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The Passion of Sergius and Bacchus

Gay Marriage in Pre-Modern Times

Theatre Preview by Janine Eva Trotta (From GayCalgary® Magazine, April 2014, page 27)
The Passion of Sergius and Bacchus: Gay Marriage in Pre-Modern Times
The Passion of Sergius and Bacchus: Gay Marriage in Pre-Modern Times

This month Third Street Theatre’s 2013-2014 Queer Theatre Creation Ensemble presents their original creation The Passion of Sergius and Bacchus.

The creative work was inspired by Dr. John Boswell’s research on same-sex unions in pre-modern Europe, current issues surrounding traditional marriage, and the ancient story of two openly gay Roman soldiers who were also Christian.

"[Sergius and Bacchus] were wed by church officials in a private brother-making ceremony called Adelphopoiesis, and were later executed for their religious beliefs," says Third Street’s Founding Artistic Director Paul Welch.

Welch, who also facilitated the work of last year’s Creation Ensemble, This is How I Left, says this year’s group utilized the same techniques and methods that brought the former script award nomination and critical acclaim.

"The biggest difference between this year’s ensemble and last is that we have a concrete premise: the research of John Boswell on Saints Sergius and Bacchus, two Roman soldiers who, in 300AD, became members of the cult of Christianity," he explains. "As the Emperor Maximian’s top two personal body-guards, their conversion to Christianity was a bold move and a death sentence."

"Since Christianity had been outlawed for fear of cannibalism and political unrest – as the Christians actively protested the government, and believed in only one true God rather than the pantheon of gods and goddesses that were commonplace in ancient Rome – the decision to join the cult of Christianity was surely not an easy one."

Ironically, not much has changed since then. Modern gay Christians still find themselves ousted by their church families, sentenced to imprisonment, and forced to keep their gay identities a secret. Despite the consequence, the central characters in this work decided to hold true to both Christianity and each other.

"As Sergius and Bacchus’ love for each other grew and blossomed, they became joined ... in a sacred bond and declared ‘brothers’ by Christian church officials, and actively refused to participate in state-sanctioned sacrifices to the Roman god Jupiter," Welch says. "This enraged their dear friend and leader the Emperor Maximian, who stripped them of their military garb and status, dressed them as women, and paraded them around in an attempt to shame them into submission."

Even these measures would not halt the two lovers, and so they were sentenced to further punishment. But they would not falter.

"Numerous chances later, the two pious soldiers refused to make the sacrifice to the ancient gods and Antiochus’s hand is forced, resulting in their ultimate death and eternal salvation in Heaven," says Welch.

Essentially the pair died for what they believed in, and in doing so achieved the eternal reward that was the essence of their belief in Christianity.

The Creation Ensemble used this story as a means of paralleling the intolerance toward the LGBT community still rife in fundamental Christianity today.

"This is a play about the parallels of intolerance in love and faith has been a bit of a thesis statement for us as we moved from our exploration phase into our creation phase," says Welch. "The process has four phases: exploration, creation, rehearsal, and performance. We are currently moving into our rehearsal phase."

The group began rehearsals in late February, meeting three times per week at the Living Spirit United Church.

On April 22nd a two-for-one preview performance will be put on, with proceeds going to the Chinook Foundation, who donated a grant to the group to be able to use dramaturg Laurel Green of Alberta Theatre Projects.

"A dramaturg is akin to an editor and advocate, and they work with the creators of the play to ensure that the story is clear, strong, and concise, and that no one gets lost in the process," Welch explains. "It is an invaluable asset to us as a company – particularly with a creation ensemble project – to ensure that we’re putting forward the strongest work possible.

The show will have ten evening performances, with a 2pm matinee on Saturday the 26th, Sunday the 27th, and Saturday May 3rd, at the MOTEL venue in the EPCOR Centre for the Performing Arts. There are no performances Sunday or Monday evenings.

The Passion of Sergius and Bacchus will feature Matt McKinney, Amy Sawka, and Simon Tottrup as co-creators and actors. It is facilitated and directed by Welch, and stage-managed by Anne McIlveen.

"The ensemble allows queer and queer-minded talent to be mentored, stretch their perception of what is possible, and find authentic ownership as playwrights and performers," Welch says.


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