The play Corpus Christi is Terrence McNally’s visionary depiction of the Passion Play told through the lens of a young, gay Jesus.
When I was cast in the role seven years ago, I was thrilled.
As an actor I always love creating site-specific theatre, so the prospect of performing this play in a church was an interesting vision that added to complexity of the piece for me. Little did I know, as I walked through the doors of that strange little church in the middle of North Hollywood, my life was about to be completely changed.
Playing Jesus was no easy feat for me. I was raised Catholic and had shunned the religion after many personal conflicts with it—not only because I was gay, but also because of the disconnection I felt to my idea of organized religion in general.
Rehearsals were challenging and oftentimes frustrating, but the cast created an incredible energy of love together from day one. Though the play is typically performed by thirteen young men, Nic Arnzen cast both men and women of varying ages to reflect the play’s message of embracing diversity.
This was the thread that ultimately wove the piece together for us: we were all there to explore our roles and the message, no matter race, gender or religious orientation of the actor.
We came together simply to honor the story we were given.
The play was supposed to be only six performances, but what happened on opening night was nothing short of a miracle. It was April 2006, and we were greeted by a full audience at MCC in the Valley. The lights went down, and the first words were spoken: “We are going to tell you an old and familiar story…”
Ninety minutes later, as I was taken down from the crucifixion, the crown of thorns in my hand, I looked out into the audience.
Through my waves of tears I saw people holding each other, crying with me. It was a connection like I had never felt before as an actor.
Suddenly, we all realized there might be something bigger at play.
We were right. Seven years later, we have been carried across the globe touring this play to communities who have reached out to witness it.
Each time, our work has been lifted up by the guidance and Love of our supporters. Our audiences raised the airfare, monies and travel expenses to carry all thirteen of us to the performances around the globe.
To this day, the cast continues to volunteer their time to tell this story wherever it wants to be told. This momentum has allowed us to create a documentary film on our journey as a company, as we witnessed and participated in some visceral healing changes happening within and around us.
If you believe in at least the teachings of Jesus then you understand at the core of His movement was LOVE.
He spoke to the unspoken. He touched the untouched. He loved the unloved. And so it was that those people “on the fringe” came together through a visceral place of Love. This is how His teachings spread. This is how His legacy still lives so deeply embedded in everyday lives over 2000 years later.
In this Spirit, we formed the I AM Love Campaign in 2012. Our mission is to facilitate enriching dialogue on religious bullying and homophobia. Combined with performances of the play and screenings of our documentary film, each stop on the national tour includes a panel discussion and arts-based workshops with local LGBT, religious and community leaders.
The I AM Love Campaign takes a unique approach by engaging dialogue through the universal and ancient ritualistic medium of art-making. Our conversations explore issues affecting the LGBT community, such as bullying, racial discourse and civil rights.
Local leaders are critical in this process, serving as facilitators, mentors, and catalysts for further dialogue after the Campaign leaves. The combined impact hopes to bring lasting change to a community already on the precipice of progressive change, unity and celebration of diversity.
When we come together one by one in harmony from this deep place of connection and recognition, a revolution of LOVE occurs.
The I AM Love Campaign will launch officially in September in Dubuque, Iowa. We hope our collaborations will create a lasting positive impact on the LGBT and faith communities by encouraging unity and strengthening community.
Ultimately, this Campaign also aims to bring lasting change to the Self. This connection to Self is what Jesus described when He explained, “the kingdom of Heaven is within you.” From this place, all change you seek is possible.
Though I had distanced myself from religion, this play became the most divine theatrical experience I have ever been a part of. I realized early in the process of character work that something far greater existed between the lines than I could have ever imagined.
Playing “gay Jesus” has taught me lessons I am constantly learning and re-learning as I “play human” on this planet.
We all have this capacity to love as Jesus did, and as He does in Corpus Christi. This realization is one I am forever grateful to have stepped into when I walked through those church doors that dusty spring day in North Hollywood.