This is the eight post in a series of blogs about our current production, Ex-Gays, written by Eric F. Avery. Ex-Gays will be presented at Matthews Park and Recreation Center, continuing through Saturday, July 30th. This blog is written by company member, Rachel Nelson.
Working on Ex-Gays has been a heart-breaking experience. I know, I know, its a comedy. Well, a satire. A heartbreaking satire? Fine, we'll go with that. Originally, the company was excited about producing Ex-Gays because it was both socially relevant and artistically exciting. Little did we know how politically relevant it was about to become (enter Marcus Bachmann and the gay marriage explosion in New York). Again and again over the past week, I've had conversations with audience members about their experiences with Christianity, with spirituality, with sexuality, with gender, and the list goes on and on. This show touches a nerve in almost everybody.
Obviously, this kind of impact on the pubic is a great success and a wonderful blessing for theater artists. It's also touched off a whole slew of neurons in my brain about who Savage Umbrella is, and why it is important. In the light of recent social-political events, it is worth pondering why we make theater instead of lighting buildings on fire? Instead of taking the extra time to cuddle with those we love? Or stand on street corners throwing pamphlets into the wind? Why is this important?
Here are some not-so-clearly-organized thoughts:
Repression of self and desire is always heartbreaking. It's a movement away from love, and that is what I am most interested in when I think about theater. Jeanette Winterson once wrote "what we risk reveals what we value." I've been thinking about this a lot as our season reveals itself. It seems to me theater pieces are always based on some form of love. Love is what motivates us. Everything else is just fluff and distraction.
Seeing how removed the conscience acknowledgment of love is from our day to day activities is somewhat shocking, and ultimately heartbreaking. I'm gonna go out on a shaky limb here and say that I think that theater's greatest gift is that is hones in directly on what motivates us. That's right...love. Theater is not embarrassed to say it. Theater is not subtle. Theater wants to pull you into the bathroom and talk intensely about your feelings, then break your heart and write you a really great poem about it. Theater always gives you the first orgasm (er, catharsis). It can't help it. It's designed that way. Theater speaks clearly and directly into the places that feel embarrassing or too intimate, and it's almost always talking about love.
When the company members of Savage Umbrella wrote our mission statement last winter, we talked about community conversation. We had a vast difference of opinions and styles about almost everything, but on one thing we were clear: we wanted to be involved and present in the lives and conversations of our communities. We wanted to be a conduit. It seems, as I look at this season, we are all focusing in on love. We have shows about people fighting toward some form of love through great adversity, shows about self-discovery, shows about pain and denial, and shows that expose the false notions and snares of traditional love. When I see the bravery of the other artists in the SU company in addressing these topics, it suddenly becomes clear to me that this is one of the best forms of activism: the kind that starts conversations, the kind that connects. This is why this is important.
So! Ex-Gays is closing at Matthews Park this Saturday and then we are moving to the Fringe. Then, work on our new show Ravagers is heating up, our big bad fun fundraiser is looming at the end of the month, and season auditions start next week. I hope that the energy and the conversations from Ex-Gays carry us through into the fall, and I hope that you (whoever you are) are planning to be involved somehow in the radically lovely and gutsy season we've got coming your way. I hope we see your face and get to know you. I hope you continue to embrace theater, and that it continues you embrace you back. It will. It can't help it. We can't help it either. We're just kind of built that way.
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.
This is the sixth 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 guest artists and cast member, Sheila Regan.
Imagine this: it was my first soccer team. I was in the first or second grade, I can’t really remember. What I do remember is the bright yellow-orange t-shirts we wore. They said SWAC on the front. (Maybe it was short for Southwest Athletic Association?). My father was the coach. I’m pretty sure he had never played soccer before, aside from perhaps a soccer unit in his gym class. My father isn’t exactly one for sports. He’s more into ancient literature and classical music. But for some reason he decided to coach my soccer team.
Anyhoo, so it turned out I was pretty good, for an eight year old, or however old I was. For a girl. But on one occasion, I remember very clearly, one of the teammates on my co-ed team came to the sudden realization that I was of the female sex. “You’re a… girl???” he said to me. I was mortified. Was it my short hair? Was it my aggressiveness on the soccer field, or just the fact that I was better than him? For whatever reason, this boy had thought that I was a boy, before I told him otherwise. It was devastating for me.
After that, I started wearing dresses full-time. No pants for me! I was going to look like a girl no matter what. As I grew older, I learned to flip my hair, to tilt my head, to walk in a straight line, just like the models do, swinging my hips ever so slightly. These were things I practiced. I learned to smile coquettishly. I learned how to cry- that got me out of quite a few traffic violations (which, for some reason, hasn’t worked for me since the age of 30).
