A personalized sermon on a cassette tape track, a meringue as communion, and a blessing from a Beanie Baby named ‘Goochy’: these are all things I received as an audience-participant at Holy Moly, created and performed by Jarin Schexnider . Holy Moly delves deep into Schexnider’s middle-class upbringing in Louisiana in the 1980s. This formative decade provides the context for her exploration into her relationship with what is ‘holy’ and sacred. When I entered the theatre, I was greeted by a full altar of items that were clearly important to Schexnider including a soccer ball, a number of stuffed animals, a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul, an egg cup, and a number of other trinkets, all interspersed with (fake) candles in small red containers. Schexnider arrived into the space wearing a brightly-coloured windbreaker over a 1980s bodysuit, under which were some workout shorts. They were also wearing sneakers which were important for all the movement they do over the next hour.
The show begins with Schexnider introducing herself and her family’s history. They grew up in Louisiana, with ancestors originally from Acadia who migrated south to become Cajun. It’s a story that is shared by many other folks. She then launched into a movement and dance section to upbeat remixes of 80s jazzercise audio tracks. Schexnider asked us a couple questions probing our readiness to ‘be our best selves’ and then based on the answers she gave us one of four different audio tracks via a physical tape recorder for me to plug my headphones into. The audio in my ears was a mix of Schexnider’s own voice, recordings from her childhood, and soundscapes. About a third of the way through the show, the audio track playing through my headphones invited me to stand up and explore the space. I was encouraged to move, stand, or sit wherever I liked. My track asked me to applaud for myself, and so I did. I watched a few of the other people around me begin to clap and whoop, garnering looks (more of curiosity than judgement) from the other folks in the room. I laughed out loud a few times and would hear a giggle from the person next to me a few seconds later as they reached the same joke on their track. These little shared moments created a sense of connection and shared experience, even as each of us was on our own individual journey, both literally and physically as each of us wandered the room listening to separate audio tracks through headphones, and emotionally. Even though we are separate in our own audio worlds, we collectively form the congregation for Schexnider’s personal ceremony. It is both a ritual we experience together and alone. You cannot be a congregation on your own. It is, by definition, a group experience.
As part of another ceremonial element, Schexnider approached the audience-participants with a small jellyfish stuffed animal. More specifically, it was a Beanie Baby named Goochy, its body about the size of my hand with tentacles dangling straight down below it. As she reached each of us, she shook Goochy in an arc beside my legs, torso, over my head, and then down the other side the same way. At the same time, the audio track playing in my headphones explained that I and my fellow audience members were receiving the blessing of Goochy, and to let her energy heal us. With Goochy, there is no negative energy, and I can feel healed. This section of Holy Moly is reminiscent of the sprinkling of holy water in Catholic ceremonies on the congregation during Easter. As part of Asperges, the Rite of Sprinkling, holy water is sprinkled upon the whole congregation at once with a brush or silver ball on a stick, a symbolic reminder of the more individual ceremony of baptism . Schexnider includes a lot of recognizably religious representations in this work. Chicken Noodle Soup for the Soul serves as her bible. The body of Christ is a meringue instead of the (mostly flavourless) communion wafers or ‘hosts.’ This moment of sprinkling also vaguely reminds me of the practice of sound cleansing that crops up in many other faiths. The ‘csh csh csh’ of the pellets inside Goochy that weigh her down is a soothing, repetitive sound . Schexnider spends a moment like this with each audience-participant. During Mass, the congregation is sprinkled on as a collective by the presiding clergy member, as opposed to the individual ritual we see in Holy Moly, in which we are granted individual attention.
At first, I was surprised at how effective I found Goochy the Beanie Baby’s blessing. I think it was something about the repetitive motion with a satisfying sound that gave me and other audience-participants the room to breathe and just exist- almost reminiscent of ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response), the tingly feeling you get in your scalp and spine in response to some sort of auditory trigger . I know that breathing exercises and meditation don’t work for everyone, but I’ve found that it helps tremendously with my own anxieties, so when I was encouraged to take this quiet moment to focus on nothing but Goochy and the positive energy she was bringing, I did exactly that. I keep a lot of my stress in my shoulders and back, and after the blessing I felt those tensions relax. I did some deep breathing, and my heart rate slowed. Visualising that energy transfer while feeling the physical presence of the leader of this ceremony right beside me really helped make it so effective. Schexnider asked me to let Goochy’s energy heal me, and I felt healed. Take this moment out of its context and it becomes completely ridiculous. Shaking a Beanie Baby around my head and torso made me feel at peace? Really? But Schexnider told me this was a sacred moment, and so it was. I felt quite moved by it, and as I watched each of my fellow audience participants have a similar moment, I watched them be moved as well. Devoting time, a hugely precious resource in theatre, to each of the participants makes us feel special. We all crave that sense of care and connection. Schexnider spends so much of this show caring for her audience members so deeply and genuinely. Sometimes when a show spends a moment with just me, that one-on-one attention can feel like I’ve been put on the spot and become stressful and almost embarrassing. In Holy Moly, I never felt that way. Through my audio track I was able to engage and participate in the ceremony, without feeling the need to perform. Schexnider and my fellow audience-congregants felt supportive and open, and I returned that feeling when it was their turn to receive Goochy’s blessing.
