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Lisa Wagner-Carollo: A Still Point

May 17, 2018
MP3
Each one of us is diverse, amazing, and complicated: we will have different paths. It's a journey that each person discovers for themselves; to find that still point within themselves.
Lisa Wagner-Carollo Still Point Theater Collective
Lisa Wagner-Carollo
Founder of Still Point Theater Collective

About the Guest

Ms. Wagner-Carollo is an agent of social change: through theatre, social justice, and spirituality, she has been making an effort to reach marginalized communities through art. As founding director of Still Point Theatre Collective, she works with adults with developmental disabilities, currently and firmly incarcerated women and senior citizens. Her solo performance ‘Haunted by God’, is based on the life of Dorothy Day. Her most recent book is ‘Above, Along, Inside and Through: Poems, Prayers and Reflections’.

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MORE FROM THE GUEST

ABOVE, ALONG, INSIDE, AND THROUGH: POEMS, PRAYERS, AND REFLECTIONS

by Lisa Wagner-Carollo

Through vignettes, poetry, and dialogue; Lisa shares her spiritual journey and personal experiences of living a radical call to the Gospel. Her story is told in four movements. Above: meditations on Divine mystery. Along: explorations of Lisa’s relationships with others and creation. Inside: reflections on the inner spiritual journey. Through: moments of healing through life’s painful experiences.

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Lisa Wagner-Carollo: A Still Point

Transcript

Lisa Wagner-Carollo (guest): In my view, the creator has made a very diverse, amazing, complicated universe. And each one of us is diverse, amazing, and complicated, and very different, you know; so we may have different… we will have different paths. It’s… it’s a journey that each person discovers for themselves; to find that still point with within themselves, to know that when we face vulnerability within ourselves and when things fall apart, everything falls apart, look within yourself for that… for strength and also to reach out and, I mean, to be able to gain strength from each other and from other people, and to go beneath the surface.

Simone Salis (host): I am Simone Salis and this is Hoomans with today’s guest Lisa Wagner-Carollo.

[Musical Interlude]

Simone Salis: Lisa Wagner-Carollo is an agent of social change through theatre, social justice, and spirituality. For almost 30 years, she has been making an effort to reach marginalized communities through art. As founding director of Still Point Theatre Collective, Mrs. Wagner- Carollo works…

…with adults with developmental disabilities, currently and firmly incarcerated women and senior citizens, both on and off stage, to become a catalyst of systemic change. As a performer, Lisa is on stage with Haunted by God, her solo show performed around the world and based on the life of Dorothy Day. Her most recent book is ‘Above, Along, Inside and Through; Poems, Prayers and Reflections’. Lisa, what was the inner motivation to write your book? When did you realize, “I want to write something. I feel the need to write something, maybe, I don’t know,”?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Well, I’d been writing all through high school. You know, I loved writing and loved the class; we had personal experience writing. And my teacher, Mr. Brown, at the end of class one day, told me that… you know, he hesitated a little bit he said, “I think you could make a living as a writer,” you know? And that inspired me, you know, when I was very, very young to really think about writing as a career. But I was mostly focused on theater, so my writing became more of what I did to work out what was happening in my life and to… to journal. And, for example, when I was 18 years old, my family had a great tragedy, in that my older brother who was 23 years old took his life. It was, you know, unspeakable of course, you know, and very difficult to process. And in fact, I remember… I don’t think I really told anyone new that I had just met who wasn’t with me at the time of his… his death, I… it took me about 3 years to even be able to talk about it. It just seems so unspeakable. So a lot of how I process his death was through writing. And I continued to have experiences like when I came to Chicago, I started working at a Catholic Worker house, working with people who had AIDS and were coming off the streets in the Woodlawn neighborhood. That experience also helped me to continue to heal from my brother’s death, and I would write about those experiences in relation to my relationship with my brother.

Simone Salis: And speaking of ‘Above, Along, Inside and Through’, how many of your years are inside book? All of them?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: (Laughs). Well, I know for sure there’s one poem that my publisher and I dated for 1993. There’s… there’s many poems that go back to a time when I was much younger, and yet my publisher and I would look at those poems and the perspective was… was very different than what I would write now. But we still felt that they had a gift to give and that they still would speak to people going through similar situations, even though I would look at it and I’d tell her, “I would not write that now,” you know? But we still felt that those poems still had force and something to give, so we kept them in there too.

Simone Salis: So they represent you in like in a crystallized moment of your life. You were going some… through something.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Right.

Simone Salis: Now, you recognize it as your past self; as your previous version. (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Exactly. And I’m 54 now and, needless to say, we grow and change through… through our decades and… and see life differently and shift in perspective. But we… through this book, we wanted to honor all those different perspectives that unfolded through the years.

Simone Salis: Since you are looking back at also your old self, your former self in this book and now, what did you think you wanted when you were in your early 20s, when you were like also in that… or in your mid-20s when you wear like found in Still Point Theatre? And I explain what it is in a moment, but what do you think you wanted at the time?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Well, I… I wanted to be an actress since I was 5 years old; ever since I can remember, really. My parents were both singers and actors and very involved with community theater. And so it was always around and I got so much energy from that and so much joy from that that I just assumed that, when I got older, I would be an actress and a singer. And when I was 5 years old, in fact my dad got a television set, this big, old huge television set so I could use it as a marionette theater. And then I continued through my childhood to put on shows in the basement and in the backyard. And I would recruit all the… all the neighborhoods. And in fact, I… one of my favorite memories is fifth grade, and…

Simone Salis: What did you do?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Jesus Christ Superstar had just come out.

Simone Salis: (Laughs). 

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And I was… you know, it’s downtown right now.

Simone Salis: Yeah, it is. (Laughs)

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: (Laughs). And I was so taken with Jesus Christ Superstar and I said… I said, “Oh, you know, I want to produce that…”

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: “… in the neighborhood with the kids,” you know?

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And so my little boyfriend was going to, you know, be Jesus.

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And I was going to play Mary Magdalene. And, you know, this kid down the street I was going to cast as Herod; I had it all worked out. And so I… we had a rehearsal in the backyard and we had, when I was growing up, a huge patio that always acted as our stage. It was made of bricks; my dad made it. And I remember I gathered all these kids together and I was so serious about it and so passionate. And… but they didn’t really catch the flame. They were just… (Laughs).

Simone Salis: They’re just playing along to make you… like, “Alright, let’s do it. The producer wants to do it.”

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: They were running around, screaming, you know… you know, putting water on each other with the hose and, you know?

Simone Salis: Aww!

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And I was just disgusted, and so it never happened. I always tell people I cancelled the project. (Laughs).

Simone Salis: Okay yes. You’re like, “Ugh! They’re not ready for it.”

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: So… so I guess even, you know, in fifth grade, I still had this little seed of spirituality that had been planted. And…

Simone Salis: So the seed… the seed for your passion for theater and acting comes from your family because your mom and dad, that’s what they did.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Uh-huh, uh-huh.

Simone Salis: And is that the same for the seed of spirituality? Because I just want to say, in one word, I talked about Still Point Theatre Collective, but then is your way to reach out and put together like social justice, theater, and spirituality, to reach, as we say it, like marginalized communities. So those are 3 peculiar…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: When I turned 15, and I write about that in the book, I went to a church retreat with her friend and she brought me along. It was really the first time that it hit me that my spiritual life could be something that was every day, not just, in my mind, it was something we went and did on Sunday mornings, you know, an hour at church.

Simone Salis: It wasn’t routine at that point like the thing that… it was like it’s not routine, it can be active part.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yes, and… and the people at the retreat were saying, you know, “You can walk with God every single day,” and it just blew me away; I was, “Really?” And… and, you know, something in me was really definitely stirred by that. And so I made a commitment to walk that path when I was 15 years old. And so I started looking at ministry as I went through high school.