Along the way, I decided that I liked to act, and despite my desire to play Juliets and other ingénues, I have, for the most of my acting career, played men. I’m not sure why this is. My low voice, perhaps? (I like to think it’s because of versatile acting ability). Whatever the reason, despite my years and years of nurturing my feminine persona, when directors see me audition, they think: man.
So, of course I wasn’t surprised when Laura Leffler-McCabe, director of Ex-Gays, emailed me and asked me if I would play a butch lesbian for a play written by Eric Avery about the ex-gay movement. I mean, I play men all the time, surely it couldn’t be hard to play a woman who identifies more with male characteristics.
Still, I have found it to be an intimidating prospect. I can play a man in my sleep, but why do I find it so difficult to play butch? The reason, I think, is political. I have no problem playing a man, because, as a woman, I am of the oppressed part of the occasion. I can observe, appropriate, and take on the characteristics without worrying about men being offended that I’m misrepresenting them.
Not so with playing a butch woman. Perhaps I’m overthinking it, but I worry. I worry that when playing my character, a butch lesbian who has decided to become an ex-gay, I will somehow misrepresent the character.
I look in the mirror. My hair, for one thing is a problem. I wish I was strong and could cut it for the play, but I’m too vain. Laura tells me I can tie it back in a ponytail. I’ve been trying different things, physically. At first I was working with a body-builder type stance, with a puffed-out chest and strong arms. Lately, I’ve favored a more relaxed stance, with my stomach and pelvis being the center of energy. I don’t know if it’s right, but it feels more natural for the character.
I guess when it comes right down to it, I’m concerned that as a straight woman, I feel awkward, I guess is the word, about playing a part that could be played by someone who identifies more closely with the character. Certainly, my gay brothers and sisters still face prejudice when playing straight characters. Just last year, Ramin Setoodeh wrote a ridiculous article in Newsweek where he says it’s “weird” for Sean Hayes to play straight: “He comes off as wooden and insincere,” Setoodeh wrote, “as if he’s trying to hide something, which of course he is.” Even Rupert Everett has warned gay actors about coming out, saying it limits their casting options.
It seems unfair, given this state of events, to play a lesbian character. Uh, but I’m doing it anyway. Because I was asked, because for some reason Laura believed in me that I could do it. And because Eric Avery’s script is completely brilliant and hell, if they want me to be involved, of course I will say yes. I only hope I can do my part justice.
Dear Dr. Bachmann,
Hi, hon, how ya doing? Pastor Brian from Camp Str8-N-Arrow, here, just checking in with another Christ-loving, fully heterosexual pillar of the community. I just want you to know that we here at Camp Str8-N-Arrow are fully in behind you. When you call homosexuals "barbarians", we say "Amen!" When you say they need to be educated, we've got all the knowledge we'll ever need in the Bible. And when you say they need to be disciplined, well, we just find that exciting.
It is always great to share thoughts and experiences with someone who fully embraces the Ex-Gay movement, especially in the face of rabid homosexual indoctrination and difficult weeks like this. There was that fiasco in New York, where Archbishop Dolan just rolled over and took it from the gays. The Catholics have always been suspect in their anti-homosexual resolve, and that just proved it. What did you do for this weekend's annual Sodomite & Gommorahan "Pride" Festival? I'm sure you'll be happy to know that we held a Gay Shame parade of our own, and it was a rip-roaring good time.
But then some good news, your wife going out and declaring that God has called her to become President. It is really a wonderful thing to see a Christian woman come to power like that, although a part of me makes me wonder why you aren't running for President yourself? You're direct, you speak for the Lord and you're cute as a button when you get all lathered up. Plus, Michele really is wearing the pants there, isn't she, which Deuteronomy 22:5 tells us is an abomination. It sounds like you and she could use some of the Step 2 classes we offer at Camp Str8-N-Arrow. Put yourself in my hands and I'll get right down to blowing the demons out of you.
If you do want to come to our Level 2 classes, we're holding the summer session of our homosexual outreach ministry, Camp Str8-N-Arrow, at the Matthews Park Recreation Center in Minneapolis starting on July 15th. Check out our website for more information and to register: www.campstr8narrow.weebly.com. We are also holding a community panel on Friday, June 22nd and your voice would be a welcome addition, leading people out of the dark night of homosexuality with a cock's crow of Christ's dawn. You should come over, bring Michele and we'll have a three-way bonding experience, or just come by yourself and we'll share the fruits of the staff of life that is the Lord our God.
With the everlasting golden shower of God's love,
Head Pastor, Camp Str8-N-Arrow