Local playwright presents religious views with a Grain of Salt

An Ottawa-based playwright’s personal journey into her relationship with institutionalized religion has sparked a conversation.

Grain of Salt, produced by 9th Hour Theatre Company, took the stage from Jan. 22 to 31. In fact, it took over several stages — setting up shop in different coffee shops and venues across the downtown area.

Written by local playwright Megan Monafu, Grain of Salt explores people’s relationship with institutionalized Christianity.

The exploration in the play is highly personal and was inspired by the playwright’s own troubled relationship with the Church.

“I was so convinced as a young person that the Christian faith and church was all about love,” said Monafu. “And it was really disappointing as an adult realizing that isn’t always the case.“

Having grown up in a Pentecostal Church, Monafu began to question the idea of institutionalized religion when she began studying theatre at Concordia University, in Montreal.

“I think it was partly the process of meeting people outside of the Church who were good people,” she said. “Just kind of slowly realizing that there’s a bigger world out there, which is a very natural growing up thing to go through.”

For Monafu, Grain of Salt was her own way of apologizing for her past behaviours and beliefs. But it was also a way to start a conversation.

At the end of each night, Faith and Arts Ottawa — a mission of the United Church — animated a discussion.

“A lot of people are really affirming of the fact that we really need to have a conversation,” said Monafu. “And they’re happy to have a conversation. Even if they don’t agree with all the points.”

A piece of verbatim theatre, Grain of Salt featured opinions and views collected from the public during the research phase of the play. Monafu conducted interviews with 28 people and everyone interviewed had at least one line in the play said the playwright.

While structuring the play, Monafu made a conscious effort to move from black and white views to a more nuanced perspective.

“I think that’s the best way to honour people. Because the people in the interviews, most of them don’t have everything figured out. Everybody has a lot of grey views and so I wanted to portray that and show how people have a lot of nuances.”

Thomas Sherwood, adjunct research professor in sociology, anthropology and religion at Carleton University and member of Faith and Arts Ottawa, has also been involved in similar projects.

Sherwood’s research focuses mainly on the spiritual but not religious category of the young adult population. He characterizes this group as “ethical concerned citizens who want to make a positive difference.”

So far Sherwood has conducted over 600 interviews with multi-faith participants across the country. Some of these verbatim statements have been featured in a play similar to Monafu’s, called The God Monologues. And yet another production is in the works for this year’s Fringe Fest. This time, it’ll be called God Verbatim.

Sherwood said the most interesting thing he has found in his research is that while adults in their late-twenties are comfortable with their decision to opt out of institutionalized religion and are “happy to nourish their own spirituality with personal devotional practices,” they are lonely.

Faith and Arts Ottawa gives these spiritual but not religious individuals a place to gather.

“Responding to young adults in today’s society, means the opposite of sitting in church and waiting for them to come,” said Sherwood. “It’s about finding where they gather and supporting them.”