In order to be confirmed, Catholic teenagers are asked to profess their loyalty to the Church and the Pope, while choosing from a list of around 10,000 saints to serve an example of how to behave in the world. Allegedly, saints not only provide a road map for Catholics of all ages, but they also serve as a direct conduit to God — praying on one’s behalf in heaven. Or, as some Catholic Confirmation manuals and websites phrase it: “choose a saint you think is cool and who you want to be like.”
Joan of Arc seems a particularly notable choice because she herself was a teenager. Her heroism on behalf of the French during the 100 years war, and her eventual burning at the stake for her steadfast faith and wartime allegiances, has proven an enduring myth. What type of teenager would choose Joan as his or her spirit guide? How would the legend of St. Joan be altered if, as the rock opera posits, she was not martyred but, in fact, survived to tell her story?
Exemplifying strong, empowering teenagers who take on violence and injustice seems particularly resonant with the Joan of Arc story. Taking our cue from outspoken 21st-century teenage trailblazers like Parkland’s Emma Gonzales, Pakistan’s Malala Yousafzai and Sweden’s Greta Thunberg, all of the students in our production become Joan of Arc. The students use the St. Joan myth to challenge authority, heal a divided nation and reconcile their own beliefs.
As the students become immersed in Joan’s story and prepare a musical based on her life, the assignment forces them to investigate their Church’s history of violence, martyrdom and sexism.
Particularly fascinating is when the Catholic Church shifted from supporting the Vietnam War to protesting it. What can we learn from Joan of Arc’s story? Why do we celebrate a teenage girl who embraced violence and died a gruesome death? What does it mean to be a strong female leader, a saint, and a martyr in 2019?
As the song in the show goes: “Cannonfire is holy. War is the Lord’s machine. Dying is an old, old story, death is a brand new thing.”
Now, arguably more than ever, the theater is searching for innovation and a “voice” that resonates with all generations. Joan’s story is more relevant today than ever, with a young, strong, independent woman at its heart.
“I’m not afraid. I was born to do this.” ~ Joan of Arc.