Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Jesuit Directs Magis Theatre Company’s “Occupy Olympus” at New York City International Fringe Festival

Photo by Leo Sorel

Jesuit Father George Drance directed the Magis Theatre Company’s “Occupy Olympus” last month at the New York City International Fringe Festival, the largest multi-­arts festival in North America. The play garnered positive reviews, including one from The New York Times.

The company adapted the ancient Greek comedy “Plutus, God of Wealth” by Aristophanes, about the socioeconomic situation of Athens around 400 B.C., in order to tell the story of the modern-day Occupy Wall Street movement. Although “Plutus” was written in 388 B.C., Fr. Drance believes the themes of economic fears and disillusionment are still applicable in the modern era. “I was blown away by how relevant it is to our time,” he said.

“We’re at a moment in history where people feel overwhelmed by their circumstances, perhaps alone in their experience of it and without a means of doing something specific or engaging in a kind of discourse that can actually seek specific changes.

“Because of that, we’ve given up striving for any kind of change,” he said. “My hope is that — by pointing out that this has been a constant part of history — we would take courage and rally ourselves to continue to strive for justice.”

Fr. Drance, who is artistic director of the Magis Theatre Company, has performed and directed in more than 20 countries on five continents, for companies such as Theatre YETU in Kenya and Teatro la Fragua in Honduras. He currently serves as artist-­in­‐residence at Fordham University in New York.

The New York City International Fringe Festival celebrated its 17th anniversary this August. About participating in Fringe NYC, Fr. Drance said, “The word ‘festival’ says it all. It contains elements of a community getting together to celebrate. Much of my [previous work] involved participating in festivals all over the world. Festivals stimulate, and cross-pollinate art in ways that no other form can do. We learn from each other. We inspire each other.”

For more information about the Magis Theatre Company, visit magistheatre.org. [New York Times, nytheatre.com, Fordham University, New York Province]

Boston Globe Interviews Jesuit Known as the ‘Dancing Priest’

Jesuit Father Robert VerEecke

Jesuit Artist-in-Residence Father Robert VerEecke performing (above center). Photo by Boston College Magazine.

Jesuit Father Robert VerEecke, the longtime pastor of St. Ignatius Parish at Boston College, is also a dancer, a choreographer and the Jesuit Artist-in-Residence at Boston College, earning him the nickname “the dancing priest.”

Fr. VerEecke also founded the Boston Liturgical Dance Ensemble in 1980 to perform in church venues, and each Christmas the troupe produces a show. For 28 years, that show was “A Dancer’s Christmas,” a holiday tradition in Boston until 2008. For the past four years Fr. VerEecke’s ensemble has been performing “Christmas Reflections,” which includes an almost 80-member cast of professional dancers, Boston College students, alumni and others. The story reflects on the meaning of the season through Luke’s Gospel.

Fr. VerEecke was recently interviewed by the Boston Globe about his calling to the priesthood and to dance. The interview is below, along with a video of Fr. VerEecke discussing “Christmas Reflections” that shows the dancers in action.

Q. Are you a priest who happens to be a choreographer, or are the two inextricably combined?

A. They’re inextricably combined. When I think of Catholic ritual, there’s so much movement and choreography. What makes ritual work for people is a sense of flow and movement integrity. I work with young Jesuits and try to help them understand that sense of the larger picture. It’s such a passion, for me there is no separation between religious expression and movement expression. It always comes together quite spontaneously. It’s when I’m most alive.

Q. What happened when you were called to the priesthood at age 18?

A. I entered the Jesuits thinking I’d never have a chance to do anything artistically. Then in 1970, the Jesuits organized an artist institute and they had a track to study ballet, and I took that. When I started taking class, it was an epiphany. It gave me the vocabulary for choreographing, but the advantage of not having early training was that I was never set in a particular language of moving, so my choreography tends to be more from within. I feel free to use whatever comes.

Q. I know with all the “Nutcracker”s this time of year there was intense competition to get performers for “A Dancer’s Christmas.” Was that part of why you stopped the production after 2008?

A. The challenge was always mounting such a big production and trying to replace people every year without a huge budget, particularly male dancers. But the real issue is that I was very aesthetically pleased with the work that had evolved, so I said this is the last year. It had become absolutely perfect for me. It had reached its apex.

Q. But the very next year you were back with “Christmas Reflections” How did that come about?

A. There were all these children who were heartbroken that “A Dancer’s Christmas” was ending, and it got to me. We were all crying — one of my nicknames is Sobby Bobby. I just couldn’t say this is the end, so I said I’d try to think of what else we do, not on the same scale. “Christmas Reflections” is like “A Dancer’s Christmas” in miniature, like one of those little [snow] globes, very delicate and charming.

Q. “A Dancer’s Christmas” used pageantry, modern dance, ballet, and folk dance to tell the Christmas story from three historical periods. How different is the new show?

