Lia Rivamonte, for the Artist in Residence Team and Beloved Community News
If you get a call from Paul Kruse, you will want to talk to him. It won’t be hard — he is easy to talk to. Friendly, unassuming, some might even say mild-mannered, he laughs easily —after all he’s from La Crosse for gosh sake. In fact, that may be one of the points he is trying to make with his project, “Once Removed,” a series of audio-based performance pieces, the continuation of a previous work of the same name. The happy-go-lucky, lily-white, hetero-normative, binary, nuclear, so-called Christian family once considered the foundation of rural America was always a myth. A fragile construction built of cheap toothpicks easily blown away when you learn the truth.
And how do you learn that truth? You talk to people, give them the space to tell you their stories, and you listen. What are they telling you? What aren’t they telling you? Paul has become very good at listening, and digging deeper into that silence.
As Unity’s next Artist in Residence, he has already begun his work, interviewing LGBTQ+ members of the congregation, to learn about their experiences growing up Queer—especially if they were raised away from an urban setting.
After earning a degree in filmmaking/video production at Northwestern University, Paul lived for a brief time in Chicago where he ended up working for a Jesuit-run organization, and had to be talked out of becoming a priest by a wise Jesuit mentor. Invited by friends to join them in Pittsburgh, PA, Paul discovered that an active arts community and affordable rents allowed him to flourish as an artist. It was there that he began playwriting in earnest, and where he and friends founded the Hatch Art Collective (2012-2022) producing work throughout the city of Pittsburgh. In 2020, Paul completed his MFA in playwriting at UT Austin and his work has received much attention; his plays are produced throughout the country.
Paul’s work typically falls into two distinct categories — fiction and documentary. For example, his play “Chickens in the Yard,” follows a gay couple as they travel from the families who raised them to the family they make together as seen through the eyes of their four chickens. “Once Removed,” is a documentary play, tracing Paul’s own coming-out after piecing together the story of his mother’s gay cousin who died from HIV/AIDS at the age of 31. It was only when he started asking questions and connected the dots by interviewing his mom and later his aunt and other relatives that he learned the truth.
Drawn to writing for theatre because of its collaborative nature, Paul finds great joy in conversation and in learning about people. His project at Unity is ambitious and will include interviews with people beyond the congregation. He is captivated and moved by the stories of Queer people, how they grew up, and if they came out, how and when. How did the rest of their family relate to them? He has observed that Queer people don’t often hear stories about themselves. He has set out to change that, and he is especially keen to learn about queerness in Midwestern families.
Paul’s mission, as he notes on his website, is to “tell Queer love stories.” Many LGBTQ+ people feel they must leave their families of origin and the small towns that raised them in order to be who they are without judgment, recrimination, and the need to shroud themselves in secrecy. Others have discovered this freedom may actually exist in those places after all. “Love is Love,” as the saying goes. These Queer love stories that Paul wants to tell are not limited to romantic love. The type of love that sustains us can be found or re-discovered in all sorts of places — even in small-town America, and even or especially in the lap of one’s own family.
During his residency at Unity, Paul will conduct interviews, lead Wellspring Wednesday sessions, and present a listening gathering and celebration in March to culminate his work with us. Not only do we hope all community members will introduce themselves and make him feel welcome, but we invite everyone to engage in Paul’s work on a deeper level.
While his project, “Once Removed,” focuses on the lives of LGBTQ+ people, there will be opportunities for all of us to participate. Paul’s Wellspring Wednesday sessions will provide a glimpse into his creative process, and he will share some effective approaches to having meaningful and sometimes difficult conversations with family members, others we care about, and even strangers. The culminating listening session will be a chance to celebrate our connection to one another.
We are not all the same but our differences do not have to separate us. By sharing our stories, we break the silence that isolates. This is work that asks us to further develop our “going deep quickly” practice, one of the personal spiritual practices referred to in Unity’s Double Helix Model of faith formation and antiracist multiculturalism.
The intention of Unity’s Artist in Residence program is to “activate our imagination, foster relationships among and beyond our church walls, inspire spiritual and emotional growth, and open the church community to larger dimensions in the work of making cultural change.” We believe that Paul’s residency and that of our other artist residencies, helps to advance Unity’s vision of becoming an antiracist multicultural Beloved Community.
Beloved Community Resources
Unity Justice Database
Team Dynamics House of Intersectionality
Anti-Racism Resources in the Unity Libraries Collection
Creative Writers of Color in Unity Libraries
The History of Race Relations and Unity Church, 1850-2005
Beloved Community Staff Team
The Beloved Community Staff Team (BCST) strengthens and coordinates Unity’s antiracism and multicultural work, and provides opportunities for congregants and the church to grow into greater intercultural competency. We help the congregation ground itself in the understanding of antiracism and multiculturalism as a core part of faith formation. We support Unity’s efforts to expand our collective capacity to imagine and build the Beloved Community. Here, we share the stories of this journey — the struggles, the questions, and the collaborations — both at Unity and in the wider world.
The current members of the Beloved Community Staff Team include Rev. Kathleen Rolenz, Rev. KP Hong, Rev. Lara Cowtan, Barbara Hubbard, Drew Danielson, Laura Park, Lia Rivamonte and Angela Wilcox.