Simone Salis: As an option, okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: But I was still going… getting on stage and singing and, you know, in all the musicals and…(Laughs). But then when I got to college a couple things happened, my brother’s death occurred the first…. I had been in school one month and when I, you know, my sister came to tell me that that he had died… throughout college, I… I don’t know. I began to wake up to the pain in the world, how much people were suffering, and I started being drawn towards social justice and peace, and started being involved at the Catholic Campus Center and going to work in Washington with people who were homeless and… and really feeling deeply passionate about this, and really wanting to make this my life’s work. So by the time I got out of college, I wanted to put together spirituality…

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: … with performing and singing and social justice. 

Simone Salis: So you… you… yeah, you decided like… well, you were looking into ministry you said, and then eventually, you decided, “That’s not the classic path like… that I want to do,” but…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yea, I was a performer, so…

Simone Salis: Yeah. So do you think this is your way to follow the ministry like to actually answer this call? Because you had a call. You went through this retreat, you… you had your own call.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Right.

Simone Salis: And… and you realized you had it and you would need to follow it, but… but eventually, this is the way you’re following it. So this… is that your ministry? Well… I don’t… I don’t… I don’t want to… yeah, I don’t…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: I would say so, yes.

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Definitely, definitely, I felt like it was a call. When I was 22, 23, I had a very clear idea that this is what I wanted to do; that I want to combine spirituality, social justice, and performance. As I read the Gospels, as I tried to live what I believed, I was very passionate about not holding back and just really following what I read in the Gospels and really trying to live that wholeheartedly; and so I was very drawn towards walking with, let’s more like say, marginalized people. And so… 

Simone Salis: Did you have any reference at that point? Because you… your solo show is called ‘Haunted by God’ and it’s the life of Dorothy Day, and you mentioned the Catholic orders too. Catholic workers are an activist part of… or an active branch of spirituality; it’s not just contemplation. And I think like Dorothy they also represents that; she’s a person who was acting on to her faith, using her faith as an engine to… to go and work on social justice. And that’s… that’s, you know, just contemplation; the spiritual part turned into action. And did you have any references like Dorothy Day? When did you find out about her? And what… what is part of a story that influenced you? And how did you decide to create a solo show based on her?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Well, my exposure to Dorothy Day, I think, when I was… I believe that was about a junior in college and I was going to graduate the next year, and I knew that was coming up. I was starting to feel very disillusioned because, like I just said, I… I really had this passion to fully live what I was reading in the Gospels, and… and not to hold back; to say, “Well, if I say I believe this, I have to really try; at least try to live it.”

Simone Salis: So how did you do it? What were you practically doing?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Well, I looked around and I had very limited circles at that time; my orbit was very small. And… and I started getting really disillusioned because I wasn’t seeing people doing the radical work that I was reading about in the Gospels. At one point, and I often tell people, I was thinking, “Oh, I’m just… this is… maybe I got to get out of here, this is not for me,” you know? And… but then a friend of mine… I was back in Kansas City, that’s where I’m from. And a friend of mine, she called me, I was visiting my parents, and she called and said, “You know, I’m at this retreat and I’m just really bored. This friend of mine got me to come here and I don’t want to come back tomorrow, you know?” So she said, you know, “Would you go to a movie with me tomorrow so I can tell them I have plans?” and then… and I said, “Sure.” And so she came back to get me the next night and she said, “Well, you know, the retreat’s really getting good. Do you mind going back?” and I said, “Sure, that’s fine.” And I went and the person giving the retreat was the founder of L’Arche, Jean Vanier.

Simone Salis: Oh!

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And…

Simone Salis: Nonetheless! (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Nonetheless! (Laughs). And I heard just a little about L’Arche that  night and I was blown away.

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And then Jean was giving a public talk the next day.

[Musical Interlude]

Simone Salis: I am Simone Salis and this is Hoomans with today’s guest. 

A public talk was being held by Jean Vanier, which is the founder of L’Arche, which is an international community of, you know, it inter… originally it is Christian but now it’s like different faiths and multicultural. And you… he welcomes… he welcomed people with mental disabilities into his own house just to create a community of people with and without disabilities.

Simone Salis: Right.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: So what did he say during the talk? Did you go? Well, it was more… well, he told a lot of stories about his life in L’Arche. But I think what really struck me was the fact that someone was really trying to live what the gospel said and they were really trying to radically give their lives, you know, to others. And I was blown away and… and I just knew, after I heard him speak I said, “I’m going to go L’Arche when I… when I get out of college,” because I really wanted to combine spirituality with social justice and theatre but I didn’t find any way to do it.

Simone Salis: Platform or way to do it.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yeah, I could find…

Simone Salis: Yeah, kay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And, again, my orbit was really small.

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: But I couldn’t find any companies that were doing that kind of work. I decided that I really wanted to go to L’Arche.

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And so they just happened to be starting a new L’Arche community in my hometown…

Simone Salis: Perfect! (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: … when I was getting out of college.

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: So myself and my friend, Sister Lucy Walter, were the… the first 2 assistants in that L’Arche community and they’re now 31 years old. (Laughs). But Sister Lucy and I used to go to daily mass and we went to a church mission after one of the masses. And the priest told a story about Dorothy Day and I was blown away by what he said. And on the way home, I asked Lucy, “Who was Dorothy Day? Tell me more about her.” And she told me just a little bit about her life that she had started the Catholic Worker movement and lived with people who were homeless most of her life in New York City, and I was just captivated. And so I went to the library the very next day and got 3 books on her life.

Simone Salis: About her, okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And… and I still had this idea of the kind of theater I wanted to do in the back of my head and when I read her story, I said, “Yes, this is the kind of story I want to tell on stage. This is it.” But I saw… you know, I was thinking about this play and this company from Chicago came through and they did a play that was based on the bishop’s pastoral letter on peace. It was… (Laughs).

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And I’m really…

Simone Salis: I’m curious about the success of that. (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: (Laughs). Oh, it was wonderful.

Simone Salis: Okay, good.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: It was wonderful and it was very professionally done.

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo:I loved what they did and so I ended up getting an audition with them…

Simone Salis: Nice.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: … and an interview. Because even though I loved L’Arche and I was growing so much and learning so much those 2 years that I lived there…

Simone Salis: You lived there in the community, okay; for 2 years.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yeah, yeah. Even though I loved it so much, I really miss theater and really felt like I… “Yes, I really have to get back on stage,” you know, “That’s… this is very important to me.” And so, you know, it was wonderful because during the interview, and astounding at the same time, because the person doing the interview, he said to me that he was the director of the company. He said, “Now, we have individual projects that people can work on.”

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And I thought, “Well, I should tell him this idea I have for this play on Dorothy Day.”

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: But before I could say anything, he leaned forward and said, “Well, for example, you might be interested in this. We really want someone to do a play on the life of Dorothy Day.”

Simone Salis: (Laughs). Speaking of signs! (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: (Laughs). Oh, no! I’m moving to Chicago; and I did.

Simone Salis: How long ago was this?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And I told him right away, I said, “I can’t believe you said that because that’s what I was going to tell you, I want to work on a play on Dorothy Day.”

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And so I did move to Chicago and started working with this company and started working with the playwright, Paula Mandus, and the journalist, Robert McCrory, and we created this play on Dorothy Day. And our director, Virginia Smith, and our designer actually was Daniel Ostling; design metamorphosis in New York, and…

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: I was 26 years old and I was… it seems young to me now that, at that age, I already kind of was steadfastly rooted in my vision and what I wanted to do.

Simone Salis: It’s rare. It’s… it’s… I believe some people are lucky enough to find it, some people are not like enough to find it at all, even during so many years; or at least consciously see it and dedicate themselves to something that they want to pursue. 

