Monday, September 05, 2016

Thank you, dear Bishop of Londrina. Thank you everybody...

The performances of my play in Londrina have been condemned by three archbishops.

This may be a record.

Here is a courageous and forthright public letter of support from the Anglican bishop of Londrina. 

Someone who actually saw the play:

"Londrina 31st August 2016

Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil - the Anglican Diocese of Paraná
The Parish of St. Luke, Londrina.
Rua Mossoró, 678, Centro, Londrina – PR 
Tel: (43) 33473616

Letter of support

“He came unto his own, and his own received him not.
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name:
Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:11-13)

St Luke's parish in Londrina, of The Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil is publicly declaring its total support, praise and solidarity to the play “The Gospel According To Jesus Queen Of Heaven” performed by the trans actress Renata Carvalho and to the whole production team.

As everyone knows, this company suffered an attempt to censor its work on the part of certain Christian movements and a local candidate because the play was due to be performed in a replica of the first Roman Catholic Church on the campus of the University, now used as an ecumenical chapel.

These criticisms arise from prejudice, because even before the performance value judgements were being made and the play condemned as unethical and disrespectful. These judgements were not supported. As I watched the performance, I felt in the presence of an immense respect for the message of Jesus Christ, without the slightest mockery or offence. There is nothing in the play that could offend the person of Jesus Christ, or hurt Christian men or Christian women or any religious institution.

The play is a retelling of the teachings of the Gospel of Jesus in the light of the problems, dilemmas, and suffering of the present day. Problems that are embodied in the lives of people who are abused and marginalised and who society, and often many churches, exclude. It is a contemporary reading of the words ofJesus where the parables of the Gospels are placed in the context of the present day to denounce prejudice, hypocrisy, and to promote the love of one's neighbour, justice, acceptance and inclusion of all those left out on the margins. The play is a theatrical presentation of the best of Christian theology in that it vindicates the incarnation of Jesus confronting the suffering of this world, confronting the rejection, exclusion, condemnation and murder of homosexual, bisexual and transgender people simply because of their identity and sexuality. The play is prophetic in the sense that it denounces hypocrisy and death dealing discourse. The play is ecumenical in the sense that it represents a Jesus who is not attached to any religious tradition. The play is kerygmatic in the sense that it is a proclamation of love, of inclusivity, and a call to life. It is a message of Christ. We understand that human sexuality is multiple and as such sacred to God.

“…we struggle for a change in thinking, a change in behaviour, and a change in action in relation to people who are excluded, marginalised, or discriminated against because of their gender, sexual orientation or ethnicity: in order that all barriers be broken down and everyone have their rights to justice and to inequality. […]” (The Book of Common Prayer, p 759).

When we pray for this in our own book of prayer, we cannot remain silent in the face of what we see and hear”

Dom Naudal Alves Gomes
Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Paraná

The Reverend Lucia Dal Ponte Sirtoli
Rector of the parish of São Lucas - Londrina - PR"

This letter means a lot to me because Christian churches so often so viciously condemn the play.

On this occasion also it has been condemned by Catholic authorities and Evangelical authorities too. I always seem to bring these people together.

None of them have seen the play or read it, or know anything about it. That is what usually happens. Their prejudice is so strong they feel they do not need to.

This happened when I first performed the play and it happens still.

It hurts me. 

It hurts me because I never had the slightest intention of being disrespectful to Christianity. All I wanted to do, now as then, is remind people as gently and as firmly as I can what Jesus actually said.

Many church people have supported me in this. Members of the United Reformed, Unitarian, Catholic, Anglican, Quaker, Methodist and Baptist religious organisations.

I am so grateful to them, just as I am grateful to everyone who has offered support in the last difficult fortnight.

Natalia Mallo, the play’s Brazilian director and translator, reports that a group of pregnant women turned up for the play’s performance. They had no tickets or realistic expectation of seeing the show; they simply wanted to form a human shield around the actress, Renata Carvalho, and shield her with their bodies.

I am so profoundly moved by this, and by the hundreds of expressions of support me and Queen Jesus Plays have received here in the UK and in Brazil.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched through the streets of Sao Paulo last night to protest against Temer’s illegal right wing government and the forces of hatred and intolerance and prejudice it represents.

It makes me very proud that our play should be a tiny part of that movement.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Queen Jesus, FK Alexander, and the gift of performance.

