Many people may recognize Christopher “Topher” Layton Clark as the actor who played Paul in the Bible videos produced by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often referred to as “the Mormon Church”). He was the Theatre Department chair at Utah valley University in Orem, Utah, and a prominent figure in the local performing arts community.
Clark, who taught thousands over his career, has been called a masterful storyteller in his writing, his directing, his acting, his teaching, and “his retelling of every strange encounter with what seemed to be an endless line of odd misfits that came from all around the world.” His sister, Courtney Kendrick, told Herald Extra that he was unlike other members of the family. She said, “He was the fourth of nine children. The males in our family were athletes and hunters, but “Topher” (as his family called him) was an artist.”
Clark, who was a loving husband, father of five, and a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was born on 30 July 1972 to Stephen and Cindy Clark. He was a graduate of the Class of 1990 at Provo High School in Provo, Utah. He was also the Prom King and voted “Most Preferred.” His performance as the King in the play, “The King and I,” earned him an acting scholarship to Brigham Young University (BYU).
He served a full-time mission for the Church in Finland. Following his mission, he majored in English at BYU (because it was more practical than theater) and auditioned for the English Society’s “The Mysteries: Creation,” a theatrical production where he was cast as Satan. There he met Lisa Valentine who was cast as a chicken on “Noah’s Ark.” They were married on 3 June 1995 in the Salt Lake Temple.
The young couple moved to England, where Clark earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Directing Shakespeare at the University of Exeter, Devonshire, England, and graduated with distinction. He went on to earn a PhD in Education Leadership/Theater at BYU while teaching full-time at Utah Valley University (UVU). He later earned tenure as an assistant professor, became chair of the Theater Department, and then achieved full professor.
Clark trained with The Steppenwolf School actor’s training in Chicago, Viewpoints movement training, Second City improvisational training, The Globe Theatre, London, The Royal Shakespeare Company, and many others.
To his credit, he wrote an original Shakespearean play, ‘A Marrying Man,’ about Shakespeare’s love life, adapting the lines from Shakespearean works to form a totally new work. He also wrote or adapted “She Stoops to Conquer,” “Nosferatu,” “Hamlet,” and “Richard III.”
Clark was awarded the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Distinguished Directing Award, 2009, Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Play Choice (“She Stoops to Conquer,” 2011, and “Nosferatu,” 2009). He was Utah Valley University Faculty Scholar of the Year, 2009, and Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival Scene Choice twice, among many other distinctions.
For the past five years, he battled with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He died on 5 June 2020, at the age of 47. At his memorial service, his sister, Stephanie Nielson, said that she had been studying the life of the Apostle her brother portrayed. She remarked, “In the end of Christopher’s life, he was tested, he was tried, he was tired, he was weak, but he was also strong and steadfast. He was a perfect example of living the way the Apostle Paul teaches us to be. And in a sense, Christopher was not just acting as Paul for the Church in the Bible videos, he was living Paul’s life and example.”
According to his obituary, Clark spent his final weeks doing the things that he loved most: planning two different theatrical productions, writing a script, leaving joke reviews on Yelp “as a handicapped person,” acting as his kids’ self-proclaimed seminary and theater teacher, and planning an elaborate surprise for his wife in time for their 25th wedding anniversary.
Lisa Valentine Clark, is best known for her comedy, frequently appearing in commercials and as the host of BYU Radio’s The Lisa Show. Her brother, James Valentine, a guitarist for Maroon 5, wrote in an Instagram post, “Christopher Clark celebrated his 25th wedding anniversary with my sister Lisa just last week. ALS is one of the worst diseases, but he handled it with quiet courage and grace. I almost typed ‘he ended his battle’ with ALS, but it never seemed like a battle. He selflessly made peace with the terminal diagnosis. He was always more concerned with Lisa and the kids’ welfare than his own.”
Linda Hale, Hale Center Theater Orem, said, “He had an infectious laugh and such a buoyant spirit that everyone wanted to be near. He has left a vacancy in our hearts and on our stage that can’t be filled.”