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yeah. We all have different journeys for sure. And then I founded Still Point in 1993.

Simone Salis: What does it stand…? What does it mean? What it… what is ‘the still point’ in the name of the company?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Sure, sure. Well, I had lived in Chicago already 3 years and was touring. The play on Dorothy Day just hit… hit something in people. And in hit a chord and I did 60 shows around the country in the first year that it existed.

Simone Salis: Wow!

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: I think her life just has so much power that people were just…

Simone Salis: Drawn.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: … drawn in. And so yes that first year, I did 60 shows around the United States. But in 1993, I had gone on a retreat, an extended retreat; actually it was nine… the late… late 1992, really to ground myself once again in my faith and what my call really was. And because it had been a amazing 3 years touring the play and being in Chicago, but like many people, I just tried to do too much and I was, you know, involved in a million projects and getting really tired. So… and burnt out, and I really needed to go and go on an extended retreat to just… just listen again to myself, to the divine, to… well, you know, get grounded again in what my call was. And… and I realized…

Simone Salis: So that’s your stillness; your point of stillness.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Well, I realized that the… yes, I definitely found a lot of points of stillness out there on my retreat; I was on the west coast. But I realized the unique thing that I could do was this theater work that involved spirituality and social justice. There were a lot of ways I could go but this was unique. And I also knew, for example, from my brother’s death, just how painful life can be and how difficult. So if life’s going to be difficult and painful anyway, why don’t… why don’t I just do something that’s in my heart and really totally try to live that instead of say, “No it’s not possible,” it’s… you know, listen to all the negative voices?

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: So when I got back to Chicago, I reconnected with some of my… my friends, some that I just mentioned, and… and I said I’m starting a company.

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Actually, I had a play in mind I wanted to produce and I said, “We need a company and so I’m going to start it.” And I heard… I was wrestling with the name and I saw how… how difficult it can be to be an artist and how you do… you can… my journey has been, at least, to overdo it and do too much.

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: So I didn’t want to call it ‘The freaked out, burned out…’ (Laughs).

Simone Salis: (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And I heard a priest give a talk about another priest at some… at the monastery. And he spoke about the still point in each person where God lives that can’t be violated. And I thought, “Now that’s what I want the focus to be other company, not freaked out, burnt out.” (Laughs). For me, it’s… it’s a reminder.

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: I would love to sit here and say, “Yes, so it’s just been so peaceful.”

Simone Salis: (Laughs). Yeah, that’s great, yes

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: “Just serene ever since,” you know? (Laughs).

Simone Salis: “Ever since, I’ve been sitting still, nothing happen.” Well, what would the point be, right, if that was it? It would be no point. It would be like boring a little bit.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: You know, but it’s… it’s a good reminder and I’m… and it does, it really does that, it really… you know, some days I’ll just be rattled and then… then I’ll remember, “No, this… I really want to go back to the still point.” So…

Simone Salis: I… in 2012, I was in San Francisco. I said you just reminded me of a talk that I heard about… there is the San Francisco Zen Center. I was visiting, I just… I just go for the Dharma talk…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yes, Uh-huh.

 Simone Salis: … on a Saturday. And I was there and the Dharma talk revolved about the mind posture. Like sometimes we just think about their meditation about the physical posture and the breathing and everything else, but in life, every day we do need to find some stillness in our mind posture, in like trying to look at things from a calm, outside perspective and not just burnout. So that’s… that’s your own stillness; you wanted to find it in what you do and eventually your personal goal, reaching out towards others. And you do work with women that are in prison, for example, among others. What happens there? How does one of the programs that you created with Still Point Theatre work? You go there, which kind of work do you do? How is that helpful to a person that is living their own life right now, it’s even in a closed environment with very strict rules?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: We actually… the work with women who are incarcerated started in 1998. But I must say that I always had a vision when Still Point began the 1993 and we were touring the play on Dorothy Day and we wrote a play at that time, Paula Mandus wrote it on Jean Donovan, who was one of the 4 North American church women killed in El Salvador in 1980.

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: So we were doing our professional work and touring. And… but I always knew, always knew that part of the work was going to be reaching out and walking with people who are marginalized in our own community. So I… I had a very difficult year in 1998 and I was just kind of wallowing in that for a few months. But then I decided, “Well, I’d rather take this energy and do something that’s going to work for healing,” okay? I know at some point I had read about people doing theater in prisons, and women in prison came to my mind. And I thought, “Hmm, maybe this is the moment to… to start this kind of work with Still Point.” We were already doing some theater with adults with developmental disabilities at that point too.

Simone Salis: And that also came from your L’Arche experience. That probably was the easy passage of like… okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Right, right, yes, most definitely.

Simone Salis: It was not so easy. Let’s say logical; not easy.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: (Laughs).  Yes, logical. And so I had a couple friends, Patty and Patsy Crowley, who were volunteering on Sundays at the federal prison downtown.

Simone Salis: Sure, the…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: MMC.

Simone Salis: Chicago Metropolitan… yeah, yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Mm-hmm. So I went to them and I said, “I would really love to start an outreach program at MCC.” But then we got a grant in about 2005 from Wheatridge ministries which is now the We Raise Foundation. We started expanding our work to the Dwight Correctional Center and also to Cook County Jail and Lake County Jail. We just discovered many things; many things in this work. Myself and the other facilitators by at L’Arche, we’re just getting tremendous joy from this work and tremendous fulfillment. We just felt like, “This is so joyful on so many different levels.” And we found that the women gave us feedback that this was giving them a lot of life. But what we hope, you know, we could… you have to come at everything with a lot of humility because, as we know, life is extremely unpredictable and… (Laughs) and the unknown is… is waiting just around the corner. We’re all very vulnerable, so to kind of boast and brag about, “Oh it’s doing this and it’s doing that,” you know, it’s kind of a misnomer. Because in some ways, we don’t know; we can only just continue to follow the call that we have, you know?

Simone Salis: You said, “What we hope,” earlier. Like, “We saw that we were like doing like we had this great feedback and we felt like we found joy in it.” And what do you hope to do with these programs and with Still Point Theatre?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Well, one thing that always stands out to me, one situation, was a woman that came up to me after a performance at one of the jails, and she said, “Thank you for giving me hope.” And I was… I was blown away and I said… I just looked at her kind of quizzically and she said… she said, “Well, Lisa, I haven’t been able to accomplish anything in my entire life. I always fail,” she said, “I always fail.” And she said, “I came to your class. I came every single week. I was committed. I wrote that poem. I got up and performed that poem in front of all of those people and I didn’t fail.” She said, “This really gives me hope to… I can do it. I can actually do this. And now I feel like, maybe when I get released, there’s other things I can accomplish; you know, maybe I can get a job.”

[Musical Interlude]

Simone Salis: There was a great feeling probably having somebody come at you and say like, “Thank you because I discovered something new about myself and that gives me hope and motivation for the future.”

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yes. And we do hope that part of what the women experience in the workshops and is that, they will see themselves differently. They will be amazed at what talents they have. You know, we’ve had women say, “I didn’t know I was a writer.” There was a woman… there was a woman at one of the workshops. I wanted to come in and talk about poetry, right? And so I asked them, I said, “What… what’s a poem?” and… and they all gave me their ideas of what a poem was and we’d all talked about it. And there was a woman sitting right across from me and she said, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to write poems. I… and now I’ll finally have my chance.” And so we wrote the poems and then she read her first poem. And it went like this, “I want to be like the water; clean, blue, desired, and in all the parts of the world,” her first poem.

Simone Salis: Yeah, water. (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: “I want to be like the water; clean, blue, desired, and in all the parts of the world.” 

