This is the seventh post is a series of blogs about our upcoming production, Ex-Gays, written by Eric F. Avery. Ex-Gays will be presented at Matthews Park and Recreation Center opening July 15th. This blog is written by company member, Carl Atiya Swanson.
Three weeks ago, while on a Camp Str8-N-Arrow ice cream field-trip to Franklin Freeze, Laura Leffler-McCabe, our fearless director, turned to me and asked,
"Are you nervous?"
"No. Should I be?"
"I don't know. Should you be?"
We had just performed the roughest of rough shows in front of a friendly audience who had laughed a lot. So that felt good. Then we made cuts so that it didn’t run two-and-a-half hours. So that felt better. Plus, I had an Arctic S'mores Blast with real graham crackers and chocolate syrup, so it was hard to be pessimistic about anything. "No," I said. "Because even if we come in on a wing and a prayer, from what we did last night I know that we have the characters there, so it'll be a character-driven wing and a prayer."
Actors are made of wings and prayers, trying to fly high, pushing characters and limitations beyond their fathomable ends. It’s what we do, getting down into the muck of human chaos, reveling in and embodying the contradictory impulses of our lives. Ex-Gays is so full of that roiling, ludicrous chaos that the challenge of making it fly is far greater than just memorizing the words. But anytime I come close to opening a show and the scenes on the page still feel like dark, taunting chasms and the timing feels like an all-too-early set alarm clock, I take comfort in the following exchange between Geoffrey Rush and Tom Wilkinson from Shakespeare in Love:
"Mr. Fennyman, allow me to explain about the theatre business. The natural condition is one of insurmountable obstacles on the road to imminent disaster."
"So what do we do?"
"Nothing. Strangely enough, it all turns out well."
"I don't know. It's a mystery."
Now we are two days from opening, and we haven’t done nothing, per se, we have just done the work that actors are compelled to do. The chasms close, the timing starts to ring out and all these fabulously talented and generous actors make Camp Str8-N-Arrow an actual place. It begins to feel less like a mystery and more like a play. To paraphrase, it’s the thing, it gets inside you and transforms mundane ridiculousness of the world around us into the scathingly sublime of all possible worlds. The work becomes unity, surmounting obstacles and capitalizing on disaster. I feel good about the mystery and muck, and that’s not just the ice cream talking.
Earlier in the year, we put in a lot of work into forming the vision of Savage Umbrella as a group of people committed to making theater. What it comes down to is this: “Theatre is critical shelter, embodying compassionate space for relevant conversation.” Ex-Gays is the kind of theater that I want to be making, critical of our world, sheltering our contradictions. All lights up, all immersive, directly keyed into our time, with our bodies and yours on the line.
We didn’t start working on this play knowing that Minnesota would be in the grip of a debate about same-sex rights and marriage when it came time to deliver. We didn’t know Marcus Bachmann (hubby of presidential hopeful Michele) would be in the news for calling homosexuals “barbarians,” claiming his clinic does not engage in ex-gay therapy and then having that totally disproved by undercover reporting. We started what felt important and the conversation came to us.
Shakespeare has his time and place, but we are working through our own winging prayers, through the muck and chaos of our time to make our own words and actions matter in our playing space. It is your playing space as much as it is ours, so we hope you join us in this conversation. Don’t be afraid if Pastor Brian asks you a question directly, just take a deep breath and answer, just as we all do every day. Ex-Gays opens Friday. Get under the umbrella. We just might go for ice cream afterwards.