A. The pieces are shorter. It uses a lot of familiar Christmas music. The three-act format is still very similar. This first is scriptural, the second has the playfulness, the third has some of the repertory of the third act of “A Dancer’s Christmas.” One of the new pieces we added, which is a lot of fun, is “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” with the dancers representing all the characters. A local championship Irish dancer, Helen O’Dwyer, a BC alum, was a dancer for a number of years in “A Dancer’s Christmas.” I asked her if she thought her school might want to participate, and now there are 30 to 40 Irish dancers. We have a guest artist, Jamaican contemporary dancer Steven Cornwall, portraying Joseph, and he’s a spectacular dancer. He brings a beauty and strength that is very powerful to watch.

Q. You’ve always maintained that “A Dancer’s Christmas” created a unique sense of family and community among the performers. Have you been able to re-create that?

A. It’s what’s kind of magical about it, because people put a lot into it, and the story draws people in. A lot of people listen or sing these songs, especially more traditional carols, but they never had a chance to dance to them, and it can be powerful for them. “Silent Night” is the final number, with children joining adults in the end, and there’s something quite moving about seeing it all unfold.

Q. At the core, what do these shows mean to you and perhaps to the others who come to them year after year? What is the takeaway message?

A. It’s about the profound sense of joy that is available to all of us in the Christmas season, no matter how we celebrate it. From a religious point of view, it’s about God loving us so much that he wants to dance with us. These days there’s so much negative about God and salvation. My image is that God is enmeshed in the flesh of Jesus. He wants to have arms and legs so he can dance with us.

Jesuit Recalls Hitchcock’s Final Days in The Wall Street Journal

Jesuit Father Mark Henninger Interest in the life and work of Alfred Hitchcock is soaring, thanks to the release of a new film about the legendary director.  While his biographer said Hitchcock shunned religion at the end of his life, Jesuit Father Mark Henninger, a professor of philosophy at Georgetown University, writes in The Wall Street Journal that it’s not true: Fr. Henninger was there and said mass for the director in his final days.

Here is Fr. Henninger’s op-ed from The Wall Street Journal:

I remember as a young boy watching the black-and-white “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” on TV and being enthralled from the start by the simple nine-stroke line-drawing caricature of the famed movie director’s rotund profile. The mischievous theme music set the mood as Hitchcock appeared in silhouette from the right edge of the screen, and then walked into the center replacing the caricature. “Good evening.” There followed his droll introductions, so unlike anything else on television.

Such childhood emotions came over me again when in early 1980 I entered his home in Bel Air to see him dozing in a chair in a corner of his living room, dressed in jet-black pajamas.

At the time, I was a graduate student in philosophy at UCLA, and I was (and remain) a Jesuit priest. A fellow priest, Tom Sullivan, who knew Hitchcock, said one Thursday that the next day he was going over to hear Hitchcock’s confession. Tom asked whether on Saturday afternoon I would accompany him to celebrate a Mass in Hitchcock’s house.

I was dumbfounded, but of course said yes. On that Saturday, when we found Hitchcock asleep in the living room, Tom gently shook him. Hitchcock awoke, looked up and kissed Tom’s hand, thanking him.

Tom said, “Hitch, this is Mark Henninger, a young priest from Cleveland.”

“Cleveland?” Hitchcock said. “Disgraceful!”

After we chatted for a while, we all crossed from the living room through a breezeway to his study, and there, with his wife, Alma, we celebrated a quiet Mass. Across from me were the bound volumes of his movie scripts, “The Birds,” “Psycho,” “North by Northwest” and others—a great distraction. Hitchcock had been away from the church for some time, and he answered the responses in Latin the old way. But the most remarkable sight was that after receiving communion, he silently cried, tears rolling down his huge cheeks.

Tom and I returned a number of times, always on Saturday afternoons, sometimes together, but I remember once going by myself. I’m somewhat tongue-tied around famous people and found it a bit awkward to chitchat with Alfred Hitchcock, but we did, enjoyably, in his living room. At one point he said, “Let’s have Mass.”

He was 81 years old and had difficulty moving, so I helped him get up and assisted him across the breezeway. As we slowly walked, I felt I had to say something to break the silence, and the best I could come up with was, “Well, Mr. Hitchcock, have you seen any good movies lately?” He paused and said emphatically, “No, I haven’t. When I made movies they were about people, not robots. Robots are boring. Come on, let’s have Mass.” He died soon after these visits, and his funeral Mass was at Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Beverly Hills.

Alfred Hitchcock has returned to the news lately, thanks to an apparently unflattering portrait of him in a new Hollywood production. Some of his biographers have not been kind, either. Religion, too, is much in the news, also often presented in an unflattering light, because clashing beliefs are at issue in wars and terrorism. The violence provokes some people to reject religion altogether. For many who experience religion only in this way—at second hand, in the media, from afar—such a reaction is to a degree understandable.

What they miss is that religion is an intensely personal affair. St. Augustine wrote: “Magnum mysterium mihi”—I am a great mystery to myself. Why exactly Hitchcock asked Tom Sullivan to visit him is not clear to us and perhaps was not completely clear to him. But something whispered in his heart, and the visits answered a profound human desire, a real human need. Who of us is without such needs and desires?

