Saturday, 13 May 2017

Hanging Out with Some Calendar Girls: today's By The Way column for The Medicine Hat News


Jesus was pretty pointed when he talked about the importance of visiting the sick and helping those who suffer. Sick and suffering people matter to Jesus. So as a parish priest I spent a fair amount of time visiting and praying at the bedsides of people who were sick. Many of them suffered from cancer so when director Kate Leeming of Medicine Hat’s charitable theatre group Playing It Forward messaged me asking if I’d like to join the cast of “Calendar Girls,” Tim Firth’s stage play version of the 2003 film of the same name, I said yes. I had enjoyed the film and I liked that all profits are to go to the Margery E. Yuill Cancer Centre here in Medicine Hat. 
I’m playing the small part of Rod, the husband of one of the women who were members of a Yorkshire Women’s Institute. In 1999, after the death of one of their husbands from leukemia, these courageous women made the controversial decision to raise money for a new sofa in their local cancer centre by means of a nude (“not naked”) calendar. So far their provocative and unconventional fundraising initiative has raised more than £3 million for cancer research.
Why not a regular calendar featuring picturesque churches or views of the countryside in the area? I believe it was an attempt to raise the matter of cancer above the routine. So is this production. Cancer is so common today that it is all too easy to succumb to cancer-campaign fatigue. 
The Calendar Girls give us all a bit of a jolt. Eyes widen in surprise. Memories rise up in the tears and laughter. Life and suffering and death come to us hard. Respectability and propriety get stripped away. We find ourselves having to come to terms with bare facts in the lives, suffering and struggling of real people. 
I see joining the cast of courageous Medicine Hat women in “Calendar Girls” as a small way of contributing to the blessing of those who continue the struggle with cancer. Coming to see us (and buying one of the Medicine Hat Calendar Girls calendars) would be a good way for you to contribute to the blessing, too. 
The final two performances are this evening at 7:30 and Sunday, at 2 p.m. in Medicine Hat High School’s Karen Cunningham (one of the Calendar Girls in this production) Performing Arts Centre. 
Tickets (if there are any left) can be purchased at http://www.eventbrite.com
Gene+