'...whatever God is': a love story (a staged reading of sorts) for Indie Theater Now at Stage Left
An Interview with Julia Lee Barclay-Morton
Indie Theater Now asked Julia Lee Barclay-Morton a few questions about this upcoming event.
What’s this play about? Please give us a brief synopsis (a sentence or two) and also talk about what you believe to be the most important theme(s) in the play.
'...whatever God is': a love story is a meditation on sudden loss, mortality, grieving, transformation and unexpected joy. It is inspired by the American philosopher William James' 'Varieties of Religious Experience' - a series of lectures he gave in Edinburgh in 1901-2 discussing a wide variety of people's spiritual experiences (without regard to dogma), including women and Eastern mystics. He was interested in how these experiences changed people's behavior not religious doctrine. Also referenced in this piece is the Book of Job, Rumi, Carl Jung and events from my own and others' lives that relate to the themes.
Why did you want to write about this subject/theme?
I started writing this piece in 2010 after hearing a radio program in the UK about William James, which led me to the book. I was struck by how extraordinarily progressive and eclectic his idea of what a religious experience was and his focus on the more real life results of such experiences (in terms of changing people's actions, not just beliefs). This resonated with the many years of cascading losses in my own life (and in the larger world) and what would probably be described as mystical experiences in response thereto. Filtering all this through the James, Job, Rumi and later Jung (along with working with my then-theater company, Apocryphal), the text for this piece evolved, is evolving. The way I write leaves space for themes to resonate in various ways. This text in particular is meant as a template for one piece of a larger William James project that I hope will include people from around the world, looking at the issues of the sacred and the secular, where they can intersect, where they conflict and asking questions, such as what do we do with our experiences that don't fit into our neat little rationalist boxes? Where can we go with those without necessarily following a religion? Or, if we follow a religion, can we be open to others' experiences of the sacred? Where do we go when faced with mortality, sudden loss, deep grieving? When we realize how powerless we really are? These are not new questions, they go back as far as theater itself. But we need to keep asking them in new ways, to find ways to shock ourselves into recognition that this life thing is a limited time offer and to ask: What are we doing here? How to live? How to face death? How to unconditionally love? Not as a fuzzy, pleasant feeling, but for real?
How did you decide what names to give the characters in this play?
Ha ha... (if you don't know them already, check my plays out on line here and you'll understand how funny that question is to me)
Describe your writing process. Do you write longhand, on a computer, a tablet? Do you write every day? Do you outline the play beforehand?
I'm working on a book now, and for that I write long-hand. For my stage texts, it's a mix. Sometimes on computer, sometimes long-hand. As for the stage texts, I write when the spirit moves me. I have never once been able to force that process. They are texts that emerge in a mysterious way. I know that sounds wooey, but it's the only honest answer. With the book on the other hand, I'm a day laborer, it's a totally different process. Go figure.
Is there a character in this play that you particularly identify with? Which one, and why?
Ha ha (see above) OK, because some of you have never seen one of my plays (I haven't staged one in NYC for years, because I lived in UK from 2003-11 and recently have been holed up in my apartment writing a book)...there are no characters per se (with one exception). Instead, when you come to see a show, there are people who say the lines, these people are actors and/or artists of some nature. They bring themselves to bear against the themes, lines, words in the text. The tension/relationship between them and it is what brings about these events. The audience - as witness - also has a lot to do with what happens. Don't worry, no one will throw liquids on you or make you do anything - but your presence is part of the event. Your participation at times will be invited, though never required. I'm describing this manifestation of '..whatever God is' as something between a staged reading, a meditation with text and a happening. Come see for yourself.
posted September 24, 2014
Julia Lee Barclay-Morton