By Minh Truong
Emmanuel College recently celebrated its distinct approach to interreligious and interspiritual learning via a unique stage play by Professor Natalie Wigg-Stevenson, Emmanuel College student Julian Munro and other members of the Emmanuel community. The interactive experiment explored how performance art connects religious traditions and diverse spiritual practices together within the Emmanuel community.
The performance, part of Emmanuel College’s bimonthly Interfaith Gathering event series, offered attendees from the community a chance to encounter and experience spiritual perspectives and practices across or outside of religious identities. The show is part of Wigg-Stevenson's research on theology as performance art through the idea of “otherwise possibilities,” a way of generating new possibilities for individuals and communities out of shared embodied practices.
“We want to harness the intersection of our religious traditions to create something new,” says Wigg-Stevenson. “I was thrilled to see how much the audience was willing to give themselves over to the wild and queer experiment.”
The play, which featured a discussion between Wigg-Stevenson and King Julez, the drag clown alter ego of Emmanuel College student Julian Munro, explored new visions for old traditions as well as gender and queer theories in spiritual norms. King Julez and Wigg-Stevenson proceeded to explore a variety of religious practices performed by other Emmanuel students and community members, including a Shabbat meal, a Christian poem, a Muslim prayer, a Yeshu Satsang performance and more.
For Wigg-Stevenson, the performance was a transformative experience. “We are an interreligious and interspiritual community here, trying to figure out new visions,” she says. “A big goal of mine for this service was to put a frame on a traditional interreligious worship service that could unleash its power in a new way.”
Inspired by Wigg-Stevenson's research, Munro was on board with the performance from the beginning. This is also the first time they performed drag in front of the Emmanuel College community.
“My drag is so important to me, and to be able to share that with the community is special and really means a lot to me on many levels,” says Munro.
The interactive performance let the audience sit anywhere in the room, and at the end of the show, everyone joined together to create a unique prayer, showcasing the togetherness of the community.
“Everyone has been very supportive and encouraged my performance,” says Munro. “I’m lucky to be a part of a community that lets us explore these creative avenues.”
Christie Dang, an Emmanuel College first-year student who attended the performance, says it was a wonderful and memorable experience. “Everyone played a part in the performance,” says Dang. “This brought everyone together.”
Munro and Wigg-Stevenson say they look forward to putting on more performances like this in the future. “I think we created something that shows us new ways to be interreligious and interspiritual together,” says Wigg-Stevenson. “I heard words from everyone about the unexpected eruption of spirit it was to people and how it offers real possibility for where our community could go next.”