By David-Elijah Nahmod, Nov. 20, 2014.
What if Jesus were a gay man living in Texas?
Corpus Christi: Playing With Redemption, a documentary by James Brandon and Nic Arnzen, offers one possible answer.
Following a troupe of gay and gay friendly actors, playwright Terrence McNally and audiences across the U.S. and around the world as they embark on a five-year journey of the passion play, the film not only captures the hate and love they encounter along the way, but also the bonds they form with each other.
As the acclaim for their little production grows, film viewers get to see bits and pieces of the play and this band of hearty thespians speak on camera (as themselves) about such issues as marriage equality, HIV, civil rights, gay rights and racism.
Filmmaker James Brandon, who also stars in Corpus Christi, spoke with Echo about this “journey of a lifetime.”
Echo: 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 has become] 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 video camera and just start capturing this powerful and truly unique journey we found ourselves traveling.
Echo: What are you working on at the moment?
Brandon: Right now we are focusing on the I Am Love campaign [which] we created to deepen the dialogue. In each city we visit … 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.
Echo: 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.
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.
Echo: 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. 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.
For more information on Corpus Christi and the I Am Love campaign, visit iamlovecampaign.org.