Theatre and Theology: A Response
"In fact, I think the SF is doing the most risky work in the Fringe because it subjects itself to the criticisms of the fundamentalist right who have hijacked religion and the artistic left who have ceded religion to the fundamentalists."
From Holly Davis, writer of Goddess and Spiritual Fringe producer:
Read your blog on spiritual fringe today and since I can't comment via website (will they ever get that fixed?), I will send you this note.
I suppose one is doing something really provocative when both sides take offense. When SF was introduced we heard comments like "Why is the Fringe getting into religion?" (so much for the "no holds barred" mentality of the artistic left). Simultaneously, the SF made the "heresy watch" on a right wing Christian radio station. By and large neither the left wing artist nor the right wing Christian actually came to the shows. The pastors who opened their space to the SF got both positive and negative feedback on the event, and soldiered on anyway.
You do the SF an injustice to intimate that it is a Pollyanna presentation of shows. Last year its performances dealt with the excruciating topic of the death of a child, questioned whether Jesus was actually the son of God, and suggested if animists were correct then God could be living in your vibrator. This year it will show a traditional Christian symbol and explain that the symbol was originally a vagina. Pollyanna? I think not.
In fact, I think the SF is doing the most risky work in the Fringe because it subjects itself to the criticisms of the fundamentalist right who have hijacked religion and the artistic left who have ceded religion to the fundamentalists. There is nothing artistically risky about using asshole, bastard, cocksucker, cunt, damn, dickhead, motherfucker, peckerhead, shit, or twat, because this is the vocabulary of the Fringe - the pre-approved words. But if one use the words "Jesus Christ" as anything other than an epithet, well..that's just profane. That makes one a real..peckerhead, I guess.
Hugs and kisses - see you tonight.
First of all, man, are you ever preachin' to the choir on this one, sister. In fact, a lot of what you just wrote could be word-for-word out of one of my rants in my latest show (Libertarian Rage! Closing performance tomorrow night, 7pm at the Bryant-Lake Bowl! Be there or don't! End plug), in which my character angrily exclaims "We've actually reached a point where God is a dirtier word onstage than fuck." I'm in complete agreement with most of what you just wrote. And I also stand behind everything I said in my last post. Aren't I an annoying little fellow?
(I'm also compelled to point out that, as far as I'm aware, I've been by far the most vocal supporter of the Spiritual Fringe, among the bloggers at any rate.)
I certainly don't mean to intimate that the SF is the "Pollyanna" of the Fringe, though I can see how what I wrote would lead to that impression. I think that part of my problem may have been an over-emphasis on language (an area of particular interest to me, non?)
Believe me, I don't think that there's anything edgy left about profanity, and I'm well past the point where the mere existence of the word "fuck" can reduce me to helpless schoolboy giggling. I work blue for the simple reason that, as long as people use profanity, my plays will, too. That's my voice, and that's simply something that's not going to change.
I don't know if I saw every show at the Spiritual Fringe last year, but I sure saw a lot -- having camped out at the church for at least two days during the run of the Fringe -- (and, by the way, if that's what's at issue, I think everybody reading this needs to do that at least once. You're missing out on some of the most exciting, unusual stuff at the Fringe if you don't) -- and they were all interesting and memorable, even if some were memorably bad.
I loved the experience, and I also maintain that not a single one of those shows got anywhere near as dark as they needed to. Faith -- for me, anyway -- is a dark and terrible thing, where one must "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling."
(For the record, the one show that I thought came closest -- Losing Nina, Finding God -- did so without a single expression of profanity. Obviously, that's not what the primary issue is here for me.)
I ranted in an earlier essay about the ineffectiveness of medieval morality plays -- in fact, I think that the writers of those plays were brilliant, because they were straining against so many limitations it's a miracle that they were able to write anything of substance at all. I really have a hard time seeing how the SF is going to break through those barriers with the limitations that they've set for themselves. Of course, those limitations are necessary -- at least as long as the venue is taking place in a church -- but I suppose it's part of my job to point out problems, not solutions.
The real problem, of course, is that I've created an extremely specific, imaginary entity that I want the SF to be, and when it doesn't turn out to be that thing, I'm disappointed. I recognize that this is unfair.
In any case, the SF has already been a success -- even if every show in it sucks -- because we're having this conversation. And, to be honest, arguing with you is the most fun I've had since this blogging gig started.
Not trying to get the last word. If you've got more to say, e-mail me and we'll keep the discussion going. That's what it's all about, enh?