As It Is In Heaven closes Fire Exit Theatre season
by Keri Vermeulen
The ways in which Christians experience God’s presence are supernatural and celebrated – or are they? The final play of the season by Fire Exit Theatre, co-produced with Ambrose University, looks not only at the possibility of ecstatic experiences in a tightly knit faith community, but how that is received by the society in which it happens.
As It Is In Heaven, running March 21 to 25 at Engineered Air Theatre at the Arts Commons, sets the scene for questions of the super natural in the rural 1830s Shaker community of Pleasant Hill, Kentucky. The Christian sect, dubbed “Shakers” was founded in America in the 18th Century. Known for its dramatic ways of worship, the Shakers had, by the 1830s, settled into a routine when the young woman Fanny arrives, eventually revealing she has witnessed angels in the meadow. Soon, many of the community’s women are experiencing the spiritual gifts of songs, drawings, laughter and spiritual ideas that, once foundational to the community, are brought under suspicion.
While few concrete details are known about Fanny’s past, it is gathered she is escaping abuse and came to the Shaker community to find some kind of safety. The “Sisters” suspect her to be a convert whose true motive is escaping hard farm life, causing them to question the authenticity of her experience with the angelic.
Playing Fanny is Jennifer Beacom, who says As It Is In Heaven doesn’t give the audience answers as to the trueness of her character’s supernatural experiences, but more importantly, raises questions as to how we perceive them. “I think this play really brings those questions to mind – in what ways does God work and how do you decide if it’s God working or not? Do you take the person’s word for it? Do you only accept it if it’s the elders who are experiencing that kind of thing?” Beacom says, “I think wherever you are on the map of your belief in those things, it still can bring those questions up for you and make you analyze why you think the way you do.”
Beacom says the play is relatable for people of faith – and even those who are not – who ask questions of how, and if, God reveals Himself to people. At 26, Beacom has already travelled a road that, at times, has teetered the line between certainty and faith. “A couple of years after graduating high school I was still wrestling with what to do with my life,” Beacom remembers. “People were pointing out that I had gifts in public speaking, in telling stories. I honestly don’t know how I came to the decision to just jump into theatre, but I did … I actually ended up job shadowing Val Lieske who is the Artistic Director for Fire Exit Theatre.”
Beacom says As It Is In Heaven straddles questions of uncertainty, suspicion and doubt – as when Fanny says she has seen angels. “I think one question is ‘are angels real? Can we see them? Can you have an experience with an angel?’” she says. “But it asks broader questions about spiritual gifts. I know in my life, I’ve seen some strange spiritual gifts. Throughout my life I’ve had a real interest in the spiritual. Then I see some of these things and I think, ‘you know, I just don’t know if that is of God or not.’” Beacom hopes audience of As It Is In Heaven will walk away from the play being less close-minded towards spiritual things. “I would hope that they’d see in some of the other characters some of their own foolishness at shutting down and quickly assuming things aren’t of God.”
Tickets for As It Is In Heaven, $20 – $25, are available by contacting 403-640-4617 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Playing March 21 to 25, 7:30 pm, with Saturday/Sunday matinees, at Arts Commons – The Engineered Air Theatre.