The Girls In The Van

Meister Eckhart Burlesque

Satori Dog | Friday 24 March 2017

I applied for a spot at the Vancouver Fringe Festival shortly before I moved to Vancouver from the Bay Area, when "The Girls In The Van" was not yet even half finished. Well, I thought, when I received notification that the play and I had been accepted for inclusion, I guess I better finish writing the darn thing now...

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want

In the play, Sisters Anna (the super-duper talented Naomi Thomas), Helen (her glorious nemesis, Leslie Hopps), Nancy, and Joan are members of Yahweh's Eighth Day Bystanders. The play answers a question that I'd always wondered about: what do those Jehovah's Witnesses women talk about when they're driving around in their van all day, going door to door trying to convert unsuspecting householders? That's a long day. You can't talk 24/7 about Jesus. (Answer: mostly sex)...

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures

I was walking in the West End, the fabulous neighborhood where I lived when I first moved to Vancouver, when an impossibly handsome perfectly proper young man with Paul Newman baby blues asked if I would like a copy of The Watchtower, the Jehovah's Witnesses monthly magazine. As fate would have it, I did indeed want a copy of the magazine — in fact, I needed 20 copies as a prop for the play. I had been to the JW center on Robson the week before to see if could snag a handful of the magazines from the lobby or something, but the front door was locked. So I said to Paul Newman, "Oh! I'm so glad to see you! I've actually been looking for you!" which is probably the first and only time a JW has heard that while out canvassing for souls. At first, I felt kind of bad for tricking him out of the copies, saying that many of my friends were interested in learning more about the whole Witness thing and that's why I needed so many; but he seemed extremely happy about the possibility of finding some lost sheep, that maybe he wasn't wasting his time after all on the hard pavements of Vancouver; so, in fact, I felt good that I had made him happy, which is a good thing...

He leadeth me beside the still waters

In the final act of the play, after Sister Anna is struck by lightning, the remaining characters read a bible verse and then rip off all their clothes, stripping right down to their bikinis. I then stroll up the center aisle of the theatre space (a tent, actually, not unlike a church revival tent), guitar in hand, and together we begin singing the closing song, "God Is Everything." I planted myself stage left so I could watch the audience's reaction, which was always one of great WTF, as the entire content of the play previous to the burlesque was a thinly disguised sermon based on the ideas of 13th century German Christian mystic Meister Eckhart, sprinkled with plenty of vaudeville style gags and slapstick (which always got stronger laughs than any of the so-called "funny" lines I had so writerly written). It was a classic Christian church bait and switch, the old "you gotta sit for the sermon before you get your lunch," but hey, the audience all left with their minds appropriately blown and humming the tune on the walk out to the parking lot to their cars, the mystical Christian idea-seeds planted within their subconscious and then carefully covered over and tamped down with the planting soil of song and dance titilation...

He restoreth my soul

The original draft of the play had the sisters wearing bikinis beneath their drab clothing, but during the first reading the idea was shot down by all four actors. Oh boy, I thought, here it comes already: the over-reaching actor demands. I had to have those bikinis, they were essential to the whole play. Their suggested change, however, was unexpected: could I change the script so that it was lingerie and not bikinis, since a bikini tends to shift around a lot under clothing and they had no idea what position it would be in when they ripped off their clothes. So, it had to be lingerie, they insisted. (All of the more outrageous activities of that final song and dance number, such as the Rockette's-esque style butt slapping, were devised by the actors, not me.) So, in the name of Art and to the greater glory of Theatre, I acquiesced. Lingerie it would be! Show business is, after all, all about compromise...

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake

At one particular show, there was a guy in the audience who literally had his tongue sticking out as he watched the final number unfolding. My friend, who was filming the show that night from the wings, also had a similarly stunned drop-jawed countenance. So I turned and glanced onstage and noticed that one of the sisters was more or less providing, in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, a "wide-open beaver" show as she worked her chair Cabaret style. I got an email a few days later from some guy (had to be the same audience member) who said he saw the show, praised it up and down, and uh, by the way, did I happen to have the name and email address of the one aforementioned sister?...

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me

All in all, "The Girls In The Van" was a big highlight for me as a writer-director. I had just come off a very major public bomb in San Francisco, and to have a hit in my newly adopted country was a rejuvenating kick in the pants. The newspaper guy called it "quirky, critical, funny, and sexy" (my four favorite things) and said we captured the spirit of the Fringe Festival. When the house was full, the people laughed and howled in all the right spots, and when the lights came up they were all abuzz, smiling and laughing. You can't ask for more than that as a comedy guy...

If you'd like to read the play, here it is. Enjoy!


Sometimes I feel so happy, sometimes I feel so sad, sometimes I jump on the Facebook bandwagon and sign up for my mailing list! Love, Greg