HARRISONBURG, Va. — Three is a magic number, says veteran actor and playwright Ted Swartz.
“That’s true in baseball, theater and comedy,” he said. “I generally listen when things come in threes.”
The adage has served him well for more than 20 years, as the Eastern Mennonite University alumnus has engaged with the unlikely trio of theology, comedy and issues of faith. First with Lee Eshleman in Ted & Lee and now with Ted & Company, he has written and produced more than a dozen plays, performing extensively worldwide.
When three similarly focused suggestions came to his drawing board, he took notice.
“About two years ago I was asked to consider writing something about same-sex issues and sexuality in the context of the church, and I was busy at the time,” he said. “But then six months later, on two other occasions, people asked the same question, and I took it a bit more seriously.”
This dialogue resulted in Listening for Grace, a play that invites the audience to listen just as Swartz did to the diverse voices speaking about the challenging topic of same-sex relationships.
EMU hosted a performance of the show Nov. 2 in Lehman Auditorium.
Variety of perspectives
The main character of Listening for Grace is Daryl, a widower who learns his son is gay. During the 70-minute performance, Daryl shares the stories of five other characters, each with a different perspective on same-sex relationships and faith. One voice is that of his deceased wife, Grace.
“The audience is continuously listening throughout this play, for Grace as a character who speaks truth to the main character in a way he can’t hear otherwise,” Swartz said. “They are listening for Grace, but they are also listening to hear themselves in someone else’s story.”
In shaping the play as an extended dialogue, Swartz invites the audience to honor their own viewpoints and those of others, and then to re-engage in discussion with respect and empathy.
Recent performances at Mennonite churches and other locations around the country have often sparked the scheduling of conversation circles and small-group discussion, “sometimes even a few days later to allow people to process it, depending on how the community or congregation wants to handle it,” Swartz said.
Pastor Brian Martin Burkholder, director of campus ministries, said the play offers an opportunity for continued dialogue.
“I expect that most people will find their voice, or voices, represented by one or more of the characters in this play such that continued reflection and conversation with others might be prompted,” he said. “Ideally, this performance will offer a shared experience that encourages ongoing dialogue.”