BWW Interview: Director Jacey Little Invites All to Uplifting Experience at Horse Head Theatre Company's CHURCH
Horse Head Theatre Company is getting set in this hefty Houston heat to open an uplifting and inspiring new production this August. CHURCH, an original production by playwright Young Jean Lee, is expected to be an engaging way to invoke conversations and experiences of spirituality, faith, and identity in a theatrical context, rather than at your typical Sunday morning church service.
I spoke with Director Jacey Little to learn a little more about this production, which, held in the context of the theatre, is likely contrasting to any other sermon or spiritual gathering you might have experienced before, while also being charmingly familiar to the events you may have attended previously. Little discusses that CHURCH is fashioned to appeal to both religious and non-religious alike, as it "explores secular themes, but effectively utilizes the language, tropes and devices prevalent in a variety of American Christian church services".
Additionally, Little advises not to be wary of the production's title, as the theatrical event is much more than what you might expect from a play called CHURCH. As articulated by Little, "We are not attempting to mimic or comment on an existing Christian sect, we've created our own church in the context of Lee's script. After all, the Fellowship of Friends doesn't just preach for others to embrace their personal truths - they live it. Authenticity and sincerity is incredibly important to the presentation of this work, and each artist associated honors that in their own way".
BWW: So to start off, I saw there is an immersive pre-show experience beforehand, could you tell me a little about that?
Jacey Little: In typical Horse Head fashion, we're creating an original immersive theatre event that will precede our main event. Inspired by the world of CHURCH, myself, dramaturg Connor Woods, and actors Danté Anderson, Dano Colón, Jayden Key, Mai Le, Britney Walker-Merritte, and for select performances, Greg Cote, are devising this audience experience.
How do you feel this pre-show event will maximize the audience members' experience?
The pre-show is intended to introduce you the Fellowship of Friends traveling congregation. Dedicated to spreading their message, Houston is the first stop of their nation-wide tour. At the pre-show, audiences will be welcomed as new friends by members of the congregation, and be invited to participate in a variety of activities. The highlight of the experience will be an actor-guided walking tour of the park. We intend to prime audiences to experience Young Jean Lee's play, disarming their anxieties about a play called "CHURCH."
What was the motivation behind bringing an immersive church-like experience to the context of the theatre?
Playwright, Young Jean Lee states in a previous interview "Faith Confronted" by Erik Piepenburg:
"The premise that all of my shows begin with is, I ask myself the question, "What is the last show in the world that you would ever want to make?" Then I force myself to make that show. My whole aesthetic is about fighting complacency. So if I make a show that goes against my instincts of what I want to do, that creates a very tense and complicated dynamic. For "Church" the last show in the world I would ever want to do was an evangelical Christian service that's sincerely trying to convert the audience to Christianity, and that's not ironic or a joke or making fun of Christianity at all. That just seemed like a real nightmare and a challenge for me, and it has been."
"Faith Confronted" by Erik Piepenburg - 5/6/2017 - The New York Times.
In preparing to direct CHURCH, did you attend any religious events to help capture the experience for yourself or draw from personal religious or spiritual experience?
The large majority of our CHURCH and pre-show cast is Christian, or identify as having a spiritual connection with a Christian-like god. Myself, personally... if pressed I would be likely to say that I identify as agnostic, or in some circumstances as atheist. I was raised Catholic and with few exceptions, my large family is entirely Christian. I had intended to encourage our cast (and myself) to visit a variety of local churches during the production process. However, during the table-work stage of our rehearsals it was revealed that much of the cast were already members at a wide variety of churches. Their wealth of personal experience, including missionary work, has been the source of our inspiration.
Horse Head Theatre Company's Houston Premiere of CHURCH, sponsored by The Heritage Society, will have performances from August 4th through August 20th with the preshow experience beginning at 7:30pm. Performances will be held at 1891 St. John Church, 1100 Bagby, The Heritage Society at Sam Houston Park. Children under 16 should be accompanied by an adult. Tickets can be purchased by visiting the Horse Head Theatre Company website at horseheadtheatre.org or by calling 281.381.4166.
Photo by David Tong / GettaGo Photos / Culture Pilot.