Simone Salis: You know, some people are not given the opportunity to express their own gifts as an artist. And that’s one example of a person discovering it and realizing it and being able to. And I think that’s especially true also with people you see with mental disabilities; with like developmental disability… disabilities. You don’t really see any famous artist that has recognized their classic like developmental or mental disability. And… and… but yet, you work with them. You work with people that are recognized socially or medically like having a developmental disability, and yet they are artists, right?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Oh, totally.

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yes, definitely. Yes, there’s so much too from that. And just backing up a little with… with the women in prison and women leaving prison, one thing we also hope it does is help them build job skills. For example, the women who have left prison, they… they learned public speaking, they learn how to work cooperatively with a group. And we really hope that all that really helps them to… to find work now that they’ve… they’ve been released. Our work with adults with developmental disabilities is actually called the Imagination Workshop. And we see that as, in many ways, a work of justice because we believe that there’s a lot of adults who are developmentally disabled, who are gifted artists, like you were just saying, who are wonderful at entertaining people, performing, painting, writing.

Simone Salis: And if there is no opportunity, there is no social justice in recognizing those abilities and giving them the chance to express them…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Right. So we see …

Simone Salis: … and grow.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Exactly. We see our workshops as giving them a voice and giving them… or amplifying their voices, I should say; giving them a forum to share their gifts and talents. You know, if I were not given a platform, you know, a space in my life to be an artist to express myself creatively, part of me with just a high inside. If somebody is born with the developmental disability and yet they’re an artist, are they… what is different about…?

Simone Salis: Yeah, the…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: I mean, I don’t want to be oversimplifying things at all; I really don’t. But they have that seed of creativity inside of them as well. And they…

Simone Salis: There should be the opportunity.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yes. I feel it’s a justice issue to give them a forum to be able to be the artist they are.

Simone Salis: Mm-hmm, yeah. Luca Badetti, which you know and we have as a common…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Right, uh-huh.

Simone Salis: … friend, he also works at L’Arche. He’s a community director here in Chicago at L’Arche and he was also explaining that it’s like, whenever you don’t see disabled people in a public environment, and especially where culture is made, ask yourself, “Why are they not there?” because they exist but why are there not like given any space where culture is made?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Wow, mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Simone Salis: And that’s Luca’s approach to it. You’ve been working on Haunted by God for 25 years at this point.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Many, many years. (Laughs).

Simone Salis: Many, many years.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: A little more than that. (Laughs).

Simone Salis: More than that, yeah. So… well, speaking of that, at some point, Dorothy Day was nominated, proposed as saint. How did that change your approach to the character; to your own play, the script? Did it change it at all? Because at some point it… 

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: No.

Simone Salis: No? Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: No, I wouldn’t say that really changed it, just because I knew really since the… I mean, the very beginning that I started working on this that there were many people that wanted her to become a saint.

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: So what I try to connect to is of course her humanity and her life as a woman and her struggles and her vision and difficulties and living life. You know, Leonard Cohen has an image of kneeling in the mud; you know, “I’m kneeling in the mud next to you,” that’s one of his songs. And I think a lot of life is about kneeling in the mud and Dorothy…

Simone Salis: (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: You know… (Laughs). Because you’re kneeling and you’re caught up in all the muck and the pain, and yet there is still awe and that sense of wonder and that sense of kneeling and in… in humility. So… so I believe so much of what Dorothy was about was that, and… and not… whether she’s a saint or not. And after… I think, really, the most significant humbug has come after she… for lack of a better word, after she was mentioned by Pope Francis in the talk to Congress, you know?

Simone Salis: Mm-hmm. Yeah, she got the mention. (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: I was… I was heading down to do a performance and in Florida and I got an email from the priest and he said, “We’re really looking forward…” and this was after the talk of Pope Francis. “We’re really looking forward to having you with us, especially since you were named as one of the great Americans. (Laughs).

Simone Salis: (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: (Laughs). I said, “No, it wasn’t me.”

Simone Salis: Yes, the life of Lisa Day. (Laughs)

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: (Laughs).

Simone Salis: From the Pope.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Right, right. So…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: You would… what is an advice for a younger person that you would give to find their own still point?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Hmm, well, for me, it has helped a lot to be in spiritual direction, for sure. Because I have found that very powerful to reflect on what I’m experiencing in my day to day life and to really be able to process the challenges I have and the full breadth of my experience as a human being, which isn’t always pretty; it’s often not. You know, is full of anger; anger at God, anger… you know? And… but to have a companion and someone to help me process that has just been amazing; and I believe that’s one reason I was drawn to spiritual direction myself. But I believe that it’s… it’s a journey that each person discovers for themselves. Like, for example, there may be somebody who has tried spiritual direction and it didn’t work for them and so they need to continue to search for, obviously what… what works for them and where their… there end is to find… to find that still point with… within themselves. But I really think that advice, I don’t know, would be also to just really… to be honest with themselves about where they are and who they are, and to know they don’t need to… to fit some kind of cookie cutter image someone else has for them; but to find their own way and their own journey. And in my view, I mean, the Creator has made a very diverse, amazing, complicated universe. And each one of us is diverse, amazing, and complicated, and very different. You know, so we may have different… we will have different paths getting to that point. Some paths may be similar, some… you know, I… I may gather with people who I shared a common path with, just to encourage and… and build each other up. But I think it’s very…

Simone Salis: But that doesn’t mean that… that our paths cannot lead to the same…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Right, mm-hmm.

Simone Salis: Self-discovery or truth or constructiveness in building something.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yes. And… and just to be very honest…

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: … with an authentic… with… with who we are, to be very honest and authentic with that, to know that when we face vulnerability within ourselves and when things fall apart, everything falls apart, to look within yourself for that…for strength and also to reach out. And I mean… and I don’t mean this as a Hallmark card at all. But not to isolate, to… to be able to gain strength from each other and from other people and to go beneath the surface when you’re faced with…

Simone Salis: To have the power to be vulnerable.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: … like falling apart, mm-hmm. Because it often does. (Laughs).

Simone Salis: Mm-hmm, yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: You know?

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And in… in my spiritual life, what I’m trying to learn and discover is how the Creator continues to work through the falling apart. Because, you know, we often… we… we want so badly for life to go right and everything fall into place, “Oh, it fell into place! It’s great! I guess it was meant to be,” or… you know?

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And… and for everything to just be easy, and so much in our country is easy and quick and we can get it fast and we can… you know, if it takes longer for the webpage to… to load…

Simone Salis: (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: … it’s like, “What’s happening?!” you know? (Laughs).

Simone Salis: Just smashing the phones. (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: (Laughs). And, yeah, you know… and that’s wonderful, and often life is fantastic and things go right. There’s so many blessings that I can count as looking back at 25 years with Still Point Theatre Collective and just so many wonderful people and situations and shows and joyful experience, says wonderful programs, you know? I’m 54 and I started all this theater work here in Chicago when I was 26. As opposed to freaking out about getting older and, you know, hating it, I’m hoping that I can deepen in who I am and really learn how to be of better service to other people as I continue to age.

Simone Salis: Hey, some people are aging and some people are growing older.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: (Laughs).

Simone Salis: So hopefully, you’re on the second part of the spectrum. Today at Hoomans, Lisa Wagner- Carollo, thank you so much for being here.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Thank you.

Simone Salis: And Lisa has been here, she has been amazing, she’s just been going through an evolving personal situation.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yes.

Simone Salis: So I want to thank you for that…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Thank you.

Simone Salis:… for also still being here. Thank you so much.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Thank you.

