Courtesy Photos | Carolyn Brown                                 Ryan Conarro, who stars in and created “Saints of Failure,” applies makeup during a performance of the show that is coming to Juneau Friday and Saturday. Below, Conarro speaks during a performance.

Courtesy Photos | Carolyn Brown Ryan Conarro, who stars in and created “Saints of Failure,” applies makeup during a performance of the show that is coming to Juneau Friday and Saturday. Below, Conarro speaks during a performance.

New show confronts clash between church and sexual orientation

The ‘Saints’ are coming.

‘Saints of Failure” could have been performed some place secular — it has been before — but Ryan Conarro who stars in and created the new show is glad it will be performed in a Juneau church.

The show, which blends theater and performance art, examines Conarro’s layered identity as both a gay man and a Christian through storytelling and self-applied makeup. It’s coming Friday and Saturday to Juneau’s Church of the Holy Trinity.

“The piece belongs in the sanctuary of a worship space,” Conarro said in an interview. “It could be done in a less evocative space or a more sort of ‘neutral’ space, but it does belong in a space where we can be in the questions of the piece.”

Ryan Conarro, who stars in and created “Saints of Failure” speaks during a performance of the show. Conarro’s appearance changes during the course of the performance. (Courtesy Photo | Carolyn Brown)

Ryan Conarro, who stars in and created “Saints of Failure” speaks during a performance of the show. Conarro’s appearance changes during the course of the performance. (Courtesy Photo | Carolyn Brown)

“I really enjoy being in the questions, which is what the piece is about, and I really enjoy sharing those questions in a community setting,” he added.

[More than just a Gold Rush town]

In “Saints of Failure” Conarro, who grew up as a Catholic Army brat and spent a significant portion of his childhood in north Georgia, shares his lived experiences, explores the stories of saints canonized by the Catholic Church and creates a titular pantheon of saints that celebrate what Conarro said could be considered failures.

“In a way that’s kind of the conversation of the piece, what is the friction between LGBTQ identity and the christian experience,” Conarro said. “Another piece of the story is my experience getting married as a gay man, obviously not within the Catholic church, and then getting divorced.”

That conversation is coupled with a visual transformation as Conarro applies makeup in layers designed by corporeal artist Risha Rox.

“The makeup sort of becomes a metaphor for accumulating layers of identity,” Conarro said.

He said before “Saints of Failure” he did not have experience using his face and body as a canvas for a multi-hued, multi-layered transformation.

“Physically, I’m seated at a makeup table for most of the show at the altar of a church,” Conarro said. “At the same time, it’s actually quite a physically demanding experience to perform it because of the focused energy and coordination it requires to speak and express the storytelling and do the makeup. It’s makeup choreography really. It’s exciting, I like the demand.”

Courtesy Photo | Carolyn Brown                                Ryan Conarro, who stars in and created “Saints of Failure” dons makeup during a performance of the show. The makeup, which is applied during autobiographical stories in part represents multiple layers of identity.

Courtesy Photo | Carolyn Brown Ryan Conarro, who stars in and created “Saints of Failure” dons makeup during a performance of the show. The makeup, which is applied during autobiographical stories in part represents multiple layers of identity.

Plus, Rox had to come up with a design that Conarro could learn and apply himself.

He credited both Rox and the show’s director Ellie Heyman for “Saints of Failure” progressing from a gallery installation to its current state.

The piece is a production of Generator Theater, a theater company cofounded by Conarro and other Juneau artists in 2007, and it will feature Laurie Clough on the organ.

Conarro said the storytelling aspect of “Saints of Failure” lasts about 50 minutes and is followed by a community conversation. Friday’s conversation will be moderated by Saralyn Tabachnick and Ricky Tagaban. Saturday’s will be moderated by Austin Tagaban and a co-moderator to be named.

“They’re there to kind of zoom out and say, ‘Let’s make an opportunity for other people to share,’ ” Conarro said.

• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.

Know & Go

What: “Saints of Failure”

When: 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Where: Church of the Holy Trinity, 325 Gold St.

Admission: General admission costs $25, $18 for seniors, $15 for kindergarten-high school students, $5 for children 5 and younger and University of Alaska Southeast students. Conarro said he was reluctant to advise an age restriction for the show but said parents of young children should be prepared to have conversations with their children about the show’s subject matter.

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