By Lauren Hance
Editor’s note: Tickets are now on sale for the 2023 Capital Fringe Festival (July 12 to 23), and DC Theater Arts has offered space to ten Fringe producers to describe their shows in their own words. Check back for more 2023 Capital Fringe previews!
The Holy O is a solo comedy performance with a choose-your-own-adventure feel where the audience becomes part of the show directly from their seats. The story follows the main character, Vera, as she contemplates becoming a nun. However, Vera has never considered celibacy one of her virtues. Vera’s situation is complicated by the onset of rapturous prayers, leading the to audience become characters from her past and saints in her present. The audience becomes integral to the story as they help Vera make some of the biggest decisions of her life, starting with what shirt to wear.
Whenever I tell someone the title of my current project, The Holy O, they cock their head to the side, raise their eyebrows, and coquettishly ask, “As in… the big O?” I confidently respond, “O, yes, it’s about orgasms — and so much more.” This show has piqued women’s interest from its conception as it grapples with the intersection of sexuality, faith, and how women engage with their bodies.
My fascination with the connection between body, spirit, and sexuality began in 2018 when I experienced a later-in-life sexual awakening as I started deconstructing the messages I heard growing up during the height of Christian purity culture. Like many women, I was taught to reign in my sexuality and present myself in a way that would not arouse desire in males. That was until marriage when I could unleash my libido and experience mind-blowing sex. Spoiler alert: it didn’t happen that way, as my sex therapist can attest.
While the Christian subculture widely accepts this presupposition of women, it is also a presumption prevalent within the broader culture. Songs like Ludacris’ “Nasty Girl” or Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” describe women as ladylike and domesticated until the bedroom door closes and they turn into sexual animals ready to get freaky. Women must balance this nuanced claim about their sexuality alongside cultural ideals of beauty, body, and brains; and let’s not forget, warding off unwanted sexual advances.
As I was coming into my sexuality (pun intended), I began reconciling it with my Christian faith and leaned into my training as a theologian. I learned about the 16th-century nun and theologian Saint Teresa of Avila, who experienced bodily responses, or raptures, when deep in prayer. The idea that prayer with God could be so intimate that one’s body would respond made me wonder how our bodies are created to intermingle and experience connection at the height of pleasure. And how does that impact sexual expression and even spirituality?
The Holy O asks these types of questions, examining the failures and successes of the church, culture, and the human experience. The show is not autobiographical but was influenced by my journey and the experiences of the dozens of women I interviewed for its creation. While the #MeToo movement has shed light on women’s trauma, there are still more subtle aspects concerning sexuality and bodies that women silently grapple with. The Holy O unearths these struggles without judgment and with lots of humor. Director and developer Amelia Peterson affirms, “We worked hard to create a show that makes space for people to feel safe amidst sometimes-sensitive subject matters.”
The 2023 Capital Fringe line-up has a slew of incredible shows to choose from. And, like most fringe festivals, you never know what you will get. As the writer and performer of The Holy O, I created something I needed to be in the world. I’m finding many others connecting with it as well. Peterson describes The Holy O this way: “It’s a cross between Fleabag and The Vagina Monologues. It’s a show for audiences who are up for something playful, heartwarming, and experimental.”
Running Time: 60 minutes.
Lauren Hance is the author and performer of The Holy O, whose passion is helping people connect. Her theatrical work has been produced from coast to coast, and she regularly works as an actress, improviser, director, producer, and playwright. Keep up with her projects here, and follow her on Instagram @theholyoplay.
The complete 2023 Capital Fringe Festival guidebook is online here.
SEE ALSO: 2023 Capital Fringe Festival to pop up in Georgetown and Dupont (news story, April 28, 2023)