Expressing myself via theater

It’s almost time.

Today is Thursday, Aug. 4, which is the first day of the Minnesota Fringe Festival in Minneapolis, which means that we’re only two days away from the Uncommon Loons (my theater company) debut performance at the fest: “Pistachios”! This isn’t the first time that we’ve applied to be a part of this enormous annual event, so this weekend is a long time coming for my theater comrade, John, and I.

Pistachio Postcard

Normally, when anticipating a show, I have any number of mixed feelings about the production. The final week is often littered with last-minute changes and panic that certain elements aren’t ready and can never be ready given only two days, all tied together by an excitement that the hard work of a couple months is about to pay off. But “Pistachios” isn’t like that. First of all, the production is extremely simple: only two characters, four different changes in lighting, no set changes. John and I both know that we got this thing in the bag… production-wise.

It’s the story itself that’s got me feeling, well, mixed. Since I wrote it, I’m of course feeling anxious about people liking it. This isn’t a pre-vetted script that has made it through the rounds of Broadway, whose rights were recently released to rag-tag thespians like ourselves. No, this is the first that audiences are going to see if this show, so I think I’m right to be a little nervous. And on top of all that, this is an extremely personal play to me.

Regular readers of this blog will know that I used to be devoutly religious but then left the faith about seven years ago. This caused all sorts of difficulties in my life, including awkward tension with my family and a divorce from my wife. Part of the reason for the awkward tension with my family comes from our inability to talk about my having left the faith. I really have no idea what the outcome of any of this conversation would be, and it’s entirely possible that the result would make things even worse in my relationship with them. But even recognizing this, I lament the fact that I’m unable to have an adult conversation with my family about what is arguably the most important facet of my relationship with them (for the record, I blame myself for this inability as well as them. I’ve reached out to an extent, but could have done more).

So this play is in many ways the fruition of the conversation I wish I could have with my family. The details of my particular life are obviously different than the story in the play, but the overall gist of a back-and-forth exchange of ideas, where both sides are able to come to a head and, for better or for worse, have a greater understanding of where the other is coming from is something that I never really had with my family.

But honestly, who wants to relive in
a crowded theater some of the more
personally emotional moments of your
life, while your son acts them out on stage?

I do recall one day shortly after I left the faith that I met with my mother half way between our houses in the little town of Floodwood, Minn. This was easily the closest I’ve come to having the conversation I described above with anyone in my family, and I’m very thankful for the opportunity. My mom seemed genuinely interested in learning a bit more about me, the “new me” so to speak, but the depth of topic never plunged below the surface. Ideally, it should’ve been just the start of a new dialogue, but this was more than six years ago already. The dialogue stopped about as quickly as it started.

I should note, also, that my mother has very consistently come to see the theater productions that I’m involved with, making her one of my biggest fans. So to further drive home the awkwardness this topic holds over me and my family, my mom told me that she won’t be attending my show at the Fringe Fest after I told her what it was about. All things being equal, I don’t really blame her for not wanting to go. I just think it would’ve demonstrated a certain level of interest I would have been happy to see from her if she did come.

But honestly, who wants to relive in a crowded theater some of the more personally emotional moments of your life, while your son acts them out on stage? I might even be surprised by the number of people who would say yes to that, but I know my mom well enough to not be surprised when she said no. But that’s not why I wrote this show. I didn’t write it as a guilt trip for my family, or even necessarily as a cathartic trip for myself. I wrote it because I know that there is no shortage of people who have rifts in their family due to large changes, whether it be someone leaving their religion, coming out of the closet as gay, confessing their allegiance to a rival political party, etc. And the only way to even attempt to mend these rifts is with conversation. It’s not going to be easy, nor quick, but it’s just what you have to do. And this means for everybody. While it may be most difficult for the person leaving the faith or coming out of the closet, whether you agree with the stance of your family or not, to see a loved one go through a what appears to be a dramatic change can be a jarring experience for anyone. While it would be better for these families to accept with an open mind and curiosity for all the changes dropped on them, it’s not necessarily something to assume. So if a continued relationship is something you want with your family, an outright dismissal of their point-of-view, however outrageous, is no way to start. After all, to them, you’re the one being outrageous.

This all says nothing of the instances where mutual respect is a nonstarter due to parents who disown their child at the first hint that they’re gay or who blackball and shame them for leaving the faith. One can only do their part in maintaining a relationship. I’m still trying to figure out where my family and I fit on this continuum of dysfunction. But I suppose that’s just part of it. As long as I haven’t given up on figuring things out, I haven’t given up on working on the relationship. However slow and indirect we all might be about it.

And theater is my chosen medium for figuring this out right now. I think I’ve gotten what I’ve needed to out of “Pistachios,” so now I’m hoping that it helps others in some small way with their own family problems. Or, at least, I hope they just enjoy the show.

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