Scientology is no laughing matter, yet writer/performer Cathy Schenkelberg found enough humor in the topic to parlay her 20-year ordeal as a Scientologist into the one-woman show “Squeeze My Cans” currently at Chicago’s Greenhouse Theater.
Although I didn’t squeeze Schenkelberg’s cans, as the show’s title instructs, I did bend her ear with a few questions.
Janet Arvia: How did your sense of humor help you cope with Scientology?
Cathy Schenkelberg: Humor saved me. I’m not being dramatic at all. I wanted to disappear…It’s funny because I went into Scientology full of piss and vinegar, and over time that person, that life force, was slowly diminished…until I was so far gone it took losing my house and savings and the threat of losing my daughter to bring me back—better and stronger than what I thought I was achieving.
JA: And through comedy you created “Squeeze My Cans”?
CS: Comedy, as you can tell in this current climate, helps to lighten what is heavy but also brings forth truth…If I couldn’t laugh at the mistakes and misfortune of my choices in this life, then I am essentially not acknowledging it…For a long time, I pretended while in Scientology that everything was fine. “Squeeze My Cans” shows you how that can happen, and why…This show relates to anyone who stayed in something too long, whether it’s a cult, an abusive relationship or a job. What makes us stay and what is the light bulb which gives us the strength to leave.
JA: During your time as a Scientologist, you unknowingly went on an audition to become Tom Cruise’s girlfriend. How does that work? Are you given flats to wear and lines to read that say, “Tom is amazing!”?
CS: Many parishioners in the “Church” do training videos and movies. I was called in for one of these, however, the questions about Tom Cruise were asked early on in this audition room. I wasn’t a fan of his, and I stated so. Needless to say, I was “excused and confused.”
JA: How important is it for former Scientologists such as Leah Remini via her A&E series and you via “Squeeze My Cans”
to go public on Scientology?
CS: Many have spoken out before me. What Leah’s show is doing is reaching a broader audience. Her celebrity is a great help and service to this cause. My show is on a smaller level but no less valuable…We all have a voice and a purpose. I think for me, art is a reflection of healing. Whatever your art is. We all need to keep creating. I am so very lucky…The money is not the loss for me, it is the time. I am making up for that lost time now.
Shirley Anderson directs Cathy Schenkelberg in “Squeeze My Cans” through March 19. For tickets and more information, visit www.greenhousetheater.org.
Photo credit: Aleksandra Mendel