Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi is a contemporary retelling of the Christian gospels.  It portrays Joshua, a Jesus-like figure, and his Apostles living in modern-day Texas.  The play asks the questions: What are “Christian” values?  Do those values fit inside our context?  How do we live a Christian life in modern society?  What are our personal hang-ups when encountered with Christianity or homosexuality?  Corpus Christi faces controversy everywhere it is performed because it dares to blend homosexuality into the Christian traditions.

Heads Up began the process of building the bridge between homosexuality and Christianity before the performances. We featured articles on our home page, written by company members, about our reasons for performing Corpus Christi. We also held story circles within the community to help facilitate the conversation. Story circles were held at First Grace United Church of Christ, Cascade Community Church, and Community Aids Network and Akron Pride Initiative (CANAPI)..

The Ensemble

Rob Branch
John Burton
Robyn Cooper
Tyler Hodges
Brian Jackson
TJ Jozsa
Erika Kinney
Joel Kirk
Chris Laney
Margaret Lute
Nici Romo
Amy Spencer
Kim Woodworth

Director:  Benjamin Rexroad
Stage Manager: Lane Smerglia

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Photos by PeaSea Photography

Reviews of Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi was incredibly inspirational!  You are so talented and I love everything you do!

-Sandra Emmeline
April 2011

This was definitely an amazing show. I’m Christian. I’m not gay. This play is a great Christ story and the contemporary setting made this a convicting story. It’s funny that the protests that may happen tonight will actually be protesting against the heart of Christ’s teaching: love everyone. Lepers, prostitutes, whoever. He even love criminals. Now, these protesters will be, in a way, trying to kill a Christ story on Good Friday. Ironic, huh? You know what, anyone who sees this will see Jesus. He’s there. I know. I saw the show. God bless you all for this passionate passion play that dares to attack hatred.

-David Obney
April 2011

So Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha, Herne, and Tiamat all walk inta a bar…

Okay, now that I got your attention, howdy! Ya don’t know me, and if ya did most a ya probably wouldn’t want ta, and I’m fine with that. Love everybody, that’s what Jesus taught, right? I know he didn’t want people killin’ for him, but that’s a debate for another day.

So let’s talk the “gay Jesus” play. Ever since the show premiered, the writer’s gotten death threats, the-aters that have done it have gotten bomb threats (Now THAT’S Christ like) and, of course, there’ve been picketers. Now I ain’t sayin’ ya don’t have a right ta picket (Cause ya do) but it would be nice if ya actually knew somethin’ about what ya were protestin’.

True story: Many years ago the limey was doin’ some work for Interpol and I was wastin’ time doin’ a little actin’. I got cast in a production a Corpus Christie. We had ta move to a different the-ater the week we opened, and we got picketed, but here’s a funny thing. We had folks (Gay and straight) comin’ up ta us afterwards with tears in their eyes, sayin’ they felt closer ta God. We even had one a the protesters come see the show the last night and they LOVED it.

Far as I’m concerned, that ends any and all debate about the show right there.

But there’s a new production a the show bein’ done this week-end, from a kinda new company called Heads Up Productions, and it’s bein’ done at a church. Now there are SOME people who apparently don’t have an issue with the play, but they have an issue with the timin’. I’ll get ta that in a minute.

Here are a couple a things ya should know before ya protest the show:

1. Jesus does NOT have sex with any of the disciples on stage. I’ve seen this said several times when folks rag on the show and THAT DOES NOT HAPPEN. If ya been told it does, you’re bein’ lied to.

2. The play is NOT SET in Biblical times. It’s set in modern day Texas (There’s a really good joke there, but I ain’t doin’ it). In fact, the show starts with the actors gettin’ their roles. It is not meant ta be the definitive version of this story. It is meant ta be one of many, and there have been many, and several of them have sucked…just sayin’.

3. The show is indeed a bit vulgar, but it is in NO WAY sacrilegious. If it was, all of the deeply religious folks who saw the production I was in wouldn’t have walked out (at the end) cryin’ and feelin’ closer ta God…end of argument.

