From Bell, Book and Candle to Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera The Medium, from Doonesbury’s Boopsie channeling the ferocious Hunk-Ra to David Mamet’s play The Shawl to that old community theater chestnut Blithe Spirit, the subject of the spirit world has long been popular in entertainment.
On Sunday, Oct. 19, Village Players Theatre in Oak Park throws its hat into the ghostly ring with the world premiere of The Medium at Large, a comedy with music. Written by best-selling author Julia Cameron (The Artist’s Way) and Emma Lively, the play concerns two sisters who visit a medium (Tony nominee John Herrera) in order to communicate with their dead parents.
To prepare the cast for this ethereal undertaking, Village Players’ Carl Occhipinti sought out Mary Louise Stefanic, who has 23 years of experience as a channeler, helping the living to communicate with the world beyond. In a recent interview at her home in the Gunderson Historic District of Oak Park, Stefanic described the process.
“Channeling is giving voice to spirits whose energies are no longer occupying a physical body. A person who channels gives permission to the spirits to use her or his physical form to answer questions, to give guidance, to transmit messages from guardians, teachers and dear ones who are no longer living.”
A longtime teacher of yoga and qigong, Stefanic channels information from an entity called Asher. “Asher is a company of spirits who no longer needs to experience life in a physical body, but is committed to encouraging those of us still in the process of remembering the reasons we’re here on this earth.”
Village Players Artistic Director Carl Occhipinti, who directs The Medium At Large, invited Stefanic to work with the cast during the rehearsal process. “I wanted to be sure we didn’t approach this like a parlor game,” explains Occhipinti. “I wanted to bring in the sacredness of what that means, when you actually open yourself up to that other world.”
Stefanic described her process of channeling as descending into a meditative state, then getting out of the way so that Asher can answer questions. She seldom remembers anything she says during channeling sessions and adds that she herself is unable to question Asher. Aside from a sense of rejuvenation when a session is over, Stefanic is only a tool for others to use, she explains. Her satisfaction lies in helping people feel the love that Asher brings to those with whom he communicates.
She has believed in reincarnation ever since a seminal experience rid her of chronic shoulder pain by helping her to understand the trauma that created it in a past life. We’ve all lived many lives before, she explains, some of them in relationship with the same people with whom we live today.
When members of The Medium at Large cast questioned Asher about their past lives, they discovered that several of them had worked together in ancient Greek theater, and that most of the ensemble had worked together on an old sailing ship. “Their lives had depended on each other,” said Stefanic.
A lifelong Catholic, Stefanic sees no contradictions between her faith and her belief in mysticism (“What do we think the Holy Spirit is?”), although she has encountered her share of friction with other Catholics, some of whom have accused her of being a witch. What comes across most strongly when she talks about her channeling work is her belief in the overwhelming love that comes to us from the spirit world, as well as the peace she herself finds in serving as a channel to that world for others. Reincarnation is “the loving thing to do,” she believes, “to give people chances to keep trying until they get it. We come back again and again in order to forgive.”
Performances of The Medium at Large run from Oct. 19 through Nov. 16, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m., with previews on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 17-18. Tickets are $25, $20 for students and seniors, and $15 for previews. More information is available at www.village-players.org or 866/764-1010.
A one-woman ‘Dracula’
Kicking off the new season in Village Players’ Blackbox performance space is Dracula, a one-woman performance adapted from Bram Stoker’s novel by storyteller Megan Wells, Saturday, Oct. 25, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 26, at 2:30 p.m.
Opening on Friday, Oct. 31, and running through Nov. 16 is Harold Pinter’s prize-winning play, Betrayal, an intimate three-person look at relationships which follows a tangled love affair backwards from its poignant ending to its wicked first kiss.
More information is available at www.village-players.org or 866-764-1010.