I closed out my second Friday evening of the 2008 Indianapolis Fringe Festival by walking back down to the Theatre on the Square’s Second Stage to see the very useful “And He Ran Screaming,” written and performed by Jeffrey Barnes. Kirk D. Fields was the producer. Lucy Anne B.R. Fields is the stage manager. Manny Casillas was the sound designer. Kevvo Scott Gierman designed and illustrated the publicity.
For last year’s Fringe, Barnes created and directed “TransActions,” a thought-provoking show about transgendered people in particular and about everyone’s struggle for authenticity in general.
This year’s show was also a production of Theatre Non Nobis, “a collaboration of theatrical artists, coming together, lifting our gifts to God, and presenting theatre which breaks out of the bonds of traditional Christian drama.”
Their mission is “to enlighten and touch the minds and spirits of our audiences, to promote thought, discussion, and questioning. We seek to find a new audience, for a new vision of theatre, to reach out, to open minds, to teach, and to learn.”
“And He Ran Screaming” is a one-man autobiographical show in which Jeffrey Barnes tells about growing up gay and homophobic in a small Indiana town, and about his rocky journey to self-acceptance through God’s love.
The title comes from the fact that if the present Barnes were able to travel back through time and meet his younger self, his younger self would probably run screaming at the sight.
(Well, I probably would, too, because it would just be so unexpected to have your future self show up suddenly in your current life. Cloning AND time travel? Very disconcerting. But I get what Barnes is saying. His younger self would not have been able to fathom an existence in which he felt loved by God as is.)
The show occasionally uses photos projected on a screen behind Barnes. For me, they were just infrequent enough to be distracting. I would have preferred either more photos from his life journey, incorporated more fully into his narrative, or no photos at all.
However, some of the photos are of a huge tree that was in his back yard growing up. That tree, along with his roots in his family and his home town, grounded him. Later, in his life and in the show, the tree was struck down, again and again, but it always grew back. It is an obvious metaphor, but it moved me.
I was also moved in another way by Barnes’ re-enactment of his first “boy kiss.” I was completely turned on by it! Afterwards, during the discussion period, another woman in the audience raised her hand and asked Barnes what he had been doing at her first kiss. I think his portrayal brought back good memories for a lot of people, gay and straight, in the audience.
Most of all, I loved that Barnes kept praying to God to change him, and yet he still had sexual feelings for men, so he thought that God was ignoring his prayers. After a long time, he realized that God did answer his prayers: God changed him from hating himself into loving himself as he is because God loves him as he is.
Even though it was clear that Barnes had made several careful decisions about how best to share his story in an engaging way (more about this in a minute), the show as a whole reminded me of someone giving testimony in church, or what I imagine it is like when someone tells about himself at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. In other words, it was “just” a man sharing events and crossroads along his own, very personal, life journey. It was artistic, but its main purpose was not to be artistic but to facilitate healing and growth.
It accomplishes that. During the discussion period afterwards, one man shared a bit of his own story through tears.
Someone else asked Barnes if he had ever shared this show with teenagers. Barnes said that for the past four years he has been accepting invitations to share this show in a wide variety of churches. Some of those presentations are to church youth groups.
That’s good, but I bet the presentations are most effective when they are presented to whole families and faith communities.
One audience participation element of the show that was particularly clever, particularly effective, was when Barnes told everyone that he was going to say some words, one at a time. The first time that you heard a word that you had been called or that you had ever called someone else or that you had even thought about calling someone else, you were to raise one hand. Second word, raise your other hand. Third word, stand up.
“Queer…sissy…dyke…pansy…faggot…lesbo…” By the time Barnes was finished, almost everyone in the room was standing. It was an effective way to give a room full of adults a stretch break during a potentially uncomfortable hour, but more importantly, it was a gentle way to let people realize that homophobia is everyone’s problem.
After the discussion, Barnes offered bright pink feather boas to anyone who wanted one. This was a brilliant marketing ploy – people seeing the boas on the street asked where they came from and then learned about this show – but it also was a joyful affirmation of Barnes’ message: God created you as you are, and God loves you as you are.
Hope Baugh – www.IndyTheatreHabit.com
P.S. – I just realized as I was tidying up my desk that the program for this show includes a special insert. On one side, there is a list of recommended books, websites, and hotlines. On the other side, there are descriptions of three other shows unrelated to this one, with the encouragement to “Check out these other fringe shows.” How cool is that! HB