This production, directed by Benjamin Rexroad, does one major thing differently from the one I was in. He cast women in the roles of Joshua (Jesus) and Judas, played by Amy Spencer and Kim Woodworth respectively and both of these women give Oscar winnin’ performances as men. Amy gives the most realistic performance of Jesus (Joshua) that I have ever seen PERIOD, and by that I mean that at the end you’re not cryin’ cause ya just watched the Son of God die for our sins, you’re cryin’ because ya just watched a warm, carin’ person that you genuinely care about REALIZE that he is the Son of God and WILLINGLY die for our sins. Her scenes with Woodworth are a joy to watch. In fact, the entire cast is first rate, but I gotta give a special shout out ta TJ Jozsa, who played the amazin’ly creepy guy in our horror short Skeletons. His turn as a high school girl is absolutely hysterical.

And ya know what? Far as I’m concerned, this show, usin’ few props and no special effects, is ten times more powerful than the torture porn that was Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ cause this isn’t just about his death, it’s about his LIFE! Ya see the joy that Joshua (Jesus) brought ta his followers, ya FEEL it (And that is in no small part due to Spencer’s portrayal), and that makes his end a million times more painful ta watch.

All I’m sayin’ is this, protesters, know what you’re picketin’ and do it for the right reasons. Do what the brave soul did at the show I was in…see it. If it offends ya, then protest away (It’s your God given right, after all) but ya just might see somethin’ that genuinely moves ya, that brings ya closer ta God, like it did for the audiences of my show and the audience I saw it with tonight. I have never been emotionally moved by a play before (Heck, I rarely get emotionally moved by anythin’) and this show did it. I felt a little closer ta God tonight, and I think he’s fine with that.

And ta those people who think this is the wrong time ta do the show, I respectfully put forth that this is the perfect time ta do the show, for what is this time but a chance for all of us to feel closer ta God.

And ya can disagree with me, and I’m fine with that.

Jesus would be, too.

-Jeff Holland
April 2011

Corpus Christi Renews Faith in Live Theater
How a play about a gay Jesus renewed my faith in theater.

I love live theater. I can’t remember the first live theater production I ever saw, but I remember the first one that really got to me. It was a production of Jesus Christ Superstar at E.J. Thomas Hall circa 1986.

I had grown up listening to JCS; my mom was a fanatic and played the original Broadway soundtrack almost every weekend. But that first production opened my eyes to the power of live theater, to its infinite possibilities.

In that production, Jesus dressed like he had just walked off the set of Miami Vice; the Sanhedrin was costumed in biker leathers; and the disciples ate corn chips and drank beer at the last supper. I’ve lost count of the number of productions of JCS I’ve seen over the years — somewhere around 14, I think — but when I think of that musical, that first experience is always the one I remember most vividly.

In the past month, I’ve seen three live theater productions, from amateur productions to professional touring companies. All were painfully bad or plain disappointing.

I was beginning to lose my faith in the power of live theater, which seemed to have lost its social relevance.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a  good musical or even a rollicking comedy; they certainly have their places in live theater. But, what I really love is social theater, the kind that gets under the skin, and — most importantly — teaches us about ourselves and our place in the world.

None of the three productions I saw recently even attempted to do any such thing. As a result, they felt superficial, saccharine, sensationalized. There was no life to those performances, no fire. There was no there there.

And then I saw Corpus Christi.

Corpus Christi is a modern retelling of the life of Jesus except in this one, Jesus happens to be gay … and is played by a woman.

In fact, in this version, produced by Heads Up Productions, gender is completely fluid: Mary was played by a man, Joseph by a woman, the disciples were represented by both men and women of different races, ages, shapes, sizes, and religious backgrounds. It was dizzying and inspirational. It made me wonder. It made me think. It made me laugh. It made me cry. That’s what theater should be about, not just bodies on a stage moving around like machines, hitting their marks.

It should make you feel. Something. Anything.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should also mention here that Heads Up Productions was co-founded by a former student of mine, Benjamin Rexroad. He’s going by Benjamin these days, but he was always Ben back then, and he’s always been Benny to me.