[Music Interlude]

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Each one of us is diverse, amazing, and complicated: we will have different paths. It's a journey that each person discovers for themselves; to find that still point within themselves.
Lisa Wagner-Carollo Still Point Theater Collective
Lisa Wagner-Carollo
Founder of Still Point Theater Collective

About the Guest

Ms. Wagner-Carollo is an agent of social change: through theatre, social justice, and spirituality, she has been making an effort to reach marginalized communities through art. As founding director of Still Point Theatre Collective, she works with adults with developmental disabilities, currently and firmly incarcerated women and senior citizens. Her solo performance ‘Haunted by God’, is based on the life of Dorothy Day. Her most recent book is ‘Above, Along, Inside and Through: Poems, Prayers and Reflections’.

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I’m always looking for book recommendations, so I asked each guest to share with you the books that made them introspect the most, the ones that changed their perspective on life: it’s Books for Hoomans, mindful suggestions bringing small and radical change in a short-form podcast and curated list. Check out the guest’s favorite books today and find out why they could be the ones changing how you see the world.

MORE FROM THE GUEST

ABOVE, ALONG, INSIDE, AND THROUGH: POEMS, PRAYERS, AND REFLECTIONS

by Lisa Wagner-Carollo

Through vignettes, poetry, and dialogue; Lisa shares her spiritual journey and personal experiences of living a radical call to the Gospel. Her story is told in four movements. Above: meditations on Divine mystery. Along: explorations of Lisa’s relationships with others and creation. Inside: reflections on the inner spiritual journey. Through: moments of healing through life’s painful experiences.

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Lisa Wagner-Carollo: A Still Point

Transcript

Lisa Wagner-Carollo (guest): In my view, the creator has made a very diverse, amazing, complicated universe. And each one of us is diverse, amazing, and complicated, and very different, you know; so we may have different… we will have different paths. It’s… it’s a journey that each person discovers for themselves; to find that still point with within themselves, to know that when we face vulnerability within ourselves and when things fall apart, everything falls apart, look within yourself for that… for strength and also to reach out and, I mean, to be able to gain strength from each other and from other people, and to go beneath the surface.

Simone Salis (host): I am Simone Salis and this is Hoomans with today’s guest Lisa Wagner-Carollo.

[Musical Interlude]

Simone Salis: Lisa Wagner-Carollo is an agent of social change through theatre, social justice, and spirituality. For almost 30 years, she has been making an effort to reach marginalized communities through art. As founding director of Still Point Theatre Collective, Mrs. Wagner- Carollo works…

…with adults with developmental disabilities, currently and firmly incarcerated women and senior citizens, both on and off stage, to become a catalyst of systemic change. As a performer, Lisa is on stage with Haunted by God, her solo show performed around the world and based on the life of Dorothy Day. Her most recent book is ‘Above, Along, Inside and Through; Poems, Prayers and Reflections’. Lisa, what was the inner motivation to write your book? When did you realize, “I want to write something. I feel the need to write something, maybe, I don’t know,”?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Well, I’d been writing all through high school. You know, I loved writing and loved the class; we had personal experience writing. And my teacher, Mr. Brown, at the end of class one day, told me that… you know, he hesitated a little bit he said, “I think you could make a living as a writer,” you know? And that inspired me, you know, when I was very, very young to really think about writing as a career. But I was mostly focused on theater, so my writing became more of what I did to work out what was happening in my life and to… to journal. And, for example, when I was 18 years old, my family had a great tragedy, in that my older brother who was 23 years old took his life. It was, you know, unspeakable of course, you know, and very difficult to process. And in fact, I remember… I don’t think I really told anyone new that I had just met who wasn’t with me at the time of his… his death, I… it took me about 3 years to even be able to talk about it. It just seems so unspeakable. So a lot of how I process his death was through writing. And I continued to have experiences like when I came to Chicago, I started working at a Catholic Worker house, working with people who had AIDS and were coming off the streets in the Woodlawn neighborhood. That experience also helped me to continue to heal from my brother’s death, and I would write about those experiences in relation to my relationship with my brother.

Simone Salis: And speaking of ‘Above, Along, Inside and Through’, how many of your years are inside book? All of them?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: (Laughs). Well, I know for sure there’s one poem that my publisher and I dated for 1993. There’s… there’s many poems that go back to a time when I was much younger, and yet my publisher and I would look at those poems and the perspective was… was very different than what I would write now. But we still felt that they had a gift to give and that they still would speak to people going through similar situations, even though I would look at it and I’d tell her, “I would not write that now,” you know? But we still felt that those poems still had force and something to give, so we kept them in there too.

Simone Salis: So they represent you in like in a crystallized moment of your life. You were going some… through something.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Right.

Simone Salis: Now, you recognize it as your past self; as your previous version. (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Exactly. And I’m 54 now and, needless to say, we grow and change through… through our decades and… and see life differently and shift in perspective. But we… through this book, we wanted to honor all those different perspectives that unfolded through the years.

Simone Salis: Since you are looking back at also your old self, your former self in this book and now, what did you think you wanted when you were in your early 20s, when you were like also in that… or in your mid-20s when you wear like found in Still Point Theatre? And I explain what it is in a moment, but what do you think you wanted at the time?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Well, I… I wanted to be an actress since I was 5 years old; ever since I can remember, really. My parents were both singers and actors and very involved with community theater. And so it was always around and I got so much energy from that and so much joy from that that I just assumed that, when I got older, I would be an actress and a singer. And when I was 5 years old, in fact my dad got a television set, this big, old huge television set so I could use it as a marionette theater. And then I continued through my childhood to put on shows in the basement and in the backyard. And I would recruit all the… all the neighborhoods. And in fact, I… one of my favorite memories is fifth grade, and…

Simone Salis: What did you do?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Jesus Christ Superstar had just come out.

Simone Salis: (Laughs). 

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And I was… you know, it’s downtown right now.

Simone Salis: Yeah, it is. (Laughs)

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: (Laughs). And I was so taken with Jesus Christ Superstar and I said… I said, “Oh, you know, I want to produce that…”

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: “… in the neighborhood with the kids,” you know?

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And so my little boyfriend was going to, you know, be Jesus.

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And I was going to play Mary Magdalene. And, you know, this kid down the street I was going to cast as Herod; I had it all worked out. And so I… we had a rehearsal in the backyard and we had, when I was growing up, a huge patio that always acted as our stage. It was made of bricks; my dad made it. And I remember I gathered all these kids together and I was so serious about it and so passionate. And… but they didn’t really catch the flame. They were just… (Laughs).

Simone Salis: They’re just playing along to make you… like, “Alright, let’s do it. The producer wants to do it.”

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: They were running around, screaming, you know… you know, putting water on each other with the hose and, you know?

Simone Salis: Aww!

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And I was just disgusted, and so it never happened. I always tell people I cancelled the project. (Laughs).

Simone Salis: Okay yes. You’re like, “Ugh! They’re not ready for it.”

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: So… so I guess even, you know, in fifth grade, I still had this little seed of spirituality that had been planted. And…

Simone Salis: So the seed… the seed for your passion for theater and acting comes from your family because your mom and dad, that’s what they did.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Uh-huh, uh-huh.

Simone Salis: And is that the same for the seed of spirituality? Because I just want to say, in one word, I talked about Still Point Theatre Collective, but then is your way to reach out and put together like social justice, theater, and spirituality, to reach, as we say it, like marginalized communities. So those are 3 peculiar…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: When I turned 15, and I write about that in the book, I went to a church retreat with her friend and she brought me along. It was really the first time that it hit me that my spiritual life could be something that was every day, not just, in my mind, it was something we went and did on Sunday mornings, you know, an hour at church.

Simone Salis: It wasn’t routine at that point like the thing that… it was like it’s not routine, it can be active part.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yes, and… and the people at the retreat were saying, you know, “You can walk with God every single day,” and it just blew me away; I was, “Really?” And… and, you know, something in me was really definitely stirred by that. And so I made a commitment to walk that path when I was 15 years old. And so I started looking at ministry as I went through high school.

