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An Interview with Lisa Wagner-Carollo

Gordon: What are your responsibilities as the Founder/Artist Director of Still Point Theatre Collective?

Lisa: I began Still Point in 1993 because I felt a deep call to combine ministry, social justice, peace work, and theater. I knew that it would be challenging, but I also felt like – if the Divine was calling me to such work – there must be a way to do it.

Our company recently celebrated our 25th anniversary and I am feeling deeply grateful that we have “hit” this milestone.

In my commitment to Still Point, I wear many hats. I continue to perform my one- person show on Dorothy Day around the country and abroad. I am also currently teaching at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Chicago and with the Benedictine Sisters.

My commitment also includes working with our artists and staff members to empower and embolden their work. I try to listen attentively and respond to their needs and passions. If they are teaching, we have a monthly “Coffee Hour” in which facilitators share their updates about their classes. Along with the other members of the Admin. Team, Hector Alvarez (Managing Director) and Clearie McCarthy (Associate Director), we work to support our facilitators (leading our workshops throughout the city) and help them hone their skills.

Along with other members of the Administration Team, I also work to support our directors and actors who are participating in our professional productions. For example, we recently produced a new play on human trafficking, The True Cost, which will begin touring the U.S. very soon. Additionally, we have a one-man show on Msgr. John O’Grady that was commissioned by Catholic Charities U.S.A., which we tour by special arrangement to interested groups.

I am also involved with fundraising, booking shows, and organizational management, along with working with finances with our Financial Manager, Yahaira Landaverry.

Our staff is amazing. I am blessed to work with such a talented group of people. In fact, our gifted Social Media Manager, Anita Dacanay, has been with Still Point since the beginning.

Most of all, my duty is to continue to believe in the work – and to believe in the people in our company. Overall, to be honest, I’ve always wanted the focus of my work to be close to the Gospels and close to love.

I lived in a L’Arche community in Kansas City – right out of college – and the vision and witness of Jean Vanier has always been very important to me. His passing has had a big impact on me, and has deepened my desire to keep my work close to the Gospels- close to love.

Gordon: Please share with our readers your work with Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Center. Lisa: Since 1998, Still Point has done theater outreach with women in prison. Once a week, I lead an Improvisational Theater class with eight women at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC). I often find this to be one of the highlights of my week. We study the various aspects of being an actor – and “play” together through several improvisational theater games. Overall, I find that the following occurs during our times together:

  • Lots of laughter and fun

  • By the end of a class, we often see ourselves differently

  • We have experienced joy.

We always lead up to a performance – so the women have the opportunity to set a goal – and to reach a goal. Hopefully, this will help them to reach new goals “on the outside” – upon their release.

Along with our program at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, we also have a weekly workshop at the Cook County Jail – which incorporates Improv Theater and the study of Shakespeare. We also have a program in the Fall of each year with women who have recently been released from prison. This program takes place at Grace House where the women are compensated for their work.

Gordon: You have a fascinating background in ministry and theatre. When you studied to earn your certification as a spiritual director at Siena Center in Racine, Wisconsin, what was the most challenging course that you took and why?

Lisa: During my studies, we would often meet “one on one” with each other (my fellow students and I)- to do “practice” sessions. When I did my first session with someone, I remember feeling very nervous – wondering if I would be “any good” at this ministry. However, I quickly discovered that it came very naturally to me. I found that if I simply set my intention to get out of the way and simply (in my own humble way)- listen to the Spirit, that my time with the other person would be life-giving and unfold with great ease and peacefulness.

I continue to meet with individuals in spiritual direction, and continue to have a deep love for this practice.

Gordon: What are your responsibilities as a Youth Leader?

Lisa: Several years ago I began leading the youth group at Ravenswood Presbyterian Church. The Still Point offices are housed at Ravenswood, and after receiving my training in Spiritual Direction, I went to the church (a multicultural congregation)- and asked if they needed any assistance. They immediately said that they needed someone to lead the youth group. I was taken aback, because I was 48 years old at the time, and I often thought of youth leaders being much younger. However, after some discernment, I accepted.

Leading the group has been one of the greatest joys that I have ever experienced. I lead a two-hour meeting each Friday. When I began my work, I had just studied the work of Paolo Freire. He taught a lot about discovering the symbols of those you are working with, and building your experiences not around your own goals, but around their symbols, and what is important to them. So, I interviewed the students and their parents to find out what kind of group they wanted. I built our Friday evenings around their responses and ideas.

We listen to each other at the beginning of each evening – sharing “how our week was,” then we have a sports/art time in the gym, then we have a time for prayer and spiritual reflection – often having guest speakers share about their spiritual lives and ministries. We end the evening with a snack time.

We also occasionally participate in Sunday church services and outside service projects. It is beautiful to witness the strong relationships that permeate the group and to see how the Spirit works each Friday evening.

Gordon: How long have you been appearing in the play Haunted by God: The Life of Dorothy Day and where are some of the fascinating cities in which you have appeared?

Lisa: It is very hard to believe, but I have worked on this play since 1990. The main writer on the play was Paul Amandes. Paul and I wrote the play – along with author Robert McClory. We began the writing in 1989. In May of 1990, the play had it’s first performance at Church of the Epiphany in Louisville, Kentucky. The performance was organized by Just Faith Founder, Jack Jezreel. He was on the Epiphany staff at that time.

I have been blessed to perform the show throughout the USA and Canada. I’ve also done two European tours, performing in Italy (Assisi), Germany, the Netherlands, England, and Scotland. I have also toured South Africa and Guam. Additionally, just this past February, I was thrilled to perform the play in Mexico.

I am honored to be able to share Dorothy’s story, and I am still discovering new things in my performances.

When I first began the play, I visited a Catholic Worker House in Chicago, Saint Catherine’s, and ended up living in the house for two years. I’ve recently published a book, Above, Along, Inside, and Through, that reflects on some of my experiences in the house. It is a joy to be able to share the book after shows, so that I can “continue the conversation” with audience members.

Gordon: Thank you for a great interview. In closing, here is a video from your performance in Haunted by God: The Life of Dorothy Day


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