A playwright, executive and LGBTQ+ advocate is unsheathing a unique weapon in the battle against the violence of Christian fundamentalists: a theatrical comedy about Christ. One that is rated NFCF — Not For Christian Fundamentalists.
While most of Antonio David Garcia’s life has been spent in LGBTQ+ advocacy, theater and the arts have never been far away.
The executive director of Affirmations is stepping down from that role at the end of the year, in part to return to more artistic pursuits. First up he will direct and perform in “Candy Corn, Christ, and the Convoluted Creation of Golf,” a joint production between Affirmations, the LGBTQ+ community center, and The Ringwald Theatre, which is nestled inside the center. The play opens Oct. 6 at The Ringwald.
In the production, which Garcia wrote before he became an atheist, he will also play the part of the devil. He told Pride Source his work is an irreverent but ultimately respectful look at Christianity. As it explores the New Testament story, it assumes that Christ is funny and he and the apostles are BFFs.
Where art and advocacy meet
Garcia, who attended Northern Michigan University with a musical theater scholarship in hand, said he first fell in love with theater in elementary school and never fell out of love, though his involvement in the queer rights movement drew him away from the intense involvement that theater demands of its acolytes.
“I’ve always tried to stay involved in the arts, but most of my attention kept being drawn back toward fighting for our community and the movement,” Garcia told Pride Source. “It’s been a lifelong struggle to really try to figure out how to do more arts and culture while being an executive director.”
He points out that the two endeavors meld philosophically even while time commitments make pursuing both impractical.
“When you think of all the social justice movements and political movements of our time, the arts world has been on the front of those movements,” Garcia said. “They’re not mutually exclusive. They’re inclusive. When you think about it, oftentimes people — name a politician — after they kill their political enemies, who do they go after next? The artists.”
No stranger to fighting the good fight, Garcia, for years now, has had to fend off religious bigots picketing outside Affirmations. Now, he said, they’re showing up with guns and threatening violence in the name of religion.
It was this increased threat that inspired Garcia to dust off a play he had written many years ago and use it to raise money for Affirmations and their new advocacy department.
“What better way to do it than to use a story about the life of Jesus?” Garcia said. “It’s a fight against all this religious bigotry that we’re seeing across the country and in our own state. I was like, it’s time to take it off the shelf, dust it off and revive it.”
Irreverent and respectful
Joe Bailey, artistic director of The Ringwald, said they are opening this year’s season with “Candy Corn” as a way of spotlighting the collaboration between the two organizations that started when the theater company moved into the Affirmations space during the pandemic.
“The people at Affirmations are all such lovely people,” Bailey said. “It makes so much sense for us to be there and the benefits have been many. We’re still exploring how we can boost the partnership and this show is a first step.”
He said he loves that Garcia’s play is so funny and irreverent.
“That fits right into our aesthetic,” Bailey said. “And it’s Dave. What’s not to love about Dave? It’s so lovely to be able to present his work and have him direct it in this space as he’s about to transition out of his current role.”
“Candy Corn” was first produced in Ann Arbor at The Performance Network in 2003, directed by Jim Posante. It opened the night the lights went out on the entire Eastern seaboard. Garcia played Simon Peter in that production.
“It was an amazing event and we all worked so hard on it,” Garcia said. “We had a sell out. Then we lost our opening night and we lost the next night and I was so devastated, but it was a great run.”
At the time, Posante advised him that pacing is its own character, so Garcia rewrote much of it, making it shorter and tighter.
“After the last run, I cut it down as much as I possibly thought it could be cut down,” Garcia said. “I thought that was where it needed to be and then I put it up on a shelf and never touched it again until now. I think the best way I can fight back against some of the religious extremists is with a comedy about the life of Christ.”
Garcia said he finds irony in being involved with this show because nowadays he is a pretty vocal atheist, the only one of his Latino family who considers themselves an atheist.
“But this show I wrote when I was angry at religion,” Garcia said. “I was in Flagstaff, Arizona, a young man backpacking around. I was sitting next to a campfire alone with my anger. I thought to myself, what if Jesus was a good guy? What if he was funny? What if the apostles around him were his best friends and they were funny and everything has been misconstrued or used to people’s advantages like politics?”
He said he probably wouldn’t write the same show now, but at the time, he focused on writing a story about the New Testament characters that people know so well. Jesus is still the son of God and he is straight.
Bailey said it surprised him that the show says nothing bad about religion or Christianity.
“It’s very pro-religion and not in an evangelical kind of way,” Bailey said. “There’s an irreverence to it, but it is in no way sacrilegious. Here’s a play about Jesus from a gay man and it was not any of the things I was expecting it to be while still being really funny and just a great show in its own right.”
Bailey said he’s also very excited to see what Garcia does next because his voice is so distinctive.
While Garcia will no longer be Affirmations’ executive director, he will continue to be a part of the organization.
“The plan is that I’m going to do more arts and culture for Affirmations,” Garcia said. “We have the theater, we have the art gallery, we have the sky deck. I’m going to work with Affirmations to build a more robust arts and culture program.”
Meanwhile, he hopes that people will come out to see “Candy Corn” and have a good time — whether they are religious or not.
“The community needs to know that we all have seen the negative influence of religion against our community for a long, long time,” Garcia said. “Even though I’m an atheist now, there are many queer people who are believers and who are spiritual people. They deserve a Jesus story that supports them and loves them.”