written by Lucas Baisch, Literary and Public Programs Intern
Last night, I had an acutely different experience partaking in our public program Wednesday Night Out: From Madonna to Madonna, this time participating not only as intern but also as a performer and panelist.
Our pre-show performance consisted of several curated acts presenting artists whose work explored interactions, intersections, conversations between religious iconography and pop culture. I had the opportunity to present one of my solo performance pieces, “an exercise in growing older; seven installments”. My story shares the recent discovery of long kept familial secrets and their parallel to my Roman Catholic upbringing and belief in omens. The pre-show performances were well-received and acted as a relevant starter course for the night’s preview of The Testament of Mary.
After the night’s riveting performance, a panel was gathered consisting of Rev. Chris Robinson (Roman Catholic Priest and Professor at DePaul University), Andrew Fortman (Cultural Programs Manager at Chicago’s Center on Halsted), Ester Alegria (writer, performance artist, and human rights activist), and myself. Our conversation was thoughtfully navigated by Isaac, exploring ideas of why artists are so inclined to include religious iconography, allusion, and language in their work.
On a personal level, the conversation made me think critically about why I choose to utilize such pious imagery and terminology in a vast amount of my work. While my content surfaces on a subconscious level, I find it peculiar that a language of faith is inscribed in my upbringing. In listening to Colm Toibin’s own analysis of his writing, I find myself repeatedly relating to the way in which he uses his personal biography to filter into fictional representations of the world. As an artist, one is constantly searching for ways to abstract their life’s experiences into work that provokes a more universal dialogue. Perhaps this is why pop culture uses religion as an instrument; perhaps deconstructing what we revere permits questions that cannot be asked otherwise.
While I have both observed and led post-show discussions at Victory Gardens, it was an eye-opening experience to shift into a role in which my voice was solicited for conversation. If anything, I feel as though it brings me closer to the play. I left the the theatre feeling less passive as a spectator and more engaged as a participant, trying to identify the parallels my voice shares with the content produced by another artist. I can only hope these thoughts build as I continue to watch the play grow over the course of its run.