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St. Genesius- patron saint of actors
In Open Discussion
Mar 04, 2022
Toward the end of the first decade of this century, at Santa Clara University, in Santa Clara, California, Michael Zampelli, SJ, Gregory Dale Schultz and I staged Erik Ehn's The Saint Plays at the 400 seat Louis B. Mayer Theatre, which is to say, we were allowed to select a group of plays from the fifteen offered in his volume described as "plays loosely based on the lives of saints and biblical characters ranging from John the Baptist to Joan of Arc." Ehn aptly describes these plays as "contemporary fairy tales for the stage." In them we witness all manners of suffering—the personal, embodied, emotional, intellectual and spiritual—and the profound effects the uncanny lives of the saints have on their communities. To our amazement as directors, after we had begun working with six of these complete one-acts, and were already feeling we had taken on quite a lot, Ehn wrote an entirely new, seventh play for this production based on St. Genesius, patron saint of performers of all kinds, and also, torture victims. We should not have been surprised. Ehn was in the midst of writing one hundred such plays each with a profoundly unflinching call to conjure saints through the spoken poetry of the stage. Pictured here is the SCU student ensemble, and actor Jeffrey Brian Adams, who played St. Genesius in a way that made us feel the play was playing us, making us hyper-aware of being an ensemble of creative people making the play itself. It seemed to call to us as a group, quietly testing us (it was not at all easy to stage), warmly mocking us (our trade has its peculiarities), and subtly expanding our identities (because, perhaps, until then we were working without a real relationship to the patron saint of the theatre, and after that, perhaps we never were again). It was filled with lamb imagery, and what in California we would call "tube socks" were used to fulfill the multiple and sudden calls for fluffy, droopy ears on a dime. With gorgeous music throughout by Gregory Dale Schultz, this production was my first encounter with the patron saint of theatre as a subject for theatre itself. Reading about St. Genesius here, and the St. Genesius Society of NY, brought the deep essence of this show back in fullest color, and it took up lodging, as favorite productions can sometimes do, in my heart, upon seeing the Jesuit Theater's post. I hope all efforts inspired by this saint are soon springing forth once again, from small salon gatherings of artists honing our craft, to full-fledged festivals and productions marking our lives as storytellers, once again in the tumble of public life. While St. Clare (the patron saint of TV and etc.) might be helping some justify their inter-surge commitment to remaining on screen and doing televised, teleported, telecom theatre online and on zoom, why do I feel that St. Genesius might be too busy dragging recycled set pieces around and getting LED bulbs into the lighting instruments to bother with all those data servers warming the planet? No matter how much the theater community loves to debate the probability of its own future as positively digital, (a reality in which about six companies own all the cultural content created in that space) St. G., in my mind, is giving the nod to people everywhere, under any conditions to rehearse and make peace with the small, brave act of being together, with or without electricity or apple products, feeling the spirit, sensing the sacred, and shaping the stories that demand to be shared. St. Genesius is a great saint for modern times, when physics has shown we are beyond the notion of "probability" and deep into the improvisatory.
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