Benny was in the first class I had when I became a teacher. He took nearly every class I offered. I was the Drama Club adviser; he was the president. I was the Yearbook adviser; he was the editor. He took my Introduction to Theater course, and I directed him in three productions.

Now Ben has become the director. He majored in Theater at The University of Akron and co-founded Heads Up Productions with Stow resident TJ Jozsa, whom I had the pleasure of watching grow up on the Stow-Munroe Falls High School stage. Both of them, as well as the excellent company they have put together (including Stow resident Nici Romo, read her blog about the play here.), clearly understand that theater should be a visceral experience. When done correctly, with knowledge, openness and passion, it is.

In the theater class I teach, we read and watch plays from various genres. The students always enjoy and learn something from such plays as A Streetcar Named Desire and Brighton Beach Memoirs, but, it’s not until we enter the social theater unit at the end of the year when we read The Laramie Project or watch Rent that students react emotionally. They actually cry.

They cry when we read aloud Matthew Shepard’s father’s speech, and they cry all over again when we watch the film based on the play. The rawness of their emotions move me to tears, and I get chills because that’s what theater is supposed to be about. It’s why theater education is necessary.

I was reminded of all of this as I sat in the audience at Corpus Christi, feeling inspired once again, so proud that Benny was carrying on the theater tradition in such a meaningful way.

There I was, the teacher learning from the student. It felt right. It felt complete. And it helped renew my faith in the power of theater.

-Jenna Bates
The Stow Patch

“Corpus Christi” brings gay marriage to the church

Heads Up Productions, a new Akron theater company, is bringing “Corpus Christi” to First Grace United Church of Christ.

Benjamin Rexroad, artistic director of Heads Up Productions, has been at The University of Akron for six years now. He began his first semester studying Humanities, but switched to a Theater degree. He will be graduating in May.

Rexroad was one of the members to create Heads Up Productions and realize its inception in December 2009.

“That year, I was working at a theater in the area in the summer,” said Rexroad. “I decided that I absolutely hated what they were doing. I really admire their shows and the people who work on them, but in terms of what kind of shows they were producing, I wasn’t a fan because they did the big musicals and that’s not who I am.

“I quit and started managing a band. During the course of the summer, I realized that I wasn’t a band manager. So TJ [Jozsa] and I started talking, and we both had a background in theater. We were like, ‘Hey, let’s start a theater company.'”

“Corpus Christi” will be the team’s 7th show produced.

The Arts Director at First Grace United Church of Christ asked Heads Up Production if they wanted to produce Corpus Christi.

“This church is very open, and they do a lot of stuff for the gay community. They were looking for something to do for the Easter weekend,” said Rexroad.

The show, written by Terrence McNally, is a passion play set in 1970’s Texas. Corpus Christi is the name of a town in Texas. The story draws on that of Jesus and the Apostles, but in this version, the main characters are gay men dealing with modern-day prejudices and the conflicts between homosexuality and the church.

“I think it [Corpus Christi] means body of Christ […] in Latin,” said Rexroad. “Corpus Christi is about this guy named Joshua, who finds out he has a calling and goes out and preaches the good word about living a good life, what God means, and what true love is. There are some very heavy gay scenes involved in the show. Joshua, the Jesus-like figure, performs a gay marriage. He also shares a small relationship with Judas. It’s a romantic entanglement, but not exactly.”

Heads Up Productions has received plenty of hate mail for their production of “Corpus Christi.”

“It feels really good. It sucks that there are people out there who feel that way. I am honestly very sad for these people who have sent [hate] mail, who are filled with this much hate. It’s so ridiculous to me, to feel this passionate to hate something. No one has bothered to sign their name…they miss the whole big picture of what this show is,” said Rexroad.

“I’m trying to respect where the people are coming from and not be mad at them because everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” said Margaret Lute, who plays John the Baptist, Joshua’s cousin in the play. “It’s just been your wrong and I’m going to pray for you, basically.

