are familiar with the UI know that it has a long tradition of developing new and controversial work. If anything, they have encouraged me to take the truth of the topic as far as I possibly can."

Other artistic contributors to the production include music arranger and director Chris Okiishi, set designer Edward Matthew Walter, costume designer Loyce L. Arthur, lighting designer Bryon Winn, sound designer Patrick Ashcraft, movement coach Ralph Hall, vocal coach Judy Leigh Johnson, script advisor Sydne Mahone and dramaturg Dexter Locke.

The play contains material of an adult nature. Potential audience members who are concerned about whether it is appropriate for them should contact the Department of Theatre Arts, 319-335-2700, for additional information.

Tickets for "14" are $17; UI student and youth $8; senior citizen $12. Tickets are available in advance from the Hancher Auditorium box office. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available one hour before curtain time at the Theatre Building box office.

Tickets may also be purchased as part of a Division of Performance Arts subscription package. The events are detailed in a Division of Performing Arts brochure that has been sent to area music, theater and dance patrons. Copies of the brochure, which includes complete ticket information and an order form, are available at the Hancher Auditorium Box Office, in the UI Theatre Building and from the division's marketing office at 319-335-3213, division-performing-arts@uiowa.edu.

Hancher Auditorium box office business hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. From the local calling area, dial 319-335-1160. Long distance is toll-free, 1-800-HANCHER. People with special needs for access, seating and auxiliary services should dial 319-335-1158, which is equipped with TDD for people with hearing impairment who use that technology.

Tickets may be ordered online through Hancher's Web site, http://www.hancher.uiowa.edu. Orders may be charged to VISA, MasterCard or American Express. UI students may charge their purchases to their university bills, and UI faculty and staff may select the option of payroll deduction. Information and brochures may be requested by e-mail at hancher-box-office@uiowa.edu.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit www.uiowa.edu/artsiowa. To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to http://list.uiowa.edu/archives/acr-news.html, click the link "Join or leave the list (or change settings)" and follow the instructions.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-2500

PHOTOS: may be downloaded from http://www.flickr.com/photos/artsiowa/sets/72157603740042583/

MEDIA CONTACTS: John Cameron, 319-335-2700, john-cameron@uiowa.edu; Winston Barclay, Arts Center Relations, 319-384-0073 (office), 319-430-1013 (cell), winston-barclay@uiowa.edu