Friday, 10 December 2010

L Ron Hubbard panto to play in Scientology's backyard

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A scene from the American Stage Theatre Company's
production of A Very Merry Unauthorized
Children's Scientology Pageant
It's Christmas, which means it's panto season. But while here in the UK we're stuck with Aladdin and Cinderella, the lucky people of St Petersburg, Florida can enjoy a production of A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant, a satire on the life of L Ron Hubbard and his Church of Scientology, by Kyle Jarrow and Alex Timbers, that first ran off-Broadway in 2003.

As 2003 pre-dates my own interest in the wacky world of Scientology, I'm sorry to say I had no knowledge of the play, so imagine how much I enjoyed reading all about it just now, with the added bonus of the fact that it is to be staged in a theatre just down the road from Scientology's Clearwater headquarters. The production is the work of St Petersburg's American Stage Theatre Company, and a quick look at their site provides a helpful synopsis of A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant:
"A Very Merry Unauthorized Children's Scientology Pageant begins with six children gathering on a cold winter night to rejoice in telling the story of L. Ron Hubbard during their holiday pageant. A narrator notes, 'Today we relate the life of L. Ron Hubbard: Teacher, author, explorer, atomic physicist, nautical engineer, choreographer, horticulturist and father of Scientology!' And so begins what Variety called, 'A breezy one-hour show that is equal parts adorable and creepy, hilarious and unsettling, making it way more compelling than your average holiday entertainment.' Learn about Scientology and its creator in musical form, including special appearances by many of the churches greatest practitioners as puppets and the possible arrival of the almighty Xenu himself."
Sounds like fun, doesn't it. It certainly beats seeing that guy who used to play that guy in Emmerdale dressed up as Widow Twankey. But, I hear you cry, how on earth did the fiercely-litigious Church of Scientology allow it to happen? Well, I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear that they tried their best to stop it. Forgive me if for once I allow Wikipedia, that "Wiki-" of more innocent times, to explain:
"Early in the production of the play, John Carmichael, president of the Church of Scientology in New York, found out that a theatrical production involving Scientology was in the works. After showing up unannounced to a rehearsal, Carmichael sent a letter to the play's New York producer, Aaron Lemon-Strauss, citing his concerns at the possibility of being ridiculed. In the letter, Carmichael also pointed out the church's many past lawsuits. Alex Timbers was quoted as saying: "We've been told that the letter is a precursor to a lawsuit." Carmichael visited the artistic staff a total of three times to voice his concerns before the play's debut. After this occurrence, Jarrow and Timbers' attorneys advised them to insert the word "Unauthorized" into the title of the play. This was done to avoid potential litigation from the Church of Scientology. In an interview with The New York Times, Carmichael later stated: 'These folks have a right to write whatever play they want... but they've sunk to clichés'."
Excellent. And now, as the St Petersburg Times reports, the American Stage company are looking forward to performing it on Scientology's home turf. Artistic director Todd Olson explains:
"I'm not religious myself. I'm not vested one way or another. But I do think it's a healthy sign if we can talk about these things in an artistic and a theatrical way and hold the mirror up to things and look at them in a lighter sense. We should be able to laugh at ourselves no matter who we are."
Well said, sir. And if this has piqued your interest in the crazy world of Scientology, you'll be pleased to hear our forthcoming Jan/Feb issue features the inimitable Michael Bywater marking the 25th anniversary of L Ron's death. That's on sale next Thursday, 16 December.
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