Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Our Christian Dramaturgy: Joe Janes @ edfringe 2017

Our Christian Nation Finds Paradise at Edinburgh Fringe
35 Characters Played by 11 Actors in Joe Janes' Cultural Satire About America Erasing the Line Separating Church and State

CHICAGO (July 20, 2017)— What would the USA look like if the extreme Christian right got everything they wanted? 

In this slightly alternate present just before the rapture, Reverend President Robert (Jamie Buell) has eliminated the “fake news” and homosexuality is outlawed. 

A young family is torn apart when Mitch (Adam Ston), the breadwinner, loses his job and is arrested for not being able to pay his bills, while his pregnant wife, Louise (Lauren Fisher) is thrown into a hospital/jail as the state takes ownership of her “fetus.”


Meanwhile, the couple’s daughter, Nipper (Bethany Schmieder) is indoctrinated in various “Biblical” texts by a couple that run a gay conversion therapy camp.

What was the inspiration for this performance?

Anger. I was angry about how Republicans and the Tea Party were treating the Obama administration and I was angry at the constant attempts to erase the separation of church and state, especially when it comes to women rights and gay rights. I’m a comedy writer. Comedy is my weapon.

Is performance still a good space for the public discussion of ideas? 

Absolutely! Especially, now. We have a president who is an egomaniac with a thin skin. Satire gets to him. When we did a run of our show earlier this year, I invited some local conservative on-line magazines to review us. They declined and in our e-mail exchanges admitted “We don’t do humor well.”

How did you become interested in making performance?

When I was a kid, my uncle would play comedy
albums for me. Notably, Stan Freberg’s The United States of America, Vol 1: The Early Years, which had a definite influence on this show. Our play is full of revised history lessons. I was hooked and started putting on shows for my classmates starting in the fourth grade. 

Is there any particular approach to the making of the show?

I wrote the the first draft very quickly. I pitched the idea of the play to 3 Brothers Theatre north of Chicago. They loved it and wanted to feature it in a staged reading during their summer festival in 2015. They told me this at the end of March when I had yet to write a single word of the play! 

They loved it so much, they produced it the following summer and my director and I put it up in Chicago earlier this year. The play has a lot to do with current events, which can be scary for a writer. There’s a concern that things can become dated. Fortunately for the production and unfortunately for the world, it has not. 

We check the news everyday and, quite often, we’re able to reference the latest dumb thing Trump or someone in his administration has said. 

Does the show fit with your usual productions?

Many of my plays are epic with large casts and people playing multiple roles, so, yes. My plays tend to be like sketch comedy revues spinning out of control. 

What do you hope that the audience will experience?

Laughter! Where there’s laughter, there's hope. I hope it gives them a thing or two to think about regarding politics and religion. 

One thing I also appreciate about satire is that it
often makes me feel like I’m not alone. There’s relief in discovering there are other people who are reasonably sane who also think this thing or that thing is bonkers. 

What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?

I tried to be very clear that it wasn’t an attack on Christianity or anyone’s particular religion. It’s an attack on people who take it to the extreme and impose their beliefs on others and also the hypocrisy that inevitably gets intwined. 

Welcome to Our Christian Nation, an epic satirical one-act play written by Emmy award-winning writer and Second City instructor Joe Janes and directed by Andrea J. Dymond. 

Our Christian Nation is partially funded by a Part-Time Faculty Development Grant from Columbia College Chicago. Janes originally wrote the full-length version of the play for the Three Brothers Waukegan Theatre Festival in Illinois, where it received a staged reading in 2015. Three Brothers Theatre produced the show for their festival in 2016.
Earlier this year, the play received a full six-week run at Chicago’s veteran comedy institution The Cornservatory.

There are 35 characters performed by 11 actors in Our Christian Nation covering a wide range of Christian revised story lessons that include: God creating the world (but he rushed and is sorry about that cancer thing), the founding fathers signing the Declaration of Independence along with founding father Moses and help from a dinosaur, the Civil War occurring because God was mad at Lincoln, Goldilocks being an abortion-loving intruder, and a worldview that has the US as #1 and Australia being as if England and Mississippi had a baby and left it in a dumpster.

Entertaining as well as educational, Our Christian Nation takes place in a world Janes envisions as a kind of nightmare quickly becoming a daymare, i.e. in which the ultra-Christian right wing get everything their hearts desire.

“I wrote the play because I was angry about the Republican and Tea Party response to the Obama administration. I’m sad to report it is still pertinent today. Even more so given our current Whitehouse interloper,” said Janes.

Our Christian Nation is a world where children only get church-approved homeschool lessons, privatization is rampant, being poor is a crime, insurance is only for those who can afford it, women have very few rights, and conversion therapy camps are as normal as the boy scouts. The Bible has become a textbook in history and science classes.”

“Satire is the best weapon I know of to shed light on absurdities. There’s a lot of work to be done in the states, right now. We’re bringing the show to Edinburgh to show the rest of the world that we’re not all crazy here and we’re doing our best to reverse the tide,” said Janes.

Joe Janes
Joe Janes is an Emmy award-winning writer who teaches comedy writing and improvisation at The Second City and in Columbia College's new Comedy Writing and Performance major. 

He has written for Jellyvision's video game series You Don't Know Jack and Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update. He has published three books, including 365 Sketches, 50 Plays and Seven Deadly Plays

Other full-length plays include Metaluna and the Science of the Mind Revue, A Hard Day's Journey into Night, OtherSchool and Always Never

His fake Twitter account is @futurepreztrump that he started over a year ago. He tried to warn you.

Andrea J. Dymond
A Chicago-based freelance director specializing in new work, Andrea J. Dymond has been a resident director at Victory Gardens Theater, where she directed 11 productions, including 7 world premieres. 

Selected Chicago credits include: Tree, Year Zero, Blue Door, Free Man of Color, Shoes, and I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document, Helen, and Keep a Song in Your Soul, which she directed and developed with the Grammy award-winning band Carolina Chocolate Drops. 

Most recently, Andrea directed A Lesson Before Dying by Clarence Brown, Shepsu Aahku’s Softly Blue and Lynn Nottage’s Mud River Stone. Andrea’s experience includes research and production dramaturgy, directing at new works festivals nationally; serving as thesis play advisor for MFA playwrights at Carnegie Mellon; and directing at NNPN’s MFA Playwrights Workshops at the Kennedy Center. 

Andrea teaches directing, collaboration, text analysis, acting and new play development at Columbia College Chicago, where she recently directed Blues for an Alabama Sky by Pearl Cleage and Euripides’s Hecuba.

Lauren Fisher (Louise, Abigail)
Adam Ston (Mitch, various)
Bethany Schmieder (Nipper)
Jamie Buell (Rev. President Robert)
Robin Mina (Shrug, Evelyn, various)
Adrian Garcia (Pastor Mooney, Carlos, various) Garrett Hanson (Mr. Looney, Michael, various) Nicholas Polk (Tim Harfington, Brian, various) Aidan O'Connor (Mrs. Kennedy, Dr. Harley, various) Joe Janes (Cal, Sam, various)

Andrea J. Dymond (God)

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