"In this strange, ingenious fashion,
I allowed the hope to be mine
that I still might see as human
what I really conceived as divine."
-Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz, "My Lady"
So a fair bit's been going on with me lately, writing-wise, and I have been terribly remiss in posting about it. In my defence, everything's been happening quickly, and it took awhile to sink in that it actually was happening. But now that I have a cast and crew (most notably a stage manager who is keeping my from losing my shit on a semi-regular basis) and the "drop dead date" for withdrawing was Thursday, now seems like a good a time as any to make the announcement: my play, The Testimony of Sister Veronica is going to premiere at the 2014 Upstart Theatre Festival.
I wrote Sister Veronica last March, as part of an eight-hour playwriting contest- twenty students, jammed into a single theatre, set to writing a one-act play over the space of eight hours. What I turned out was inspired by a whole bunch of themes rattling around in my head- love and faith, love versus duty, individual versus institution (specifically religious institution) and sexuality and prayer. Sister Veronica is based- extremely loosely- on the story of a woman named Benedetta Carlini, who I first read about in Judith Brown's book Immodest Acts: The Life of a Lesbian Nun In Renaissance Italy. Benedetta lived in an Italian convent in the early seventeenth century, and came to prominence when she claimed to have been visited by Jesus in her dreams. The Counter-Reformation, hearing this, came to investigate and found not only that Benedetta had faked her visions, she had done so while carrying on an affair with another nun at the convent, Sister Bartolomea. Unsurprisingly, things did not go well for Benedetta, and she was kept in solitary confinement until her death thirty-five years later. Her story was all but forgotten until Brown dug it up and turned it into a book, and her book remains the only scholarly resource I can find on the case. (There is a similar case on record, of two Spanish nuns who were executed when their relationship was discovered, but records on them are so frustratingly scarce, I don't even know their names.)
And that, of course, is the major problem- stories of women like Benedetta, Bartolomea, and those two unnamed women in Spain are so frustratingly clouded in historical indifference, no one knows about them unless they make it their business to know. I didn't know until I stumbled across Brown's book in a used bookstore. I firmly believe- though given these problems, I can't back this up with evidence- that there are thousands, probably millions of Benedettas littered throughout history who have been forgotten simply because no one bothered to write down their names. As such, my play is about women who may have been Benedettas- who lived lives in defiance of what they were supposed to, and who put up the biggest fight they could to be recognized by people to whom their existence was a challenge. Sister Veronica isn't a real person; neither is her lover, or her inquisitor, or the other members of her convent. But they are people who might have been- echoes of a past that we can never hear clearly.
My other aim in writing this play was to tie my characters' emotional and romantic lives to their faith. I'm not a practicing Christian in the conventional sense of the world (well, maybe the Unitarian sense) but I do pay close attention to issues of queerness in religion, and the ways in which love and faith come into conflict. Wherever else my religious loyalties lie, I do believe firmly that the experience of love is one that can't be divorced from belief. Love- whether it's romantic, platonic, familial, or even for your pets- is part of the experience of the universe. It's inexplicable, and it's incredibly powerful. It's certainly a force that's been venerated in the Christian church. And for romantic, sexual love between women to be deified the way I do in the play- well I can't make a statement as to how effective it is, as no one's seen it yet. But what I'm trying to communicate with it is that the love these women share elevates them, brings them closer to God. It's not demeaning or sinful, the way it's been painted. It makes them better people- better than the Inquisition putting them on trial in the name of God. It's spiritual. It's uplifting. It's holy.
The Testimony of Sister Veronica will be performed on February 6th, 8th, and 14th at Hagey Hall, University of Waterloo. If you want to see it, you can inquire at the box office starting on January 20th. In the next few weeks, I'll be posting additional publicity materials- rehearsal photos and a trailer. If you can make it out and afford the tickets ($10, regular price) then please do! I know I spent the past two paragraph rambling about esoterica, but the play is also a genuinely entertaining, engaging (I think) story that will hopefully give you something to chew on after you leave the theatre.