What makes something a cult? What makes something a religion? Is any belief system valid? Who was responsible for rerouting Route 79 in Riverside County between Gilman Springs Road and the Ramona Expressway? Did you like “Battlefield: Earth”?
That last question is a really important one.
Squeeze My Cans (HFF16, FB), which we saw yesterday afternoon as part of the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), is one woman’s story of how she got drawn into the tar-baby that is Scientology, how she worked her way into the upper tiers of the religions, and how she eventually escaped its grasp. Not only did this effort take more than a decade, it decimated her finances.
If you’re like me, you’ve heard of Scientology, and how it was created by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard. You may have seen the large amount of properties they own in Hollywood. You may have heard perceptions that it is a cult. You may have heard stories of Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley, and John Travolta. You may have also heard that the Church of Scientology makes it very difficult for the truth of the story to get out, or for people to leave the church. You may have heard that the church tends to isolate people and disconnect them from their families.
Again, I’ll ask what is a church, and what is a cult? But don’t answer yet — after all, I wouldn’t want to draw the wrath of Scientology down upon me.
Now, coming in, I knew a little more about Scientology, primarily because I had listened to A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant (you can listen too) [As an aside: it has been years since that show has been done in LA, and it would be ripe for a revival at a future Fringe]. I know about Scientology’s notion of Thetans and Xinu and ideas about aliens that sounded like they had been lifted from a science fiction novel. But that’s about all I knew.
I found Cathy Schenkelberg (FB)’s story about her interactions with Scientology scary and fascinating. Her manner of telling the story brought just the right amount of humor and humility to counter the horror of it all. She drew me (and the rest of the audience) in, and just held our attention rapt for a very fast paced and packed 80 minutes. Looking at it from the outside, it was easy to see the cult-ish signs: the constant demands for money, the taking out of loans for classes and to move up levels, the control over the life, the isolation from the outside world and outside voices. It is chilling, but it is even more chilling the mind games that the Church played so that those inside never realized it.
But you know what is even more scary? The fact that the Church is still out there doing it, drawing people in with their celebrities and influence. Even more scary than that? A number of the evangelical groups within our accepted religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) are doing just that. Where do you think the radicalized religious fanatics come from? Programs that use the same techniques as Scientology.
But why did this touch me so? Because I remember the days of cults first-hand. I remember the Moonies on college campuses, and the large meetings where they would attempt to recruit and draw people in.
The presentation in Squeeze My Cans was not only performed by Schenkelberg, it was written by her based on her experience, developed over years. It was directed by Shirley Anderson (FB), with lighting design by Brandon Baruch (FB) and Sound Design and Projections by Toy Deiorio (FB). The direction, lighting, and sound faded into the background — as they should — because Schenkelberg’s story and performance was just so engrossing.
There is one more performance of Squeeze My Cans at the main part of the Fringe Festival: today (Sun 6/26) at 8:00PM. Tickets (if not sold out) are available through the Fringe website. It may be extended with a few more shows in July; that will be announced tonight. Performances take place at the Sacred Fools (FB) Black Box. Check their Fringe Page for updates. It will also be presented the latter half of July as part of the Solo Celebration in Chicago. Go see this, and learn about the danger that is Scientology.
Attention Programmers! Take the Fringe Programming Challenge! Scheduling your shows at the Fringe can be a pain in the …. I’m trying to solve the problem for next year, so take a look at my specs for a Fringe scheduling app. Can you write it?
* * *
Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre critic; I am, however, a regular theatre audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted. I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB) and the Hollywood Pantages (FB); my subscription at The Colony Theatre (FB) has gone dormant, and REP East (FB) has seemingly gone dark for 2016. Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.
Upcoming Shows: Ah, June. Wonderful June. June is the Hollywood Fringe Festival (FB), and I’ve already written about the shows I plan to see, as well as suggestions to the Fringe regarding viewing the audience as a customer. Our Fringe/June schedule is as follows (for shows in the past, ✍ indicates writeup is in progress; ✒ indicates writeup is complete and links to the writeup):
- ✓ Sat, 6/4: Alien vs. Musical (230p) (✒) • Code 197 DWB (Driving While Blewish) (400p) (✒) • Toxic Avenger: The Musical (600p) (✒)
- ✓ Sun, 6/5: Tell Me On A Sunday (600p) (✒) • All The Best Killers are Librarians (800p) (✒)
- ✓ Sat, 6/11: Pali Hi All Year Picnic • Einstein (400p) (✒) • The Boy from Oz – the Celebration Theatre (FB) (800p) (✒)
- ✓ Sun, 6/12: Titus Andronicus Jr. (700p) (✒); and then the Tony Awards when I get home.
- ✓ Sat, 6/18: 30JJ or Bust: The World is My Underwire (1130a) (✒) • Lamprey: Weekend of Vengeance (200p) (✒) • Mark Twain Answers All Your Questions (600p) (✒) • The Old Woman (800p) (✒)
- ✓ Sun, 6/19: Sweet Love Adieu (100p) (✒) • All Aboard the Marriage Hearse (400p) (✒)
- ✓ Sat, 6/27: Squeeze My Cans (400p) (✒) • Taming of the Show (600p) (✍) • My Big Fat Blond Musical (830p) (✍)
- Sun, 6/28: Temple Israel Reunion • Hamlet (Las Vegas Style) (630p) (✍)
Whew. July brings us back to conventional theatre, with Beautiful at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) and the Western Corps Connection (FB) the first weekend, Grey Gardens at the Ahmanson Theatre (FB); the second weekend, The Little Mermaid at Cabrillo Music Theatre (FB); the third weekend, Weird Al Yankovic at the Hollywood Bowl (FB) and Operaworks (FB) Opera Re-Constructed at CSUN; the fourth weekend, a mid-week Hollywood Bowl (FB) concert of Wynton Marsalis and Aaron Copeland, and … currently nothing for the weekend. As of right now, August is completely open. One weekend has a bar mitzvah, and there are a few holds for show, but nothing is booked. Late August may see us looking at shows down San Diego/Escondido for one weekend. The best of the shows available — or at least the most interesting — is Titanic from Moonlight Stages. September is similarly mostly hold dates at this point. As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Bitter-Lemons, and Musicals in LA, as well as productions I see on Goldstar, LA Stage Tix, Plays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves.