Interview with Max Wojtanowicz from A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pagent

2664It is time once again for the Minnesota Fringe Festival. This year’s festival features 169 shows, 19 venues and 11 days of some of the most creative and entertaining theatre you’ll find this summer. This year’s festival kicks off on July 31 and runs through August 10.

As the cast and crew put the finishing touches on the A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pagent, I had a chance to chat with Artistic Director and Producer Max Wojtanowicz about his third Fringe Festival production with The Catalysts.

For more information on this show, the Fringe Festival and the other 168 shows visit the website here.

This show was originally produced off-Broadway, how did you come across this show and what made you decide to produce it for the Minnesota Fringe Festival?

I heard about the show a few years ago and listened to the score on Spotify, but I bought the script after reading a memoir called “Beyond Belief” by Jenna Miscavige Hill, a niece of David Miscavige, the current leader of the Church of Scientology. In the memoir, Ms. Miscavige Hill gives an account of her life growing up in the Church and what led to her ultimate decision to leave the Church as a young adult. It’s a fascinating read that I highly recommend, and it really made me interested in how the Church operates. When I read the Scientology Pageant script, I was impressed by the smart writing – it’s clearly not the work of people who are just out to make fun of Scientology. They’re asking some major questions about organized religion and groupthink, which were a few of the themes in our musical last year, Shelly Bachberg Presents: How Helen Keller and Anne Frank Freed the Slaves. It seemed like the perfect fit for our company!

What challenges are you presented with when preparing for a Fringe Show, versus a show with a longer run?

The only shows I’ve produced with this company have been for the Fringe Festival, so I can’t speak to the scheduling and budgets that go into a full-fledged production, but one of the major challenges with this specific festival is of course that you’re presenting your product alongside 160-plus other products that all want the same audience. The question really becomes: how, in a festival that only lasts ten days, do you get the word-of-mouth moving quickly? How can you use social media effectively as a marketing tool (without overdoing it)? And how do you make your show stand out in a crowded field? The Fringe does a lot of this work for you with their fantastic website.

Producing this show has been a joy from the start. We have a fantastic creative team, a really phenomenal cast of young people, and parents who are willing to drive their kids to and from all our rehearsals. I couldn’t be more excited.

This show was originally produced off-Broadway in 2003. Were there any major tweaks to the production for the Fringe? Or were most changes minor in nature?

We’re presenting the play as is! I understand there were some revisions made after the original production, but we are using the script and score we received from Samuel French. There is really only one outdated pop culture reference, but it’s definitely still funny.

When you originally submitted for the Fringe lottery, was this the show you intended to perform or did the show change?

This was the show we applied with, and we’re so glad we got in!

How would you describe A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant to someone interested in coming to the show?

I would tell them that the title pretty much says it all: it’s a telling of the story of Scientology, but it looks like a traditional holiday pageant, with a cast of children ages 10 to 15. You’ll learn about the origins of Scientology, L. Ron Hubbard (and what the L stands for), dianetics, thetans, engrams, Prince Xenu, auditing, electropsychometers and becoming “clear” – all in jubilant pageantry and song… and dance!

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