There were massive protests when Terence McNally's play “Corpus Christi” opened in New York in 1998, and no wonder. The play posed an interesting, if controversial question: what if Jesus was a gay man living in Texas?
Though there were threats of violence, “Corpus Christi” played to capacity audiences without incident. Years later, the play was staged in North Hollywood California. Eight years later, that cast continues to tour the world performing in “Corpus Christi.”
In “Corpus Christi: Playing with Redemption,” James Brandon and Nic Arnzen document the journey of these performers, the family they've become, and the message of love they're spreading. Brandon, who stars in the play as Joshua/Jesus, spoke with SFGN about the film, and about his own personal journey.
SFGN: Did you ever consider filming the play instead of making this documentary?
Brandon: The play itself is such a visceral theatrical experience, it would be hard to fully capture on film.
We were only meant to do eight performances of the play when we revived it in a small church in North Hollywood in 2006. What we created as a family of actors through the visionary genius of our director Nic Arnzen was nothing short of theater magic. The play was instantly recognized by audiences as a transformative and healing experience, and it is because of them we were taken to a larger theater in Los Angeles following that short run, followed by the international tour we found ourselves on. The play was becoming a great catalyst of growth emotionally and spiritually for everyone involved. The stories we were sharing with our audience after every performance organically led us to pick up a home video camera and just start capturing this powerful and truly unique journey we found ourselves traveling.
SFGN: Any plans to film the play?
Brandon: We never say never, but no plans at the moment. Right now we are focusing on the I AM Love campaign that was developed out of this experience. We created the I AM Love campaign to deepen the dialogue. In each city we visit, over a weekend of events we will perform the play, screen the film, hold educational and art based workshops with our company, and culminate in a Town Hall Open Forum with local LGBT, religious and community leaders to have a larger dialogue about the issues within the play that directly connect to the issues within the community.
SFGN: Has the Corpus Christi cast stayed in contact?
Brandon: We still perform together eight years later. A true family was created from this experience like nothing any of us has ever experienced before. Although we don't perform the play as much as we used to, we all stay in touch and get together whenever we are called to do the play again. We just finished launching the I AM Love campaign in St. Louis a few weeks ago and it was amazing to see nearly everyone together again who was there from the very first opening night in 2006. It's a testament to what this play is all about, what playwright Terence McNally created, and what we all created together. We don't get paid for this experience, we just believe that strongly in the importance of this message of inclusive love for all people, and we are told over and over again how healing the experience was for an audience member. It's hard to ignore that.
SFGN: Tell us who James Brandon is.
Brandon: Growing up in St. Louis, I honestly didn't even know that being gay was a possibility. But I remember connecting all the dots when I had my first experience in high school with another guy and realizing why so many things didn't make sense to me. It was a lonely time, especially because there were so few outlets on how to connect through community to the LGBT family. As I began coming out to myself, a resurgence of pain was brought to surface because of all the old tapes and stories I was told by my church that I was either "going to hell" or "just didn't belong.”
This turned me to years of self destructive behaviors and patterns that could have ended my life, but actually allowed me to eventually see the light.
There were many people and places along the way that helped me see it, and I immersed myself in many forms of religious and spiritual practices to deepen my connection to self, from one extreme to the other. And over time I began forming my own family and community.
I know I was lucky and blessed. I had many friends at the time who were experiencing the same pain I was who are no longer with us. I keep their spirit alive with me everywhere I go, and it's exactly why I continue to do this show.
My mom is my personal hero. Coming out to her was not easy when I did over 15 years ago, and she had to go through her own personal journey with it to understand and accept it, especially coming from such a conservative, Catholic background. But by letting go of my attachment to her acceptance of me, and allowing her to feel what she needed to feel, she could personally understand what it meant to her that her only son was gay. We actually became closer in the process.
I now consider her my best friend.
For more information on Corpus Christi DVDs and the I AM Love Campaign, please visit: