By Jen Pommerenke, Wright
Growing up, I spent a lot of time playing make-believe: hours outside playing with the guys. I was the consummate tomboy. I wanted to play soldier, be the hero, save the day from bad guys: it’s not shocking I wanted to be Joan. Not St. Joan. SAINT Joan seemed like a superhero, not a human hero. And despite my make believe, the foundation had to be a hero that was attainable. I wanted to play Joan. The simple farm girl, with extraordinary courage and kindness, who led charges, rode horses, and relentlessly chased freedom for those she loved.
That’s always been my Joan. She was not this extraordinary human who was endowed with unattainable goodness in order to become a Saint. She was a simple farm girl, who, to me, just always made the decision that afforded her the greatest opportunity to love. Whether it was removing the English from her beloved France or speaking with great affection to those who shouted, stormed, and humiliated her to her eventual death, she always chose love.
But she wasn’t perfect. The story of Joan illuminates the deep humanity in these powerhouses of goodness. Shaw’s Joan is filled with stubbornness, pride, impatience, and oftentimes she shames the people around her–she is not what most people believe a Saint should be daily. Joan reminds us that we all can strive for Sainthood. Or, to put it more simply, we can all strive to be the best versions of ourselves. In every moment we can dare to choose to be courageously kind, compassionate, humble, and positive. And when we are the worst versions of ourselves, we can look to Joan and remember to dare and dare again. One failure, or several, does not a Saint in us undo.
Unique in our production is the opportunity to play several characters who all have wildly differing opinions, feelings, and strategies regarding the powerhouse that is Joan the Maid: several opportunities to be threatened or inspired by her love for the common folk (and their love for her), several chances to form an opinion on how to dispose or elevate her to reach a means, and a kaleidoscope of feelings as to the heart (s) she moves within. And you learn. Gracious, do you learn. I, who have always devoutly asked St. Joan to intercede anytime I feel I am going into a battle too big for me, who have always revered the Maid’s courage and ability to exquisitely communicate feelings and philosophies devoid of any education. I now play not one, but three characters who condemn her, one who abandons her, and one who feels powerless to save her. One learns to empathize with everyone, because everyone has a story bigger than you see. Everyone is fighting for something. And we all must dare and dare and dare again, to understand each other a little better, love each other a little deeper, and fight the battles that feel too big. The tomboy within still seeks to ride on horseback like Joan and save the day, but that delightful image has expanded…and sees that is doesn’t have to end there. There’s a greater adventure to be had. It’s rooted in love, and the new hero can and must be SAINT Joan.