Simone Salis: As an option, okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: But I was still going… getting on stage and singing and, you know, in all the musicals and…(Laughs). But then when I got to college a couple things happened, my brother’s death occurred the first…. I had been in school one month and when I, you know, my sister came to tell me that that he had died… throughout college, I… I don’t know. I began to wake up to the pain in the world, how much people were suffering, and I started being drawn towards social justice and peace, and started being involved at the Catholic Campus Center and going to work in Washington with people who were homeless and… and really feeling deeply passionate about this, and really wanting to make this my life’s work. So by the time I got out of college, I wanted to put together spirituality…

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: … with performing and singing and social justice. 

Simone Salis: So you… you… yeah, you decided like… well, you were looking into ministry you said, and then eventually, you decided, “That’s not the classic path like… that I want to do,” but…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yea, I was a performer, so…

Simone Salis: Yeah. So do you think this is your way to follow the ministry like to actually answer this call? Because you had a call. You went through this retreat, you… you had your own call.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Right.

Simone Salis: And… and you realized you had it and you would need to follow it, but… but eventually, this is the way you’re following it. So this… is that your ministry? Well… I don’t… I don’t… I don’t want to… yeah, I don’t…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: I would say so, yes.

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Definitely, definitely, I felt like it was a call. When I was 22, 23, I had a very clear idea that this is what I wanted to do; that I want to combine spirituality, social justice, and performance. As I read the Gospels, as I tried to live what I believed, I was very passionate about not holding back and just really following what I read in the Gospels and really trying to live that wholeheartedly; and so I was very drawn towards walking with, let’s more like say, marginalized people. And so… 

Simone Salis: Did you have any reference at that point? Because you… your solo show is called ‘Haunted by God’ and it’s the life of Dorothy Day, and you mentioned the Catholic orders too. Catholic workers are an activist part of… or an active branch of spirituality; it’s not just contemplation. And I think like Dorothy they also represents that; she’s a person who was acting on to her faith, using her faith as an engine to… to go and work on social justice. And that’s… that’s, you know, just contemplation; the spiritual part turned into action. And did you have any references like Dorothy Day? When did you find out about her? And what… what is part of a story that influenced you? And how did you decide to create a solo show based on her?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Well, my exposure to Dorothy Day, I think, when I was… I believe that was about a junior in college and I was going to graduate the next year, and I knew that was coming up. I was starting to feel very disillusioned because, like I just said, I… I really had this passion to fully live what I was reading in the Gospels, and… and not to hold back; to say, “Well, if I say I believe this, I have to really try; at least try to live it.”

Simone Salis: So how did you do it? What were you practically doing?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Well, I looked around and I had very limited circles at that time; my orbit was very small. And… and I started getting really disillusioned because I wasn’t seeing people doing the radical work that I was reading about in the Gospels. At one point, and I often tell people, I was thinking, “Oh, I’m just… this is… maybe I got to get out of here, this is not for me,” you know? And… but then a friend of mine… I was back in Kansas City, that’s where I’m from. And a friend of mine, she called me, I was visiting my parents, and she called and said, “You know, I’m at this retreat and I’m just really bored. This friend of mine got me to come here and I don’t want to come back tomorrow, you know?” So she said, you know, “Would you go to a movie with me tomorrow so I can tell them I have plans?” and then… and I said, “Sure.” And so she came back to get me the next night and she said, “Well, you know, the retreat’s really getting good. Do you mind going back?” and I said, “Sure, that’s fine.” And I went and the person giving the retreat was the founder of L’Arche, Jean Vanier.

Simone Salis: Oh!

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And…

Simone Salis: Nonetheless! (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Nonetheless! (Laughs). And I heard just a little about L’Arche that  night and I was blown away.

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And then Jean was giving a public talk the next day.

[Musical Interlude]

Simone Salis: I am Simone Salis and this is Hoomans with today’s guest. 

A public talk was being held by Jean Vanier, which is the founder of L’Arche, which is an international community of, you know, it inter… originally it is Christian but now it’s like different faiths and multicultural. And you… he welcomes… he welcomed people with mental disabilities into his own house just to create a community of people with and without disabilities.

Simone Salis: Right.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: So what did he say during the talk? Did you go? Well, it was more… well, he told a lot of stories about his life in L’Arche. But I think what really struck me was the fact that someone was really trying to live what the gospel said and they were really trying to radically give their lives, you know, to others. And I was blown away and… and I just knew, after I heard him speak I said, “I’m going to go L’Arche when I… when I get out of college,” because I really wanted to combine spirituality with social justice and theatre but I didn’t find any way to do it.

Simone Salis: Platform or way to do it.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yeah, I could find…

Simone Salis: Yeah, kay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And, again, my orbit was really small.

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: But I couldn’t find any companies that were doing that kind of work. I decided that I really wanted to go to L’Arche.

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And so they just happened to be starting a new L’Arche community in my hometown…

Simone Salis: Perfect! (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: … when I was getting out of college.

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: So myself and my friend, Sister Lucy Walter, were the… the first 2 assistants in that L’Arche community and they’re now 31 years old. (Laughs). But Sister Lucy and I used to go to daily mass and we went to a church mission after one of the masses. And the priest told a story about Dorothy Day and I was blown away by what he said. And on the way home, I asked Lucy, “Who was Dorothy Day? Tell me more about her.” And she told me just a little bit about her life that she had started the Catholic Worker movement and lived with people who were homeless most of her life in New York City, and I was just captivated. And so I went to the library the very next day and got 3 books on her life.

Simone Salis: About her, okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And… and I still had this idea of the kind of theater I wanted to do in the back of my head and when I read her story, I said, “Yes, this is the kind of story I want to tell on stage. This is it.” But I saw… you know, I was thinking about this play and this company from Chicago came through and they did a play that was based on the bishop’s pastoral letter on peace. It was… (Laughs).

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And I’m really…

Simone Salis: I’m curious about the success of that. (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: (Laughs). Oh, it was wonderful.

Simone Salis: Okay, good.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: It was wonderful and it was very professionally done.

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo:I loved what they did and so I ended up getting an audition with them…

Simone Salis: Nice.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: … and an interview. Because even though I loved L’Arche and I was growing so much and learning so much those 2 years that I lived there…

Simone Salis: You lived there in the community, okay; for 2 years.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yeah, yeah. Even though I loved it so much, I really miss theater and really felt like I… “Yes, I really have to get back on stage,” you know, “That’s… this is very important to me.” And so, you know, it was wonderful because during the interview, and astounding at the same time, because the person doing the interview, he said to me that he was the director of the company. He said, “Now, we have individual projects that people can work on.”

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And I thought, “Well, I should tell him this idea I have for this play on Dorothy Day.”

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: But before I could say anything, he leaned forward and said, “Well, for example, you might be interested in this. We really want someone to do a play on the life of Dorothy Day.”

Simone Salis: (Laughs). Speaking of signs! (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: (Laughs). Oh, no! I’m moving to Chicago; and I did.

Simone Salis: How long ago was this?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And I told him right away, I said, “I can’t believe you said that because that’s what I was going to tell you, I want to work on a play on Dorothy Day.”

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And so I did move to Chicago and started working with this company and started working with the playwright, Paula Mandus, and the journalist, Robert McCrory, and we created this play on Dorothy Day. And our director, Virginia Smith, and our designer actually was Daniel Ostling; design metamorphosis in New York, and…

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: I was 26 years old and I was… it seems young to me now that, at that age, I already kind of was steadfastly rooted in my vision and what I wanted to do.

Simone Salis: It’s rare. It’s… it’s… I believe some people are lucky enough to find it, some people are not like enough to find it at all, even during so many years; or at least consciously see it and dedicate themselves to something that they want to pursue. 

