courtesy ND Theatre

Reconciling faith and sexual orientation

New play by U of C student explores love, identity and the religious gene'

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University of Calgary drama student Jonathan Brower, founding co-artistic director of Third Street Theatre, has drawn from his own experiences to write a vulnerable, personal play.

ND Theatre’s sci-fi play, Oblivion: A Workshop Production, follows Tim, a gay man raised in the evangelical church struggling with the inner conflict between his faith and his relationship while contemplating a radical vaccine that would eliminate his ‘religious gene.’

The story is loosely based on Brower’s own life growing up in the evangelical church and training to become a pastor while he felt conflicted about his desires and his beliefs.

While training to be a pastor, Brower told those in the church what he was struggling with.

“It was in the context of ‘this is me, I’m attracted to men, pray for me,’ ” Brower says. “I was supposed to share my testimony and I always wanted to be authentic so I said, ‘You guys can know this because I think it’s valuable that the church talks about sex and sexuality,’ because they don’t usually.”

Brower told them he was fighting it and they told him they would support him anyway they could, encouraging him to take reparative therapy courses. He took several of the courses before he became fed up with everything.

“It was just not working,” Brower says. “I was trying to date women and it all just seemed so fake. I couldn’t be authentic so I stepped down before they could take me out of leadership and went back to the U of C.”

Brower had taken three years off from a degree in communications while training to become a pastor.

He came out six months later and continued to struggle with his faith during the fallout of losing that community. He had to navigate his own understanding of faith and who he believed God to be, attempting to reconcile conflicting depictions of who God was.

After leaving the church and coming out, Brower began dating and began to feel OK about finding a relationship and finding love.

“Before, I was told, ‘Nope. You either date women or be celibate,’ ” Brower says. “Those are your choices.”

Brower finally ended up at the Hillhurst United Church, an affirming church that is supportive of all members and allows same sex marriage but which presented Brower with a different understanding of faith and God than he was used to.

It was during a course at the U of C that Brower decided to turn his experiences into a play. He had to design a model set for a play and could base it on any play he wanted. He based it on the play he wanted to write and designed a church that had been gutted and turned into a clinic. He imagined gay people waiting for vaccinations to rid them of their faith.

“We hear things about the gay gene, how they’re trying to figure that out,” Brower says. “Well if there’s a gay gene, maybe there’s a religion gene and if there’s a religion gene can we remove it?”

The play’s main character, Tim, shares some of Brower’s struggles with religion. The play will flash back and forth between Tim’s past and dreams and the present. In the present he is living with his partner and about to receive the vaccination to remove his religious gene. The flashbacks will develop his fight between his sexual orientation and his religion and the present will explore his struggle with his relationship and the possible consequences of his decision to take the vaccine.

“It’s the day he’s suppose to get his vaccination and he hasn’t told his partner yet,” Brower says, “and he’s starting to realize that maybe he hasn’t thought it through that well.”

Adam Schinker, a graduate from the Mount Royal University theatre program who plays Tim and attends the Hillhurst United Church with Brower, says more than anything it is about the universal human struggle, about people’s struggle with their own feelings.

“It is not knowing who you are or feeling like you can’t be who you are,” Schinker says. “I think everyone feels those things at one time or another in their life.”

Brower, who graduates from U of C this year, says he would love to expand the 45-minute play into a full-length production at Third Street Theatre. There will be a sticky-note wall for the audience to leave their comments and suggestions.

The play runs March 4–7 at 12:00 p.m. in the Matthews Theatre in Craigie Hall. Tickets are $3 at the door.