Welcome to Seven Minutes in Heaven, GO Magazine’s interview series that profiles a different queer babe each day, by asking them seven unique (and sometimes random) questions. Get to know the thoughts, feelings, and opinions of the groundbreaking, fierce forces-of-nature in the queer community.
When Topher Cusumano first sent me the press release for The Cult Play, I was blown away. I had never given much thought to the ways in which cult leaders attract new followers before. And that’s exactly what The Cult Play delves head first into. Writer Cusumano studied cults in grad school and became fascinated with the ways in which cult leaders prey on marginalized people based on their ideology being “inclusive.”
Actors Stacey Raymond and Lori Parquet are the leads in this brand new theatre experience opening on January 27 at The Paradise Factory in NYC. Parquet plays the role of the cult leader while Raymond is a new follower who introduces them all to social media. There is queer romance, deception, dance, magic and so much more written into this script. Before you get your tickets, get to know these three queer creatives below in our Seven Minutes in Heaven.
GO Magazine: Can you tell us a little bit about The Cult Play and its origins?
Stacey Raymond: Topher wrote the play, so we’ll let him answer this one.
Topher Cusumano: Ha! I’ll do my best! The Cult Play is about The Soul Scouts, a “spiritual group” (e.g. scary cult!) run by a woman named Mama Pearl. The play follows the group as they induct a new follower, a queer woman named Mae, who introduces them to social media. The whole thing kind of explodes from there.
In terms of the origins, when I was in grad school I became really interested in cults, and how most portrayals of cults in media were incredibly straight and white. In reality — a lot of cults function under the belief that their beliefs should be adopted by literally everyone — and they use that “inclusion” to prey on queer people and POC all of the time.
Later I approached Phoenix Theatre Ensemble about this idea of writing a play that tracks a different kind of cult — in that I designed it to be the type of group me or my friends might actually end up falling into. I’m Wiccan, so The Soul Scouts worship a Goddess, there are queer POC in the group. Dance, art, and story are really important to them. On the outside, they sound awesome, but once you add that controlling force of a cult leader, it spoils it.
GO: What is the driving force behind your career?
Stacey: Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve been fascinated with what people were feeling, and why they felt it. As actors, we get to reflect that to audiences.
Lori Parquet: I agree with that. For me, it’s the same deep love for people. I think people are infinitely interesting and I enjoy investigating their humanity.
Topher: As a writer, I’m interested in creating worlds where queer magic feels tangible. One of my favorite things about The Cult Play is how we really play with this line between magic and spirituality — which I don’t think is exclusive to cult behavior, and in a lot of ways can be really powerful and beautiful.
GO: What can audience members expect to feel while witnessing The Cult Play?
Stacey: It’s unlike any piece of theatre I’ve ever seen or read. I think it’s going to cause people to question why they believe what they do, and what it is about cult leaders that people find attractive at first.
Lori: There’s a lot that happens, and there’s a lot that we’re asking the audience to take in.
Topher: I love that you used the word “witnessing” in the question! Our director, Irene Lazaridis, really makes it feel like you’re immersed in a full-sensory experience. There’s a queer love story, someone gets hit with a van, there’s a lot of chanting and dancing… A lot happens. [laughs]
GO: Where do you go for inspiration when you’re feeling discouraged or depleted?
Lori: When I’m depleted I go inward. As an actor, you’re very open all of the time, and I also do teaching artist work — so my whole life is about being open for other people. So when I feel depleted I basically go inward and I’m with myself. For me it’s not a lonely thing, it’s a good thing. Other than that it’s talking to family and friends, pretty much anyone from Louisiana. Watch a good TV show. Emphasis on *good* [laughs].
Stacey: Nature, I think, is a good place to go. Going for a walk is helpful. I started meditation recently — so that’s been helpful. Like Lori said, going inward.
Topher: I find crying helps. [laugh] I cry when I’m super happy or depleted, maybe that’s just my emotional go-to? I’m also really obsessed with my pets (two cats, three frogs, and a gecko). So they keep me really grounded and full of energy.
GO: Why do you think it’s so important to have queer-centric stories in theatre?
Lori: All stories are important to theatre, and that’s not to be like an “all lives matter” statement — but it’s to say, my story is as valid as anyone else’s story. I happen to be Lori Parquet, black, woman, southern, actor — and that matters.
Stacey: It’s real life! There are so many types of people in the world, and their stories need to be told. I think people want to see reflections of themselves, and it’s important to make that happen.
Topher: Yeah, that includes people wanting to see queer folks and POC in narratives that aren’t anchored solely on their sexuality/race. I think for so long if you had a queer character or character of color in a play, their entire arc revolved around their identity, instead of how they, as a person, engage the world.
GO: Where can people find you?
Stacey: Instagram: @StaceyRaymond; Twitter: @Stacey_Raymond.
Lori: Instagram: @LoriParquet.
Topher: Find me all over at @TopherCus. And you can grab tickets to The Cult Play at www.phoenixtheatreensemble.
Find The Cult Play at The Paradise Factory @ 64 East 4th Street (Bowery & 2nd Avenue) from January 27 through February 17; Wednesday-Saturday at 7:00 pm; Sundays at 2:00 pm.