Some people find these late-in-life turns to religion suspect, a sign of weakness or of one’s “losing it.” But nothing focuses the mind as much as death. There is a long tradition going back to ancient times of memento mori, remember death. Why? I suspect that in facing death one may at last see soberly, whether clearly or not, truths missed for years, what is finally worth one’s attention.

Weighing one’s life with its share of wounds suffered and inflicted in such a perspective, and seeking reconciliation with an experienced and forgiving God, strikes me as profoundly human. Hitchcock’s extraordinary reaction to receiving communion was the face of real humanity and religion, far away from headlines . . . or today’s filmmakers and biographers.

One of Hitchcock’s biographers, Donald Spoto, has written that Hitchcock let it be known that he “rejected suggestions that he allow a priest . . . to come for a visit, or celebrate a quiet, informal ritual at the house for his comfort.” That in the movie director’s final days he deliberately and successfully led outsiders to believe precisely the opposite of what happened is pure Hitchcock.

The Wall Street Journal

Jesuits setting ‘Hearts on Fire’ across the South this Summer

The Apostleship of Prayer will offer its popular weekend retreats for young adults in several Southern states this summer.

The Hearts on Fire retreats are presented by teams of young Jesuits to groups of young adults, ages18-39, married or single.

Through talks, discussion, music, silence, prayer and worship, participants encounter the spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer and “The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola,” the founder of the Jesuits. There also are opportunities for relaxation during meals and a coffeehouse social.

“Our participants are at a crucial point in their lives,” said retreat leader Jesuit Father Phil Hurley. “Decisions they make and act on now will make a great difference to the rest of their lives.”

The retreat presentations introduce St. Ignatius’ spiritual insights on topics such as discerning the will of God in one’s life.

“The retreat seeks to connect faith to everyday life,” Fr. Hurley said. “Participants learn about the Apostleship of Prayer’s practice of making a morning offering, living the Eucharist throughout the day and ending the day with an evening review.”

The 2012 summer retreats are scheduled for the following cities and dates: Dallas, June 22-23; San Antonio, June 29-30; Corpus Christi, Texas, July 6-7; New Orleans, July 13-14; Tampa, Fla., July 20-21; and Atlanta, July 27-28.

Last summer, the Hearts on Fire retreats were held in cities across the east coast. This year, two Canadian Jesuits are joining the team this summer in part to gain experience for beginning similar young adult retreats in Canada. They will begin that program in Fall 2012.

More information, comments from past participants, a video trailer and registration forms can be found at www.apostleshipofprayer.org/heartsonfire.

Chicago Tribune Talks Travel with Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno

Among the most frequent of frequent flyers, Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno racks up more than 100,000 miles per year, traveling between two dissimilar yet dramatically beautiful home bases:  the Vatican in Rome and the rugged desert of Tucson, Arizona. Consolmagno, staff astronomer and the curator of meteorites at the Vatican Observatory, travels nonstop, delivering 40 to 50 talks annually at universities, schools and parishes around the world.  Along the way, he’s learned a thing or two about how to travel like a star.  Brother Consolmagno sat down with the Chicago Tribune to share a few tips – everything from hidden gems at the Vatican to don’t-leave-home-without-it travel aids.  

Q: For those making a trip to the Vatican, what would you advise them to visit?

A: Well, everyone knows to see St. Peter’s and the Vatican Museum. But most people, when they go to the museum, rush ahead to see the Sistine Chapel and miss out on some wonderful artwork on the way. In particular, I recommend that when you first get into the museum, where the signs all point to the left, turn right instead. This gets you to the coffee shop and the Pinacoteca, the small but wonderful collection of paintings. I find the series of musical angels by Melozzo da Forli are particularly charming. But the best part is a series of eight astronomical paintings by Donato Creti, made in the early 1700s, which show the planets as seen through a telescope. They include the first color depiction of the great red spot on Jupiter. Another wonderful sight, which requires advance reservations, is to explore the Scavi, the excavations underneath St. Peter’s. (http://www.vatican.va)

Q: I understand you served in Kenya with the Peace Corps. What are some of your memories of that time?

A: That was 30 years ago, and I know that Kenya has changed a lot since then. What I remember most was how wonderful the people were and how much the countryside reminded me of a Tolkien painting — odd volcanic mountains and glorious but very strange vistas.

Q: What are your five favorite cities?

A. I am quite partial to the United Kingdom, so I would have to start with London, Liverpool and Glasgow. Tokyo is fascinating and continually surprising. I lived many years in Boston and I still love to visit there because it’s full of history, great museums and great food — and you can walk to nearly all of it. But lately my heart has been stolen by New York. As a Jesuit, I get to stay in parishes built to serve immigrants of the 19th century that are now in neighborhoods that are just wonderful to wander around. And, yes, I know that’s six cities.

Q: When you go away, what are some of your must-have items?

A: One trick I have never heard anyone else describe is that for long overnight flights, I put myself to sleep by listening to favorite audio books. Because I know the book well, it doesn’t keep me awake. And when I realize that I have skipped a few chapters, it relaxes me by letting me realize I really have gotten some sleep.

[Chicago Tribune]