This show was very open with its invitation. I could get up and dance, or not. I could receive the body of the egg (aka a meringue) or a blessing or simply return to my seat. The option to refuse was baked into its structure. I knew that if I had chosen to say ‘no, thank you’ at any point, there would have been no judgement from Schexnider or the other audience-participants. Schexnider began the show by propping open one of the doors to the theatre space and saying ‘That door? Always open.’ I’ve been to a lot of shows that try to have an exit like this, but it doesn’t always work. If I have to cross in front of a huge crowd as everyone watches me walk out and wonder why I felt the need to leave, it’s not a particularly safe exit. Coming back in is almost worse. I’ve already disrupted everything once and now I’m back to shuffle past and whisper ‘sorry!’ Holy Moly made that option to opt out feel like a viable choice instead of just something they had to stick in at the last minute as an afterthought. Audience safety is clearly a priority. This show was not a conventional performance on a stage for an audience. We as a congregation were there to engage in these rituals and receive blessings. There was no win-condition or even a specific goal we were trying to accomplish. I can’t ‘fail’ a ceremony like I could an escape room or game. The theatre space had been made sacred, and therefore there was a genuine feeling of safety that is often difficult to manufacture in traditional theatre settings. This ceremony worked because of its genuine nature. Holy Moly used these familiar symbols from Catholicism not to belittle those who still practice, but to recognize the power that they have. Schexnider ensured that this was a space that was safe for all audience-congregants to engage in these themes. In his book Audience Participation in Theatre: Aesthetics of the Invitation Gareth White says that ”[t]o expose unconsidered thoughts or emotions in a semi-public space is risky, just as it is to display incompetence, inappropriate enthusiasm, neediness, distress or loss of poise.” . As part of the congregation, I am not on display or part of the ‘performance’. I don’t feel that risk to myself and my reputation that often comes with this participatory theatre. My participation is not part of the spectacle or integral to the show. If I choose to refuse or opt-out of any aspect of this piece/ceremony, it will go on without me and there is no risk of letting down my fellow audience-congregates or embarrassing myself.
In Holy Moly, I was a congregant at a service of the Church of Jarin. As congregants-audience participants, we spent the hour-long service/show engaging with Schexnider’s own relationship with ceremony in order to better understand our own connection to it. I was engaging and participating in practices that were sacred to her. This ceremony was a healing ceremony for Jarin that I was invited into as part of my own journey to, as she phrases it, “be my best self.” Schexnider encourages us to confront and examine what that best self looks like and use the show as a guide and prompt to think more deeply. Rituals, by definition, are a series of actions that have prescribed significance. All of the audience-congregants have agreed to engage in these rituals that, by themselves, are meaningless. But because we as a collective have agreed together that these actions have meaning, there is no risk of judgement as we engage with them.
What do I take away from Holy Moly? Schexnider has created a ceremony out of holy moments from her own life. I was moved in my participation in her autobiography of holiness, but I’ve also been given a pattern to apply to my own life. Holy Moly reminds me not to take for granted the small moments of ‘holiness’ I can choose to find in the mundane, and to not disregard them no matter how silly they might seem at first glance. If I can find a moment of joy and peace looking at some sparkly dice, great! Taking the time to really enjoy and appreciate my morning cinnamon roll from the local coffee shop can be spiritual if I want it to be. These objects and actions have become more than just generally beautiful or enjoyable; I have the power to ascribe deeper significance to these moments for myself. Going to sit in the coffeeshop and beginning my day with a chai and a cinnamon roll has become a ritual for me; it puts me in a mindset where I am ready to read, write, and work for the rest of the day. It is comforting, but also a sort of ceremony. I am ‘performing’ a series of actions that I’ve prescribed for myself to better prepare me for the work ahead. Religious ceremonies prepare you for the spiritual and emotional labour you will go on to do. They are enacted reminders of what is important and that life has meaning. I might feel that my work is perhaps not so grand-–it’s not flashy to look at and the results are not immediately world-changing— but through ceremony I can assert that it is no less valuable.
 Schexnider, Jarin. Holy Moly. rEvolver Festival, 29 May 2022, Vancouver, British Columbia.
 McNamara, Edward. “Rite of Sprinkling with Holy Water.” External World Television Network, 13 February 2007, https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/library/rite-of-sprinkling-with-holy-water-4358.
 Ward, Kerry. “Fact: You can totally Cleanse Your Space With Sound.” Cosmopolitan Magazine, 9 June 2020, https://www.cosmopolitan.com/lifestyle/a32800580/sound-cleansing-home/.
 Lopez, German. “ASMR , explained: why millions of people are watching YouTube videos of someone whispering.” Vox.com, 25 May 2018 https://www.vox.com/2015/7/15/8965393/asmr-video-youtube-autonomous-sensory-meridian-response.
 White, Gareth. Audience Participation in Theatre: Aesthetics of the Invitation. Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. pg 76.