“I have gotten looks from friends of the family when trying to explain about the play because I was raised Christian and they would be like, ‘Jesus is homosexual in the play?'”

“As an actor, I have developed a pretty thick skin,” said Tyler Hodges, graduate student at The University of Akron. “I have performed in a number of controversial shows, so “Corpus Christi” is not uncharted territory for me. I do not consider the criticism we have received to be detrimental to this production. With this show we are sparking a conversation with the community. We are getting people to think and to speak out. That’s why we are doing this piece. Sure, there are those who vehemently oppose our work, but at least they are responding to us with passion and not apathy. At least they are talking to us and engaging us.”

“It’s hard to take people seriously who just quote the Bible at me as a means to being ‘right,’ especially taken out-of-context,” said Amy Spencer, cast member.  “I have to agree with what one cast member said: people can use the Bible however they want to support whatever kind of message they think is right. People have used Bible verses to justify genocide, slavery and other examples of treating other types of human beings as less than.”

Some of the actors were able to describe what their characters wanted in the play.

“My character would want people to listen to Joshua,” said Lute.

“I play Matthew, the lawyer,” said Hodges. “Matthew wants to maintain his materialistic lifestyle. He’s rich. He’s well known. He has a great job, a great house and a great car. He always gets the girls. When he meets Joshua, he is conflicted. He wants to follow Joshua, but is reluctant to give up his earthly possessions. He wants to find truth and honesty, but has been conditioned to crave money and success.”

“His wants change throughout the play,” said Spencer of his character. “He does state quite plainly that he wants to love someone, wants someone to love him, wants to be happy and wants his life to matter. As time passes, he wants everyone to love God and love each other as they would love themselves. And though he wants to live, he gives up his life because he would rather see God’s plan and his life’s purpose through to the end.”

The play does present some moments that seemed awkward at first for the actors.

“There’s a part in the play where Erika and I are playing characters that are in high school. It’s after the dance and we are in the bathroom. We have to pretend to be guys peeing and we are facing the audience. That’s like, ‘Okay this is awkward,'” said Lute.

“For me, there are no awkward moments in the play,” said Hodges. “I’m sure there will be several awkward moments for the audience. Prior to beginning the rehearsal process in earnest, we spent two weeks team-building and talking and learning about each other. So, the cast is very comfortable with each other physically and psychologically. There are many moments where straight men have to kiss each other and show affection. But we have a high level of trust and we know why we are doing what we are doing, so it’s not awkward at all for me.”

“There are sometimes where I haven’t discovered why my character does what he does, and I feel awkward saying or doing something I don’t understand yet,” said Spencer. “But awkwardness sometimes comes with the rehearsal process, and it is my job as an actor to eventually know why I say and do everything I do.”

The play also contains many scenes that the actors found moving.

“We were doing the crucifix scene. I’m playing the cousin. It brought up emotions that weren’t expected, because my cousin passed away last August. It was very triggering. I was crying throughout the entire time. I just kept seeing the funeral,” said Lute.

“I get emotional when Joshua kisses Matthew’s feet. Matthew refuses to kiss Joshua’s feet because he thinks it is degrading. Joshua shows love to Matthew and kisses his – my – feet. That is where a lot of things come to a head for Matthew and myself. It’s definitely a watershed moment. I have a pretty thick skin, and it’s a really disarming and vulnerable moment,” said Hodges.

“There are countless parts of the play that make me emotional,” said Spencer. “Every time I have a personal moment with another actor on stage, there is emotion. The last 15 to 20 minutes of the play feels like a nonstop rolling of one extreme emotion to the next, but that’s because the stakes are so high, and it’s the climax of the story.”

“For me, it was like having the weight of the world on my shoulders and being forced to watch somebody I love go through the worst possible thing,” said Woodworth.

“Corpus Christi” opens Thursday and will run through Saturday. Tickets will be sold for five dollars at the door or reservations can be made by calling 330-990-5138.

-Diana Perez
The Buchtelite

Sponsored By:

  

AND
Nanci Self & Stephan Collins

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