Saturday, August 28, 2010

From (posted August 27th 2010)

Questions with Damian Torres-Botello on his play, “Discernment”

August 27th, 2010 · By Mel Neet.

Damian Torres-Botello is one of the artists-in-residence at the Fishtank, which is opening his play Discernment tonight. The play had a staged reading several months ago; audiences were invited to stay after the reading for a question-and-answer session, as well as leave comments for Torres-Botello. Between breaks rehearsing his cast – Grant Wayman, Mark Manning, Jeremy M. Lillig, Phillip Hoosier and fellow artist-in-residence Lisa Cordes – took a few moments to answer questions about the play. Against the backdrop of the 2005 Vatican-ordered evaluations of all its seminaries, Discernment follows the events that transpire at Ignatius House after a letter surfaces regarding one seminarian’s homosexuality.

1. Discernment is a compelling sounding title. Can you explain it in relation to the story?

Discernment is a process that an individual goes through when making the choice to live a religious life in a Catholic order as a priest, brother or sister. In thinking about that further I realized that everyone goes through a discernment process in their life, and even further everyone is “called” by God or some higher power to take on something in their life. I feel it is my job as a playwright to compose something that everyone can identify with regardless of the topic, time period, and so on. And it started, for me with the word discernment. The story of Discernmentcenters around individuals who are not only discerning their calling to become or continue being in a Catholic order, but also discerning who they are as people, their relationships with others and their relationship with God.

2. Having seen the staged reading of the play several months back, I would like to know what you felt valuable from the reading and how you used comments to inform your completion of the play.

The staged reading was very valuable. Especially to hear if a line was too long or too short, if the point was clear, if a monologue actually worked and so on. Hearing it in your head versus hearing it in person makes a remarkable difference. I wrote all comments down and even had a survey for those in attendance to complete. I took those comments and weighed their importance on what made the play stronger. Many of the comments had to do with plot, a challenge I did not know how to solve until this production started. But what I found most important during the reading was watching the audience experience the play. I feel the audience is most important in a reading/workshop stage of a play. I tend to listen to what is being performed as I watch the audience: are they shifting in their seats, are they leaning forward, are they coughing, what is their body saying, how are they at the act break, and so on. Watching body language is key to the process. I believe theatre is a people’s art, and I try to write to that point. And if I believe that then I want to be sure the audience is part of my process.

3. Can you, just briefly, recap the main characters and how you felt each was integral in making a specific argument in this ongoing discussion of the Catholic Church and its stance on homosexuality?

The protagonist is Father Patrick Morris (Mark Manning). This character represents who a person can become when they choose to suppress parts of themselves. I feel that if a person has a calling from God to become a priest – as it was in this characters case – then in order to fulfill that calling then they would have to do everything in their powers to become what they feel they are called to be. This particular point is represented through Edward Preuss (Jeremy Lillig), a novice in the seminary. I have Father Edwin Gratiano (Phillip Hooser) who portrays the Catholic church…in essence he is the Conservative Catholic. On the other end of the spectrum we have Sister Marianna Bauer (Lisa Cordes) the liberal, more loving side of the Catholic Church. Then we have Paul Muños (Grant Wayman) who represents the everyday person trying to fit in, scared, worried about their choices but yet strives to do right. I tried to capture not just the Church but the whole bodies that make it a religion because in the end they too are human. A sort of human that, when stripped down, are people we can identify with.

4. Your Catholicism is obviously important to you, personally, and as an artist. Does being able to write about the cracks in the veneer of the Church make you a stronger Catholic?

It does make me a stronger Catholic. It makes me love the faith and spirituality more and somehow makes me closer to God. Being a playwright and theatre artist is my calling, and I take it on as a vocation because I do believe that my talents are to serve a purpose and create a conversation and action towards change. And I say that because I do not want to take my talents for granted; giving it an active purpose allows me to work from an activist artist perspective so that one day I can hopefully instigate change. I feel this play, despite its topic being Catholically controversial, is sort of a love letter to my faith.

5. Are there aspects of Catholicism that, early on, appealed to you as a theater artist? If so, what are they?

I feel the rituals inside the Catholic masses are theatrical. Even the Physical set up has a theatrical look. But what appeals to me about religion in general is how much it is the central most center of any person’s life. I think deeply rooted faith is amazing especially when it becomes the factor that directs and dictates a person’s life. How it is able to drive a persons life when unchallenged and how it can tattle a person’s life when challenged has dramatic aspects worth exploring. And that is part of what inspired me to write Discernment.

6. What do you want audiences to take away after seeing this play?

I want audiences to understand that despite how screwy the Catholic church may be, there are people inside who strive to change it for the better just by simply being present. I want the audience to consider that we are all asked to make our lives fantastic just by simply being born, and we must take on our lives with purpose and intention.

Discernment is produced by Doozers Theatre Project (begun by Torres-Botello) and the Fishtank (1715 Wyandotte), where it will be performed tonight and tomorrow, 8 p.m. Tickets are $5-$15 (sliding scale).

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