“Am I being stupid?”, One of the old ladies said as she left FK Alexander’s (I could go on singing) Over The Rainbow,  “It’s just I don't see the point of it”. 

She wasn't being angry, or dismissive, but genuinely curious.

And as I become an old lady myself I completely sympathise.

At first I couldn't see the point of it either. It was one of those puzzling live art events that don't seem to make much sense at first, but which grow in meaning and richness if you plant their little seed in your heart.

I suppose I could say to her that it was an act of love. Audience members came up one by one to have “Over The Rainbow” sung to them while Alexander looks them tenderly in the eye.

I know that impulse, and whenever I perform The Gospel According To Jesus Queen Of Heaven I try, if I can, to look each member of the audience in the eye at least once.

And I'm not sure I understand fully what the point of it is. Perhaps its like meditation, which both has and has not a point at the same time.

My meditation teacher used to say that it doesn't matter if nothing seems to be happening. That all you can do is the work.

And the performance was work: and a gift, given not just to the individual concerned but to each member of the audience in that tiny basement at the very bottom of Summerhall.

Part of the gifts was the ritual. A ritual that in the midst of a performance of auditory and visual overload gave a strange kind of peace.

Part of it, too, was the invitation to reflect on the words as we heard them over and over again. To imagine that maybe there really is a different dimension to our lives, where all the fear and uncertainty of this banal and terrifying world is somehow resolved.

It's a precious gift they gave us and it gives me comfort today. Today is the opening of Jesus Queen of Heaven in Brazil and I know that will be a demonstration tonight to try to stop it happening.

I remember all too well my fear at the hate-filled demonstrations that greeted my first performances in 2009, and I can't stop myself feeling intense sympathy and concern for Renata Carvalho, the gifted and beautiful trans-actress who is taking on my role

The political situation in Brazil is more or less the same as it was when I performed the piece there in May. A right wing clique is trying to govern through fear and hatred. Hatred directed at LGB T people in general, and trans people in particular.

Hatred sanctioned, supposedly, by Christian belief. 

In these circumstances to call the play challenging would be an understatement.. 

I lost count of all the people who came up to me after the shows to say that somehow I had given them hope and courage. 

Because then, as now, theatre matters.

And it is about creating a gift the audience. Whether they can take it or not.

How important it is that the gift be a good one. That it does not simply spread fear or outrage or despair but comes from a clear-eyed looking at the world and the ability in spite of of it all to find hope and strength.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Rash Dash slipping past the gender police

We’re mostly unaware of the Gender Police.

It's under the level of consciousness that they do their insidious business of governing our identity, our expectations, and our lives.

I say “we” even though I’ve been aware of them for as long as I can remember.

Only they were too powerful and I was too frightened and ashamed.

I never imagined I could escape them, or cross the terrifying frontier between the genders, and so did all I could to put them out of my mind.

But everyone, I think, trans or not, needs to confront them at some stage or another. And this takes huge courage..

Huge courage in living, and huge artistic courage in imagination and performance to explore who these police are and cross the frontier they guard.

It's very hard. We quickly discover we don't have the words because the words we do have all belong to the gender binary, to the world of men and women and no one and nothing in between: a divide held onto all the more ferociously because more and more it becomes clear it does not correspond to the deep truths of human experience.

I remember how for years in the 50s and 60s there were no words for who I was.

I was something unspeakable.

And even now the words I have to use to describe myself don't really correspond to who I am.

To find then, I have to look to other cultures.

“Bissu” is probably the best. we are both men and women in one and our function is to bless.

But I can't put that on my passport, nor do I generally have the energy to explain that it's a term used by the Bugi people of South Sulawesi who believe there are five genders.

Life is a little too short.

So I use ‘trans-woman’: and fiercely defend my right to my woman's passport, to my female birth certificate, my woman's NHS number, and my woman's social security number.

And when you try to create a show about is all, it gets so much harder.

Because all the artistic forms we know come from the gender binary and trying to go beyond it is a step into the deep unknown.

It is so easy, as I know to my cost, to get lost in the process.

But what I loved about Rash Dash’s “Two Man Show” is that they have the courage to enter unknown gender regions and the skill to navigate them.

I don't want to describe the show because one of its many strengths is its continual inventiveness and it's wonderful capacity to surprise.

All I want to do is celebrate their artistry and their courage:

Because what they have created is something that truly breaks new ground.

Something filled with insight, understanding, and rage. And something also full of compassion and a truly beautiful angry tenderness.

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