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New drama by local playwright speaks on religious hypocrisy

by Lenise Willis

 lenise@yesweekly.com

Although Bill Cissna, a playwright and author from Kernersville, has recently been pursuing voiceover work with his deep, soothing vocals, it’s his inner voice that has begun to make a small name for himself.

Having written several plays and short stories, as well as a mystery novel, Cissna is now producing his own full-length drama, All About Faith, in which a jaded prison psychologist tries to unravel the mystery of Faith, a prisoner who speaks only in Biblical verses.

Y!W: How did you get into playwriting?

Bill Cissna: I had been writing nonfiction since I graduated college and my career was mostly in advertising and public relations. As I got older, I got bored writing press releases all the time, so during my lunch hours and in the evenings I started writing fiction.

In 2002 when our son began going to [UNCSA], we became enthusiastically theatrical. In 2006 we began going to the Spoleto Festival in Charleston because our son started working there, and that year we saw seven plays in three days. On the way home, I started writing a play in my head.

Y!W: What inspired you to write All About Faith? Cissna: It was written mostly in 2008. It was the second fulllength play script I had written.

The inspiration comes from several different things. First of all, one of my least favorite things in the world is hypocrisy, and I really wanted to write a show about how certain people will take a religious faith and mutate it to their own wants and needs.

Initially, I thought about doing all the research and setting [the play] in Islam… and then I saw a movie trailer [for The Reaping, 2007], in which [Hilary Swank] walks into this dark, dingy cabin out in the woods, and a woman, cowering fearfully, says to her, “Are you here to kill [my daughter]?” She answers “Why, Heavens, no, of course not.” And the woman responds, “Why not?” That just took me as, “What on Earth is this woman thinking?” and the whole thing kind of exploded from there. I already had in my head this idea of a woman speaking entirely in Biblical verses. I thought it would be more appropriate for the play to be in a similar isolated place (with is why it takes place in an East Tennessee women’s prison).

Y!W: Tell me more about the subject and mood of All About Faith.

Cissna: The general mood of the play is sad with a glimmer of hope. This show became as much of a show about the psychologist as it is about the woman in prison. The psychologist has become jaded. She is not a church person. She is essentially playing detective and trying to figure out what caused this woman to be in this situation, and her only chance of hope is to break down this wall she’s hiding behind.

Y!W: Was it difficult writing Faith’s dialogue?

Cissna: The dialogue took every bit as much research [as it would have taken to set the play in Islam.] I grew up in church and have a familiarity in Christianity, but it meant a lot of time with the concordance and delving into the Bible. It took quite a fair amount of time, and I read the book of Revelations several times.

Y!W: What do you hope the audience will take away from the play?

Cissna: Think for yourself. Don’t just buy into what somebody says; make your own decisions.

Y!W: You’ve worked in such a variety of areas: public relations, nonfiction, fiction, plays, short stories and even voiceovers. What is your favorite type of work?

Cissna: Any work that involves research, I love research. But also, characters and their dialogue are the most fun to write. If it’s working right, they’ll take over. They’ll start saying lines I didn’t even anticipate.

Y!W: From where might readers recognize you?

Cissna: I’ve done some pretty short shows at the City Arts Drama Center [in Greesnboro]. They do an evening of short plays twice a year, so three of my shows have been done there.

WANNA go?

All About Faith runs at Community Theatre of Greensboro, located at 520 S. Elm St., Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with extra Saturday and Sunday performances at 2 p.m. Cost is $21 general seating, except for the Thursday preview for $11. For tickets call 336.333.7469 or visit ctgso.org. Play runs about 90 minutes without intermission.

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