In Church and in Theater, It’s O.K. to Just “Let Things Be Messy”

This interview with Shannon TL Kearns, M.Div. ’09 was originally published in the Union Collective Spring 2020 Issue
Why did you start the Uprising Theatre Company?
I grew up doing what I affectionately call a lot of church-basement drama—a lot of really terrible theater that was focused on justice issues or on trying to win people over. And when I got back into theater, after a long time away, I did a production of The Laramie Project, which is about the murder of Matthew Shepard. Because I was struck by people’s responses to that piece, I started to wonder if there was a way to do really high-quality theater about social justice issues that immediately connected people to organizations working on those issues. We started Uprising in 2015 with that kind of broad social justice mission. Over the last several years, we have figured out that the place that we want to stand is doing work by transgender and nonbinary playwrights about justice issues, so sometimes trans-related, sometimes not. And then doing that partnership with local organizations. So that’s what we are doing now
Why do you feel that theater is effective in changing people’s minds or resonating emotionally in ways that other forms of persuasion aren’t?
I think storytelling is the number-one way to develop empathy in people, and by developing empathy to change people’s minds. So, I think that storytelling across the board is crucial, whether it be film or documentaries or novels. But I think theater has something really unique; it

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