Shortly after the lights come up, so does the music—and then we’re in church. Christian Megachurch, to be precise. The mega-vibes music, high drama lighting cues, and gravitationally-magnetic smile of Julie Crothers make a portal of San Francisco’s ODC Theater.
And then Crothers begins to speak. Like the suavest of TV ministers, Crothers welcomes us in a round, smooth, and supremely inviting voice. Her body takes up space like an optical illusion, filling the stage though she barely moves. She begins to tell us a story:
God is always watching. Imagine a guy with millions upon millions of tiny television screens—that’s God. And each television screen? That’s us. Every single one of us has a direct line to God, and he’s keeping an eye out.
Did I mention Julie Crothers is a magnetic performer? We’re less than 5 minutes into the show, and already the back of my neck is tingling with the excitement and tension of the opposing forces roiling inside me. One one hand: a guttural uneasiness in the face of Crothers’ uncanny transformation into the body and voice of Evangelical America, a culture that represents for me one of the most violent and oppressive forces in modern US society. On the other hand: a yearning to lean closer. And closer. And closer. Crothers-as-minister is honey-warm; her presence is utterly compelling.
Over the next hour, Crothers takes us to church and back; to personal memories from Jesus Ballet Camp and her first gay crush—stories told with a delightfully engaging mix of words, physicality, honesty and humor; to expertly-physicalized evocations of the spiritual leaders that make up Evangelical America; to visions of a God that once meant everything to her, and the pain and confusion of losing her absolute faith through the process of coming into her adulthood and her queerness.
Dancing weaves in and out of character monologues, audience participation, and confessional soliloquies, and ranges in style from hip-hop-inspired choreo, to modern dance moves, to ecstatic improvisation, and a nostalgic ballet number that she dances while relating a story from her Jesus Ballet Camp days. Sometimes it accents her words, and sometimes it becomes the words. Throughout, her absolutely virtuosic skill as a performer acts like a North star, bringing me along for a ride so compelling I almost forget to notice the craft of the show we’re riding.
A few highlights:
JC with the wrench. Soon after Crothers introduces the concept of the TV-watching God, she introduces Jesus: the ultimate spiritual mechanic. While God watches us on those screens, JC makes sure they don’t break—he’s back there patching wires and busting nuts just to keep us visible to God (that’s his sacrifice). And he’s a badass! Crothers brings him to life with a hilarious boyband-like song and dance that evokes a vision of JC worthy of being Justin Bieber’s original inspiration.
The Flesh and Spirit balloons. “Who is ready to let the spirit in?” Crothers asks the audience about 20 minutes into the show. “Is there anyone ready to let the spirit in?” A single person descends from the audience onto the stage, where Crothers stands with a helium balloon that she’s already explained represents the Spirit. “All you have to do,” she explains, “is let the Spirit in and then ask JC to fix your screen.” The volunteer nods, and Crothers makes a small incision in the helium balloon which she hands to the volunteer. Bringing the balloon to their mouth, the volunteer takes a deep breath in, and then with an impossibly high voice: “Please JC, come fix my screen.” The absurdity and humor of the moment glows like a small nugget of gold.
Teenager prayer journals ballads. Towards the end of the show, Crothers reveals that throughout her childhood and young adulthood, she kept prayer journals—small paper notebooks filled with heartfelt, yearningly earnest reflections on her faith, hopes and fears. “I turned a few of the entries into songs,” she admits. “I would love for you to sing along.” A short me-then-you teaching session later, the entire theater has erupted in song. Here I am. I want to fly, try, grow. The moment is heartbreaking, ecstatic, and absolutely electric.
Throughout the show, I’m struck over and over by the power of a good performance. Though the elements that make up “Holy Crap” are so wide-ranging that at times I’m almost surprised I’m still watching the same show, Crothers’ excellence in performance allows her to switch from storyteller, to dancer, to singer, to preacher, to midnight confessional, and back again with ease. In turn, I follow happily, incredibly grateful to be along for this eclectic, joyful, heartfelt, and praise-worthy ride.
This piece was also published on dance blog "Life As A Modern Dancer" on September 24, 2023. Check it out: https://blog.lifeasamoderndancer.com/2023/09/julie-crothers-holy-crap.html