Portraying the Pope: An Interview with Actor Jeremy Stanbary

26-year-old Jeremy Stanbary is the founder and principal actor for Minneapolis-Epiphany Studio Productions, a theater troupe devoted to performing Catholic dramas. With the recent passing of Pope John Paul II, Stanbary has been kept busy performing his one-man play on the early life of Karol Wojtyla, Lolek.

A Revolutionary Vision

In addition, Stanbary has also written and performs Alessandro — a play on the life and conversion of the man who murdered St. Maria Goretti — and a play about the miracle of Lanciano. He spoke recently with writer Tim Drake.

Q: How did you first become interested in acting?

A: Acting has been an interest and passion of mine since as young as I can remember. I received my college degree in Theatre Arts from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and was awarded the top performing arts scholarship for actors two consecutive years. I grew up Catholic, but was not living my faith as I entered college. Thanks be to God, I experienced a profound conversion of heart after my freshman year and as I grew in my relationship with Jesus Christ and His Church over the next few years, my understanding of how I should use my gifts and talents began to change. Unfortunately, there are very few opportunities for Catholic actors to pursue a vocation of beauty today, which integrates our faith and morals. I knew that I would have to create my own opportunities and in June of 2003 I started Epiphany Studio Productions. Epiphany is a non-profit 501(c)(3) Catholic theater production company through which I write, produce and perform original one-man dramas that are designed to travel wherever we are invited.

Q: Your work has been directly influenced by Pope John Paul II. Can you describe the impact he has made on your life and work?

A: I can go as far as to say that without Pope John Paul II there would be no Epiphany Studio Productions today. I founded my organization on the revolutionary vision of Karol Wojtyla (John Paul II) for theater and the arts. I discovered his dramatic and artistic vision as I was going through my journey of conversion in college. My mother sent me a copy of his most popular play, The Jeweler’s Shop, a remarkable and unique drama that left me deeply inspired. I remember being stunned by his passion and involvement in the theater as I started to learn more about his life. Pope John Paul II helped to form a clandestine theater troupe in Nazi-occupied Poland during WWII. He risked his life in order to pursue his passion for the theater, using his God-given gifts as a form of cultural resistance. He also helped to firmly establish a whole new genre of theatrical expression, called the Rhapsodic Theater, or a “Theater of the Word.” This form of theater gives precedence to the beauty and power of the “Word,” not only literally through the power of the spoken word in its ability to grasp and convey transcendent Truth, but also figuratively by giving precedence to the Word of God made man, Jesus Christ.

Rhapsodic Theater makes use of all the elements and spectacle of a full theatrical production, but in a way that is at service to the Word, literally and figuratively. This is a highly artistic form of theater, combining poetic beauty and creativity with philosophy, theology, history, a deep spirituality and a rich Catholic cultural heritage. I am taking up this form of theater and putting it onto the stage for modern audiences, making use of contemporary forms of expression that ultimately seek to lead the audience toward a deeper understanding of man and our relationship with God in the great drama of human existence. The very name of my organization embodies John Paul II’s influence on my work, coming from his 1999 Letter to Artists where he declares that the Church hopes for “renewed epiphanies of beauty” in our time, in order to meet the needs of the Christian community.

The Designs of God’s Providence

Q: What prompted you to write and perform a play about Karol Wojtyla?

A: The more I learned about the younger years of Karol Wojtyla the more I became convinced that this story needed to be told in the form of a drama. Most people know something of John Paul II as pope, but very few people know much about the amazing experiences and influences that helped to form this great man within the designs of God’s providence. This was also a great role for me because I look somewhat like the young pope and I’ve learned how to speak with a convincing Polish dialect. This is a beautiful and moving play, which offers a lot of important messages for our modern day culture.

Q: I imagine that your play, Lolek, has a special poignancy now that John Paul has died?

A: Absolutely. There has been a surge of increased interest in the life of John Paul “the Great” following his passing into eternal life. This play helps give some important perspective to his phenomenal papacy by providing insight into the heart and soul of John Paul the disciple. The incredible life of Karol Wojtyla growing up offers a necessary backdrop to better understanding his life as pope as well as his role in both world and Church history. His life offers a beautiful and inspiring example to the rest of us and will continue to inspire people the world over until the end of time. I firmly believe that Pope John Paul II will have an even greater impact on the world after his death than he did before, which is saying a lot! His life speaks to the heart of every individual, teaching us that by complete abandonment to the merciful love of God’s providence, He can and will do great things in our lives as well.

Education, Inspiration and Evangelization

Q: Lolek isn't your only play. Can you tell me about your others?

A: Alessandro is a one-man drama about the amazing martyrdom of the young modern day teenage saint, Maria Goretti, and the miraculous conversion of her murderer, Alessandro, from his own perspective. This is a dynamic one-act play that was designed specifically for adolescent and young adult audiences, although older audiences get as much out of the play as the teens do! I don’t recommend this play for youth under 12 years of age due to the intense nature and content of the drama, but from audiences of junior high school age and older we have received incredible feedback after performances of Alessandro.

My third play is called A Miracle in Lanciano and is a one-man, one-act play about the most ancient and on-going miracle in Church history, the Eucharistic Miracle of Lanciano, Italy. Modern science has validated the authenticity of this miracle and my play explores the significance and relevance of this miracle for the lives of all human beings today.

Q: How can people book a performance?

A: People who have access to the Internet should visit my website www.EpiphanyStudio.com where they will find more information about my organization and how to contact me personally. People can sign up online, email me or call me in order to receive a booking information packet. This booking packet provides all the information about our booking fees, our specific needs for the performance, including some sample publicity materials as well as a booking contract. My plays offer a great tool for parishes, conferences and schools to assist in their mission of education, inspiration and evangelization. My performances also offer a tremendous fundraising opportunity for churches and organizations. I’m happy to answer any questions people may have over the phone (651-336-3302) or via email at: jstanbary@epiphanystudio.com

Tim Drake is the author of Young and Catholic: The Face of Tomorrow’s Church (Sophia Institute Press, 2004). He serves as staff writer with the National Catholic Register and Faith and Family Magazine. He writes from Saint Cloud, Minnesota.

Young and Catholic can be ordered by calling 1-800-888-9344 or visiting Sophia Institute Press.

Tim Drake

By

Tim Drake is an award-winning journalist, the author of six books on religion and culture, and a former radio host. Widely published, and a long-time contributor to the National Catholic Register, he serves as Senior Editor/Director of News Operations for the Cardinal Newman Society.

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