I have this problem where if I get an idea and it feels too strong and won’t go away I have to get it out of my system and fast before I go crazy! The $ave Je$u$ Project. Not meant to offend.
One night after performing some play my cast mates and I went to the local pub. I had one sip of my Guinness and for no reason whatsoever, with no warning, and no context, a vision appeared in my head. An entire act. A living statue act. A street performing act. A piece of theatre that was terrifying my insides. This is what I saw.
A male or female actor playing the part of Jesus on a cross. A giant rock in front of the Jesus that said $ave Je$u$. This rock would act as our hat to collect money in. The flag on top of the Cross would also have $$$ written on it. Every time people threw money into the rock/hat Jesus would come alive, say Thank You and some blood would spill out of his/her palms. Sometimes Jesus would also have a little stretch as its bloody hard to be a statue. I imagined the theatre would happen around the cross and within the audience. Depending on your religious views, upbringing and beliefs everyone would get something different from viewing this statue. Your background would determine your own personal interpretation on what you saw. The discussion around the act would be the story. The conversation and reactions would turn this simple idea into a piece of gorilla theatre. And that would be that. This is what I saw within one sip of my lovely Guinness. I immediately told all my cast what I saw in my head and with great encouragement everyone told me I should do it. So for the next year I planned and plotted and made things.
Firstly where was I going to do this project? The Canadian Fringe Festival in Edmonton, Alberta is the biggest Fringe festival in North America. Fringe basically means uncensored. You can do whatever you want in performance. There are no real rules or restrictions especially on the street. I thought this festival would be perfect! I studied all the rules and requirements to make sure I would not get in trouble for anything. There was only a few clauses that somebody could try and pull me up on but then another clause would cancel that out. I was ready and prepped for any arguments against my act. There was nothing legally they could do to stop me.
Secondly I needed some brave actors to play my Jesus. I would have played the part myself but Alberta is a redneck province in Canada. I though it best that during the show I would walk around, listen and take notes as to what I heard coming from the crowds. That way if anybody wanted to get violent or upset I would tap them on the shoulder and say it was all mine and not to have a go at my actors. Safety was important. Lucky for me I have some amazing friends who basically volunteered there time in helping me make this project a reality. Some very good Jesus actors indeed.
I had a builder make my cross, a set designer made my costumes and rock. Found a place a few blocks down from the festival to store the cross every day. We were good to go!
Day one of the fringe festival was going to determine whether we would last the entire ten days. I woke early that morning excited for what was to come but when I tried to speak I had no voice! Nothing! So strange! Not even a whisper was coming out of my vocal chords and I had no idea why. Could it be a curse? Went to the docs got some antibiotics but had no idea how this happened and when I would get my voice back. This would be perfect. Trying to defend my act on day one with no voice! Bloody Brilliant!
With notepad and pen in hand I met my team and carried the cross on my shoulders down the streets to the festival grounds. As soon as we put the cross up, actor up, blood ready, rock ready the audience grew quickly. I wrote down everything that I heard. I listened and filmed all reactions possible. Within minutes security and staff were onto me. They tried to pull up every rule in their book that I had studied previously and could not find any reason to shut me down. But boy did they try. And they tried hard. My inside sources told me there were serious meetings happening indoors as to what they could do to me. But there was nothing they could do. This was the Fringe. Uncensored. The security at the festival thought I was playing up by not speaking. Little did they know my voice vanished mysteriously. So our arguments were hilariously slow as I had to scribble on my notepad to converse and defend what I was doing. But we made it past day one!
Day two as I carry the cross on my back down the streets a swarm of wasps keep following me. Everyone thought I was being cursed. No voice, swarm of wasps, probably a plague. I think it was due to my sugar based blood I made for the palms of Jesus. I made a lot of blood. I had to if we were going to last the entire festival. I was very optimistic. But damn these wasps are nasty! We perform our shifts again and security come back at me saying we have to get rid of the blood, not due to the wasps, but due to the fact children were scared and crying. Ummm what? I have documented everything and not a single child was frightened or crying. In fact kids were coming up and putting money into our rock. I had video evidence but the fringe would have none of that. I reluctantly agreed to take away the blood. I regret this decision but it forced me to come up with another solution. So in replacement of blood I stuff some magic mouth coils into Jesus’ hands and he/she would pull them out in representation of the blood. Meh…it worked but not as visual as the blood.
All in all we ended up performing for the entire festival. After numerous complaints and sometimes fights everything was a success! It was fascinating to watch people of different backgrounds and how they would interpret this piece of street theatre. Some religious people actually thought it was hilarious. Some religious people found it offensive. Everybody was different. The best part was that it caused conversation amongst the people watching. It didn’t matter who or what or where people came from as it actually brought people together no matter what their interpretation was of this act.
To this day I somehow can’t believe I had enough courage to do this. Not sure if I would be brave enough to do it again. At the same time I would love to take it into an indoor setting and see if it changes the reactions of the people. This is what happens with one sip of Guinness. Lucky for me I don’t drink much.
Here is a little video for your viewing pleasure: The $ave Je$u$ Project.