The Hero's Journey of a Wretch
Playwright and journalist David Templeton is bringing his critically-acclaimed, award-winning one-man show Wretch Like Me to the Occidental Center for the Arts stage (Sonoma County, Ca) September 28 and 29. The performance provides insights into the hero's journey of one young teenage boy whose life as a faith-based puppeteer took some unexpected sweet and sour twists and turns.
David recently agreed to talk with me about the show which is set in the blissed-out believer landscape of Southern California in the 1970s.
Q: The world of folklore operates on many levels and centers around individual and cultural expressions of universal themes. In this one-man show, you tell your story as a California boy coming of age in the 1970-80's. The journey begins, as many hero journeys do, as a quest. Can you tell us what you were searching for?
A: Simply put, I was looking for acceptance, for friends, for love. As a slightly weird kid who was obsessed with puppets (inspired by Shari Lewis) and with death—starting when I watched my brother accidentally cook a salamander during a pre-adolescent science experiment in the kitchen—I was not too popular. I was constantly bullied and terrorized at school. At any point, I would have joined any group, any clique, any gang that accepted me. It wasn't until high school, when I was invited to check out the Jesus Club on campus, that I found my people.
Q: Along the way, most folk heroes apply already learned beliefs and values to obstacles they must face. Often they have to adapt the skills/tools they already have and also acquire new ones in order to overcome the challenges they are presented with. What new talents/awarenesses/understandings did you experience as a result of this journey?
A: Strangely, it's those same obsessions with death and puppets that helped me, as young David, in my journey. After finding Jesus in a Release Time Bible Study trailer during the fifth grade, I fused my new love of Jesus with my old love of death in some very surprising ways. I become a bit of an expert on crucifixion. In a scene in this show, I fall asleep on the floor, my body arranged in crucifixion pose, trying to imagine what it would be like to have been crucified. Rather than being horrifying, this practice was strangely comforting. Later, when trying to feel close enough to God to experience the kind of joy and happiness promised in the study trailer, I started a Christian puppet troupe to spread the message of Jesus as I understood it. Eventually, I found a measure of popularity by rising to the top of the Bible-reading kids in the Jesus Club, effectively learning how to lead at a time when I began to question the very things I had been taught.
Q: One of the primary themes of this piece is the character's evolving personal relationship to faith and religion. What values do these (faith and religion) hold for the boy and for society in general?
A: There's no doubt that faith, regardless of anything else it contributes to society, strengthens our connection to other people within our faith community. That's the "gateway" for the character David, the promise of a community, a family. As he grows in that community, he achieves a sense of confidence and begins to take seriously the example of Jesus, answering other kids questions the way he imagines Jesus would. Ironically, this makes him more and more controversial to the minister and members of his community church called Happy Chapel.
David has plans to take this solo performance piece to the 2014 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This, no doubt,will become another hero's journey.We wish him the best of luck!
To learn more the upcoming show, visit the Occidental Center for the Arts.