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Behind the graphic image of “Altarcations”

April 3, 2012

My partner, Felicia, counts among her trades graphic artist. I asked her to develop an image for my play Altarcations, which, after a year of rewrites, is heading to the Hollywood Fringe Festival in June. She offers these thoughts:

Altarcations evolved significantly as Steve worked through various themes.  Early drafts focused almost entirely on healing or trying to heal from abuse at the hands of a trusted mentor.  There was redemption, something that I felt was a cornerstone of my own weakening faith – the idea that no matter how far you fall, you can always get back up, spread your arms, and be re-embraced by your community.

Reality is rarely so comforting.

The window that opens on to what really happens in abusive situations in the church is clouded.  We are left to decipher by testimony, new reports, and decades old memories from people who would really rather forget either their own abuse or how they were unwittingly complicit in the abuse of others, sometimes their own children, by not questioning and not speaking up.

I was recently at a memorial service at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels in downtown L.A.  I was given a brief tour of the main church before heading down to St. Vibiana’s Chapel and the crypt.  The space is vast above, with towering stone walls and reverential alcoves for sacred objects.  Underground, everything is bathed in warm light reflected off cool marble giving a sense of respite.

I learned something unsettling as I left the service.

Survivors of abuse occasionally protest outside the cathedral, demanding an end to the church’s blockading and subterfuge and calling on them to embrace their own gospels by adopting a culture of accountability.  The space where the protesters are allowed is beneath a long bank of bells.  When the protestors are on that sidewalk, some of them victims of abuse, they say the church plays the bells in a continuous pattern, drowning them out and sometimes forcing them to move on.

There is no succor.  There is no respite.  And the arms do not re-embrace.

I thought of the added injustice of that rejection when I started working on the postcard design for Steve’s play.  I was tired of the spotlight being constantly refocused on the wrong people.  Victims of church abuse suffer a unique form of exposure, and I was not going to put that exploitation back into the forefront.  Instead, I put it back on the perpetrators, using no other identifying marker other than the symbol of the ecclesiastical collar, a subtle but potent representation of their power over the people who trust them.  He is faceless, because the church is faceless.  And he is being watched via the tool of his own downfall by hands that are as obscured as his own.  We have no insight into who is watching him.  Only that he is being watched and violated by his own guy whom he trusted for the wrong reasons, and that we are party to it.

I wanted to exploit him and evoke a reaction, not one of sympathy, but maybe one of revenge/just desserts, and have people notice that in themselves.

That NO ONE is perfect.

It’s ugly and it’s visceral.  It’s also important.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sally permalink
    April 3, 2012 11:33 am

    Sounds like you may have a hot play on your hands.

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