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yeah. We all have different journeys for sure. And then I founded Still Point in 1993.

Simone Salis: What does it stand…? What does it mean? What it… what is ‘the still point’ in the name of the company?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Sure, sure. Well, I had lived in Chicago already 3 years and was touring. The play on Dorothy Day just hit… hit something in people. And in hit a chord and I did 60 shows around the country in the first year that it existed.

Simone Salis: Wow!

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: I think her life just has so much power that people were just…

Simone Salis: Drawn.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: … drawn in. And so yes that first year, I did 60 shows around the United States. But in 1993, I had gone on a retreat, an extended retreat; actually it was nine… the late… late 1992, really to ground myself once again in my faith and what my call really was. And because it had been a amazing 3 years touring the play and being in Chicago, but like many people, I just tried to do too much and I was, you know, involved in a million projects and getting really tired. So… and burnt out, and I really needed to go and go on an extended retreat to just… just listen again to myself, to the divine, to… well, you know, get grounded again in what my call was. And… and I realized…

Simone Salis: So that’s your stillness; your point of stillness.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Well, I realized that the… yes, I definitely found a lot of points of stillness out there on my retreat; I was on the west coast. But I realized the unique thing that I could do was this theater work that involved spirituality and social justice. There were a lot of ways I could go but this was unique. And I also knew, for example, from my brother’s death, just how painful life can be and how difficult. So if life’s going to be difficult and painful anyway, why don’t… why don’t I just do something that’s in my heart and really totally try to live that instead of say, “No it’s not possible,” it’s… you know, listen to all the negative voices?

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: So when I got back to Chicago, I reconnected with some of my… my friends, some that I just mentioned, and… and I said I’m starting a company.

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Actually, I had a play in mind I wanted to produce and I said, “We need a company and so I’m going to start it.” And I heard… I was wrestling with the name and I saw how… how difficult it can be to be an artist and how you do… you can… my journey has been, at least, to overdo it and do too much.

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: So I didn’t want to call it ‘The freaked out, burned out…’ (Laughs).

Simone Salis: (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And I heard a priest give a talk about another priest at some… at the monastery. And he spoke about the still point in each person where God lives that can’t be violated. And I thought, “Now that’s what I want the focus to be other company, not freaked out, burnt out.” (Laughs). For me, it’s… it’s a reminder.

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: I would love to sit here and say, “Yes, so it’s just been so peaceful.”

Simone Salis: (Laughs). Yeah, that’s great, yes

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: “Just serene ever since,” you know? (Laughs).

Simone Salis: “Ever since, I’ve been sitting still, nothing happen.” Well, what would the point be, right, if that was it? It would be no point. It would be like boring a little bit.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: You know, but it’s… it’s a good reminder and I’m… and it does, it really does that, it really… you know, some days I’ll just be rattled and then… then I’ll remember, “No, this… I really want to go back to the still point.” So…

Simone Salis: I… in 2012, I was in San Francisco. I said you just reminded me of a talk that I heard about… there is the San Francisco Zen Center. I was visiting, I just… I just go for the Dharma talk…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yes, Uh-huh.

 Simone Salis: … on a Saturday. And I was there and the Dharma talk revolved about the mind posture. Like sometimes we just think about their meditation about the physical posture and the breathing and everything else, but in life, every day we do need to find some stillness in our mind posture, in like trying to look at things from a calm, outside perspective and not just burnout. So that’s… that’s your own stillness; you wanted to find it in what you do and eventually your personal goal, reaching out towards others. And you do work with women that are in prison, for example, among others. What happens there? How does one of the programs that you created with Still Point Theatre work? You go there, which kind of work do you do? How is that helpful to a person that is living their own life right now, it’s even in a closed environment with very strict rules?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: We actually… the work with women who are incarcerated started in 1998. But I must say that I always had a vision when Still Point began the 1993 and we were touring the play on Dorothy Day and we wrote a play at that time, Paula Mandus wrote it on Jean Donovan, who was one of the 4 North American church women killed in El Salvador in 1980.

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: So we were doing our professional work and touring. And… but I always knew, always knew that part of the work was going to be reaching out and walking with people who are marginalized in our own community. So I… I had a very difficult year in 1998 and I was just kind of wallowing in that for a few months. But then I decided, “Well, I’d rather take this energy and do something that’s going to work for healing,” okay? I know at some point I had read about people doing theater in prisons, and women in prison came to my mind. And I thought, “Hmm, maybe this is the moment to… to start this kind of work with Still Point.” We were already doing some theater with adults with developmental disabilities at that point too.

Simone Salis: And that also came from your L’Arche experience. That probably was the easy passage of like… okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Right, right, yes, most definitely.

Simone Salis: It was not so easy. Let’s say logical; not easy.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: (Laughs).  Yes, logical. And so I had a couple friends, Patty and Patsy Crowley, who were volunteering on Sundays at the federal prison downtown.

Simone Salis: Sure, the…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: MMC.

Simone Salis: Chicago Metropolitan… yeah, yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Mm-hmm. So I went to them and I said, “I would really love to start an outreach program at MCC.” But then we got a grant in about 2005 from Wheatridge ministries which is now the We Raise Foundation. We started expanding our work to the Dwight Correctional Center and also to Cook County Jail and Lake County Jail. We just discovered many things; many things in this work. Myself and the other facilitators by at L’Arche, we’re just getting tremendous joy from this work and tremendous fulfillment. We just felt like, “This is so joyful on so many different levels.” And we found that the women gave us feedback that this was giving them a lot of life. But what we hope, you know, we could… you have to come at everything with a lot of humility because, as we know, life is extremely unpredictable and… (Laughs) and the unknown is… is waiting just around the corner. We’re all very vulnerable, so to kind of boast and brag about, “Oh it’s doing this and it’s doing that,” you know, it’s kind of a misnomer. Because in some ways, we don’t know; we can only just continue to follow the call that we have, you know?

Simone Salis: You said, “What we hope,” earlier. Like, “We saw that we were like doing like we had this great feedback and we felt like we found joy in it.” And what do you hope to do with these programs and with Still Point Theatre?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Well, one thing that always stands out to me, one situation, was a woman that came up to me after a performance at one of the jails, and she said, “Thank you for giving me hope.” And I was… I was blown away and I said… I just looked at her kind of quizzically and she said… she said, “Well, Lisa, I haven’t been able to accomplish anything in my entire life. I always fail,” she said, “I always fail.” And she said, “I came to your class. I came every single week. I was committed. I wrote that poem. I got up and performed that poem in front of all of those people and I didn’t fail.” She said, “This really gives me hope to… I can do it. I can actually do this. And now I feel like, maybe when I get released, there’s other things I can accomplish; you know, maybe I can get a job.”

[Musical Interlude]

Simone Salis: There was a great feeling probably having somebody come at you and say like, “Thank you because I discovered something new about myself and that gives me hope and motivation for the future.”

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yes. And we do hope that part of what the women experience in the workshops and is that, they will see themselves differently. They will be amazed at what talents they have. You know, we’ve had women say, “I didn’t know I was a writer.” There was a woman… there was a woman at one of the workshops. I wanted to come in and talk about poetry, right? And so I asked them, I said, “What… what’s a poem?” and… and they all gave me their ideas of what a poem was and we’d all talked about it. And there was a woman sitting right across from me and she said, “Oh, I’ve always wanted to write poems. I… and now I’ll finally have my chance.” And so we wrote the poems and then she read her first poem. And it went like this, “I want to be like the water; clean, blue, desired, and in all the parts of the world,” her first poem.

Simone Salis: Yeah, water. (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: “I want to be like the water; clean, blue, desired, and in all the parts of the world.” 

