Theater director brings his ‘redemptive vision’ to the arts

| August 14, 2014 | 0 Comments
Dianne Towalski/The Catholic Spirit

Dianne Towalski/The Catholic Spirit

Jeremy Stanbary

How do you apply your faith and Catholic values at work?

My faith and Catholic values are infused into every aspect of my work because my faith is primarily what defines me as a person.

My production company, Epiphany Studio Productions (2003), was founded on a Catholic vision in the dramatic arts that is rooted in our deep and rich Catholic cultural heritage, which has made invaluable contributions to art and culture the world over for two millennia.

For eight years, I exclusively developed original one-man and two-person shows through Epiphany Productions and toured with them throughout the country as well as internationally. In 2011, my wife and I founded the Open Window Theatre, which is a project of Epiphany Studio Productions.

Through Open Window Theatre, we produce a wider variety of more conventional, full ensemble play productions in an intimate professional black box theatre setting in Minneapolis. Open Window Theatre is founded on a “redemptive vision” in the arts and has a broad reach within the Twin Cities community.

Our redemptive vision means that all of the shows we produce have some sort of a prominent redemptive quality to them, inspiring theater-goers with a transcendent message of hope, beauty and goodness that triumphs over darkness. We seek to explore the human drama that we all share in common within the divine drama that encompasses us all. And in our explorations of the darkness and problems inherent in the human condition, we always respect the full dignity of the human person on stage, recognizing that certain portrayals of human activity are better left to the imagination. We also avoid vulgarity in our productions while at the same time striving to be on the cutting edge of producing top quality, provocative live entertainment.

We are working to be a leaven in our culture and a positive light in the arts, providing a refreshing alternative for professional theater — a healthier option, in my opinion, for everyone involved in the process from the cast and crew to the audience. All of this is a sign of my Catholic faith at work through my training as a performing artist.

Please tell a story about a time when applying your faith at work really made a difference.

In the spring of 2013, I wrote and premiered an original play at Open Window Theatre titled “Mercy Unrelenting,” which is a unique and powerful re-telling of the miraculous true story of St. Maria Goretti and the conversion of her murderer, Alessandro Serenelli. This play was so well received that we decided to bring it back again in the fall of 2013. We have received a lot of audience feedback about how this production touched and impacted lives, but recently, over a year now since its premiere, we received this message through our website:

“I attended [Mercy Unrelenting] with a man who had spent 15 years in some very dark places, including hundreds of swinger parties, which include some very dangerous and disturbing activities. I realized belatedly that this might not be quite the kind of play he’d like. Surprisingly, however, he was very taken with it, even enthusiastic about it. He’s mentioned it occasionally since then, and just last night sent me an email and mentioned it in person that, long after the play, it continues to come back to him over and over. He’s continuing to think about redemption, which he ‘had no use for’ before, and forgiveness. I want Jeremy and Open Window to know that what you do is having a powerful influence on people. I believe he is changing his life for the better, and while there have been many factors, I believe this play is a key one.”

Who or what has been most inspirational to you in bringing your faith to the marketplace?

St. Pope John Paul II has had the greatest influence on my career path in pursuing professional theater from a Catholic perspective. Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II) was an actor and playwright himself and a huge proponent of the vital importance of the arts throughout his life.

The young pope co-founded an underground theater during the Nazi occupation of Poland and literally risked his life to engage in cultural resistance through the dramatic arts. That’s how much he believed in its power and importance!

St. John Paul II’s 1999 Letter to Artists and other writings on the theater prior to becoming pope have inspired and influenced my course in the arts for 15 years now. And his most well-known play, “The Jeweler’s Shop,” will be produced at Open Window Theatre this fall from Sept. 26 to Oct. 26 to kick off our fourth season.

What achievement at work are you most proud of?

I’m extremely proud of a couple of things. First, that I was given the honor to perform at World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, in 2005 and again at World Youth Day in Sydney, Australia, in 2008 for numerous young people from around the world. All in all, my traveling Catholic plays have reached tens of thousands both nationally and internationally since 2003, and countless others through the EWTN global television network.

Secondly, that Open Window Theatre has been able to reach well beyond just a Catholic audience with our positive, redemptive mission in the arts. Open Window has become a remarkable instrument of unity and ecumenism, serving as a bridge for understanding and dialogue across a multitude of dividing lines. We have many people of all backgrounds that have become big fans of Open Window Theatre, and our patron base is significantly growing from season to season. During a time of such painful trials for the Catholic Church in society, it’s all the more important that we have an entity like Open Window Theatre that can engage the culture in a serious and positive way, reaching across barriers to remind all people about the beautiful and compelling aspects of the Catholic faith and our cultural heritage while at the same time not shying away from the problems and challenges we face.

This is the great value of art in society — it helps us grapple with our unending quest to make sense of the mysteries of life. I’m proud of the success we have achieved thus far in accomplishing this goal. And this is just the beginning!

In what specific ways have you experienced God’s presence in your workplace?

I have experienced God’s presence in countless ways both big and small over the past 11 years of doing this work full time. And while I’m far from being the saint that I pray and hope to be someday, my wife and I remain exceedingly encouraged by seeing the hand of God present through our work in so many different ways.

One of the most remarkable and humbling ways that I experience his presence on an ongoing basis is through the sometimes miraculous ways in which this work is provided for financially. Our organization is not all that different from many other small and mid-size nonprofit arts organizations: underfunded and therefore understaffed. And yet, our growing base of enthusiastic and faithful supporters fills us with tremendous hope and courage!

We know and believe that the growing pains we currently experience won’t always be our reality, and so we press forward in faith. When we experience little miracles like receiving just the right amount of money at just the right time to meet a critical need, we are gratefully reminded that God is with us in this work and that his merciful hand is guiding us. And if God is for us, who can be against us!

There is no redemption without the cross, and Christ has been teaching me day after day what it means to truly embrace his cross, not only for my own good but for the good of others and the good of our work and the good of the culture. There is not a more valuable lesson in life than that.

Profile

Age: 36

Organization: Epiphany Studio Productions and Open Window Theatre

Title: Founder and executive-artistic director

Parish: St. Joseph in West St. Paul

Spouse: Sarah

Children: Aidan, 16; Augustine, 4; Gianna, 2; and Becket, 6 months

Volunteer activities: Various pro-life causes, Archdiocesan Corpus Christi procession, parish fall festival, youth chaperone and Knights of Columbus

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Category: Leading With Faith