It’s 9:20 p.m.
As a slightly-chill night-air breeze meanders in through massive missing spaces in the factory wall, the Foundry, in Berkeley—a semi-derelict building now used as a kind of collective haven for the arts and artists—is beginning to fill up with guests. It’s Friday, the first of two “Foundry Nights” events that take place here every three months or so. It’s a bit hard to describe. At one end of the second-story level, different visual artists have assembled various expressions of their own creativity, including a cool little hut that looks like a Gypsy Wagon, an enormous mutant-lion sculpture covered with bits and pieces of toys, broken violins, spoons, markers, T-shirts and just about anything else. Near it, suspended by a chain, is what appears to be the world’s largest joint. A short distance away are two white tents, each of which appear (through the magic of overhead projectors) to be occupied by a naked, floating dancer, spinning and twisting up and down through the air. Near the other end of the “room,” is a stage, where an improv actress is dancing with a long chord in a spontaneous comedy/psycho-drama piece about shame. Earlier, the stage was occupied by a woman playing a hurdy-gurdy and a saw. In just a moment, it will be occupied by me.
The usually raucous crowd is mostly reserved tonight, stepping one-by-one from the stairway, out onto the main floor, with a hesitant/expectant look of “w-w-w-what?” The bar is pouring some pretty decent wine, and it being free (drinks come with the price of admission), people are lining up there, where they have a close-up view of the stage. Adam Palafox, who’s been a major supporter of my effort to take ‘Wretch Like Me’ to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, is perched way of high at the sound-and-light controls. After a quick rearrangement of chairs and microphones on stage, Adam hits the cue for my opening music (and upbeat guitar instrumental of ‘Amazing Grace). I lay down on the floor, microphone in hand, and begin my performance, a stitched-together “showcase” of snippets from ‘Wretch.’
Clearly, whatever it is people were expecting to happen next, it wasn’t me. The thing about ‘Wretch Like Me’ is . . . it’s about Jesus, right? And people have been so used to being bludgeoned and battered by people using the name ‘Jesus’ as a weapon, that if you are just sitting there at a Berkeley arts party in an old warehouse, a middle-aged bald guy lying on the floor talking about Jesus (well, I did eventually stand up) can be a little unsettling. Those who stuck around quickly got a sense of what I was doing, and by the time I concluded the performance 18-minutes later, a guy at the bar shouted “Amen!” Shortly thereafter, a person wandered by and noted, briefly, “There sure is a fuck-load of Jesus in that play, huh?” Which lead to a conversation with Adam and my friend Kris about how to better set up the performance piece when I repeat it at Foundry Nights this evening.
“Maybe I should just let people know from the beginning that they are about to get a whole fuck-load of Jesus,” I suggest.
“Maybe that’s a good idea,” says Kris, thoughtfully. “This isn’t a normal theater, where people know what they’ve bought a ticket for. And ‘Jesus’ is a pretty loaded topic for a lot of people. Maybe you should ease them into it a little more.”
Jesus IS a loaded topic, and of course, that’s a large part of why I am doing this show. Because so many of us are carrying the damage done to use in the name of Jesus. Sometimes, in the course of working on this show, fundraising for this show, rehearsing this show, and basically stressing about this show, I get sidelined by a comment from someone who reminds me why I am doing this show in the first place. Earlier this week, a woman named Lia, who like me, once escaped from the controlling environment of Fundamentalist Christianity, posted something amazing on my Facebook page.
“Hello. Your little story of being saved from being saved is now saving people. I’m finally seeing the light, coming out of the darkness, and discovering that I am not crazy, that my story lines up with what others went through, that I am not alone.”
And that’s really the point. We might not all have been saved from being “saved,” but we’ve all been saved from something. And shows like mine, while they might make people a little uncomfortable here and there, do help people heal the sting that often comes with that word ‘Jesus,’ and hopefully, remind us that someone out there—maybe even a guy on a stage in the a factory in the middle of a wild-and-crazy arts party in Berkeley—has been through what they have, that we don’t have to feel alone.