Simone Salis: You know, some people are not given the opportunity to express their own gifts as an artist. And that’s one example of a person discovering it and realizing it and being able to. And I think that’s especially true also with people you see with mental disabilities; with like developmental disability… disabilities. You don’t really see any famous artist that has recognized their classic like developmental or mental disability. And… and… but yet, you work with them. You work with people that are recognized socially or medically like having a developmental disability, and yet they are artists, right?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Oh, totally.

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yes, definitely. Yes, there’s so much too from that. And just backing up a little with… with the women in prison and women leaving prison, one thing we also hope it does is help them build job skills. For example, the women who have left prison, they… they learned public speaking, they learn how to work cooperatively with a group. And we really hope that all that really helps them to… to find work now that they’ve… they’ve been released. Our work with adults with developmental disabilities is actually called the Imagination Workshop. And we see that as, in many ways, a work of justice because we believe that there’s a lot of adults who are developmentally disabled, who are gifted artists, like you were just saying, who are wonderful at entertaining people, performing, painting, writing.

Simone Salis: And if there is no opportunity, there is no social justice in recognizing those abilities and giving them the chance to express them…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Right. So we see …

Simone Salis: … and grow.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Exactly. We see our workshops as giving them a voice and giving them… or amplifying their voices, I should say; giving them a forum to share their gifts and talents. You know, if I were not given a platform, you know, a space in my life to be an artist to express myself creatively, part of me with just a high inside. If somebody is born with the developmental disability and yet they’re an artist, are they… what is different about…?

Simone Salis: Yeah, the…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: I mean, I don’t want to be oversimplifying things at all; I really don’t. But they have that seed of creativity inside of them as well. And they…

Simone Salis: There should be the opportunity.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yes. I feel it’s a justice issue to give them a forum to be able to be the artist they are.

Simone Salis: Mm-hmm, yeah. Luca Badetti, which you know and we have as a common…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Right, uh-huh.

Simone Salis: … friend, he also works at L’Arche. He’s a community director here in Chicago at L’Arche and he was also explaining that it’s like, whenever you don’t see disabled people in a public environment, and especially where culture is made, ask yourself, “Why are they not there?” because they exist but why are there not like given any space where culture is made?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Wow, mm-hmm, mm-hmm.

Simone Salis: And that’s Luca’s approach to it. You’ve been working on Haunted by God for 25 years at this point.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Many, many years. (Laughs).

Simone Salis: Many, many years.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: A little more than that. (Laughs).

Simone Salis: More than that, yeah. So… well, speaking of that, at some point, Dorothy Day was nominated, proposed as saint. How did that change your approach to the character; to your own play, the script? Did it change it at all? Because at some point it… 

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: No.

Simone Salis: No? Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: No, I wouldn’t say that really changed it, just because I knew really since the… I mean, the very beginning that I started working on this that there were many people that wanted her to become a saint.

Simone Salis: Okay.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: So what I try to connect to is of course her humanity and her life as a woman and her struggles and her vision and difficulties and living life. You know, Leonard Cohen has an image of kneeling in the mud; you know, “I’m kneeling in the mud next to you,” that’s one of his songs. And I think a lot of life is about kneeling in the mud and Dorothy…

Simone Salis: (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: You know… (Laughs). Because you’re kneeling and you’re caught up in all the muck and the pain, and yet there is still awe and that sense of wonder and that sense of kneeling and in… in humility. So… so I believe so much of what Dorothy was about was that, and… and not… whether she’s a saint or not. And after… I think, really, the most significant humbug has come after she… for lack of a better word, after she was mentioned by Pope Francis in the talk to Congress, you know?

Simone Salis: Mm-hmm. Yeah, she got the mention. (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: I was… I was heading down to do a performance and in Florida and I got an email from the priest and he said, “We’re really looking forward…” and this was after the talk of Pope Francis. “We’re really looking forward to having you with us, especially since you were named as one of the great Americans. (Laughs).

Simone Salis: (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: (Laughs). I said, “No, it wasn’t me.”

Simone Salis: Yes, the life of Lisa Day. (Laughs)

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: (Laughs).

Simone Salis: From the Pope.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Right, right. So…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: You would… what is an advice for a younger person that you would give to find their own still point?

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Hmm, well, for me, it has helped a lot to be in spiritual direction, for sure. Because I have found that very powerful to reflect on what I’m experiencing in my day to day life and to really be able to process the challenges I have and the full breadth of my experience as a human being, which isn’t always pretty; it’s often not. You know, is full of anger; anger at God, anger… you know? And… but to have a companion and someone to help me process that has just been amazing; and I believe that’s one reason I was drawn to spiritual direction myself. But I believe that it’s… it’s a journey that each person discovers for themselves. Like, for example, there may be somebody who has tried spiritual direction and it didn’t work for them and so they need to continue to search for, obviously what… what works for them and where their… there end is to find… to find that still point with… within themselves. But I really think that advice, I don’t know, would be also to just really… to be honest with themselves about where they are and who they are, and to know they don’t need to… to fit some kind of cookie cutter image someone else has for them; but to find their own way and their own journey. And in my view, I mean, the Creator has made a very diverse, amazing, complicated universe. And each one of us is diverse, amazing, and complicated, and very different. You know, so we may have different… we will have different paths getting to that point. Some paths may be similar, some… you know, I… I may gather with people who I shared a common path with, just to encourage and… and build each other up. But I think it’s very…

Simone Salis: But that doesn’t mean that… that our paths cannot lead to the same…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Right, mm-hmm.

Simone Salis: Self-discovery or truth or constructiveness in building something.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yes. And… and just to be very honest…

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: … with an authentic… with… with who we are, to be very honest and authentic with that, to know that when we face vulnerability within ourselves and when things fall apart, everything falls apart, to look within yourself for that…for strength and also to reach out. And I mean… and I don’t mean this as a Hallmark card at all. But not to isolate, to… to be able to gain strength from each other and from other people and to go beneath the surface when you’re faced with…

Simone Salis: To have the power to be vulnerable.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: … like falling apart, mm-hmm. Because it often does. (Laughs).

Simone Salis: Mm-hmm, yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: You know?

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And in… in my spiritual life, what I’m trying to learn and discover is how the Creator continues to work through the falling apart. Because, you know, we often… we… we want so badly for life to go right and everything fall into place, “Oh, it fell into place! It’s great! I guess it was meant to be,” or… you know?

Simone Salis: Yeah.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: And… and for everything to just be easy, and so much in our country is easy and quick and we can get it fast and we can… you know, if it takes longer for the webpage to… to load…

Simone Salis: (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: … it’s like, “What’s happening?!” you know? (Laughs).

Simone Salis: Just smashing the phones. (Laughs).

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: (Laughs). And, yeah, you know… and that’s wonderful, and often life is fantastic and things go right. There’s so many blessings that I can count as looking back at 25 years with Still Point Theatre Collective and just so many wonderful people and situations and shows and joyful experience, says wonderful programs, you know? I’m 54 and I started all this theater work here in Chicago when I was 26. As opposed to freaking out about getting older and, you know, hating it, I’m hoping that I can deepen in who I am and really learn how to be of better service to other people as I continue to age.

Simone Salis: Hey, some people are aging and some people are growing older.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: (Laughs).

Simone Salis: So hopefully, you’re on the second part of the spectrum. Today at Hoomans, Lisa Wagner- Carollo, thank you so much for being here.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Thank you.

Simone Salis: And Lisa has been here, she has been amazing, she’s just been going through an evolving personal situation.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Yes.

Simone Salis: So I want to thank you for that…

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Thank you.

Simone Salis:… for also still being here. Thank you so much.

Lisa Wagner-Carollo: Thank you.

[Music Interlude]

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