Actor/theologian to premier new theater work at Bethel on sexuality
by Melanie Zuercher
NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Ted Swartz believes in “the mystical power of three.”
Swartz is premiering a new work on sexuality, called on posters A Peek into the Church’s Journey with Sexuality. Or, as he says, The Sex Show: Why So Nervous?
The performance will happen under the auspices of Western District Conference of Mennonite Church USA and Bethel College Campus Ministries, Oct. 25 at 7 p.m. in Krehbiel Auditorium in the Fine Arts Center.
Tickets are $10 reserved seating, for sale during regular business hours at Bethel’s Thresher Bookstore in Schultz Student Center, or at the door, subject to availability.
“Last spring, after Ted & Company’s Peace, Pies and Prophets show in McPherson, Jim Stucky talked to me about the possibility of doing a show on sexuality, describing what some of the ideas were,” Swartz says.
Stucky is chair of WDC’s Human Sexuality Discernment Task Force, which will sponsor a day-long symposium, “The Church and Homosexuality: A Conversation That Can Hold Us Together,” for members of the conference’s churches, Oct. 26 at Faith Mennonite Church in Newton.
“It was a spur-of-the-moment request,” Stucky recalls. “I had seen Peace, Pies and Prophets and I wondered if there was a chance that humor might be a way that hadn’t been tried, to approach issues of sexuality. I decided it couldn’t hurt to ask.”
“This was the third similar request,” Swartz says. “I wasn’t looking to write this show, but when the third person asked – well, I believe in the mystical power of three and how the Holy Spirit, or the spirit of art, works in that triangle.”
The reason he was asked? “Because there’s a good chance it’ll be funny.”
Ted & Company TheatreWorks performances are known for their humor. However, Swartz says, “I’m not a comedian, I’m a theater artist – to me, it’s a huge distinction. I don’t write jokes. I don’t make fun of people.
“This isn’t a debate. I’m not trying to make anyone change their mind, and I want as many people as possible to hear their viewpoint represented in some way,” he says. But in the end, “if it’s not [also] funny, I haven’t done my job.”
When it comes to discussions of sexuality – and especially the issue of gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gender sexuality – within the church, Swartz says, “we’re trying to create something to further conversation as opposed to further polarizing.”
A Peek will be “a series of scenes tied together through a main character,” with a script that will likely be in process almost up until the time Swartz takes the stage at Bethel College Oct. 25.
The new theater piece (which Swartz will perform solo, without sometime-acting partner Tim Ruebke), is part of a two-day conversation on sexuality taking place at Bethel and within Western District Conference.
Keith Graber Miller, professor of Bible, religion and philosophy at Goshen (Ind.) College, will speak in Bethel’s convocation at 11 a.m. Oct. 25 as well as in the evening in conjunction with the performance of A Peek into the Church’s Journey with Sexuality.
Graber Miller will be one of two resource people for the Oct. 26 symposium, along with David Boshart, Wellman, Iowa, executive conference minister for Central Plains Mennonite Conference.
Ted Swartz is a playwright and actor who has, as he puts it, “been mucking around in the worlds of the sacred and profane for over 20 years.”
Swartz has degrees from Eastern Mennonite University and Eastern Mennonite Seminary, both in Harrisonburg, Va. His love for acting, comedy and collaboration with creative partner Lee Eshleman led to performances all over the United States and Canada as well as abroad. Ted & Lee were known for their “quirky and gently askew” view of life.
Despite Eshleman’s tragic and untimely death in 2007, Swartz has continued to write and act, sometimes with other creative partners. He is the creator or co-creator of more than a dozen plays, including the recent I’d Like to Buy an Enemy.
In addition to acting in solo and multiple-cast original shows, Swartz is an accomplished speaker and teacher who typically uses theater and comedy to engage issues of creativity, theology and faith. (For more, see www.tedandcompany.com.)
Bethel College is the only private college in Kansas listed in the 2013-14 Forbes.com analysis of premier colleges and universities in the United States and ranks in the top five “Best Baccalaureate Colleges” in the Washington Monthly annual college guide for 2013-14. The four-year liberal arts college is affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. For more information, see www.bethelks.edu.