Shame and resilience take center stage in Near/Far Theatre’s ‘OverCome’

We all feel shame at one time or another, but Melody Kruse has taken it a step further: She has studied shame. She wrote about it for her graduate degree from Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. And she’s ventured into theatrical territory with it in “OverCome: An Original Show About Shame and Resilience,” which premieres at 6 p.m. Friday, June 4 in a filmed Zoom performance.

Pictured above: Lorna Leslie, left, Marrissa Lopez and Suzanne Grazyna are featured in ‘OverCome.’ Photo: Near/Far Theatre

The production is hosted by Reedley Peace Centre and presented by Fresno-based Near/Far Theatre. Written in a collaborative style, the project is a compilation of poetry, short scenes, chorus work, monologues and movement. Admission is free for the one-time event, but registration is required.

I talked with Kruse in an email interview.

Q: First, a little about you: Do you have a theater background? What sort of life experiences do you bring to this project?

A: I have done several theatrical performances through Fresno Pacific, where I first got to know the talented Julia Reimer, as well as I performed with the Gavilan College Theater in Gilroy, under the direction of Julianne Palma. I love writing and always have. Since being a little girl I have dreamed of writing a story or play that will resonate with others.

Being someone who has battled various mental health issues of anorexia, PTSD, anxiety and depression, I have fought long and hard against the stereotypes and stigmas that happen with mental health.


Q: You came to NFT with the idea for the project, and that you are the core artist and dramaturg. What can you tell me about the genesis and developmental process of this title?

At the heart of this project, we are a community. At its conception, we talked about how we wanted this show to be both about shame and also the healing that comes with being our true selves. Each of our individual pieces and our devised work shares a story of shame and how that shame has been overcome. We want to keep coming over to resilience, hope and healing and want this show to in invite others to do the same.

Q: The press release mentions several intriguing questions: Is there good shame and bad shame? What is the difference between shame and guilt or embarrassment? Without giving too much away, can you give a hint at how these questions are answered?

A: We have different vignettes that show how we are all affected by shame, guilt and embarrassment. Whether it is in the workplace, at school, or in the home, our experiences of shame shape us. Though shame and guilt are connected it is important to note that shame includes the internal messages of “I’m not good enough” while guilt externalizes the message of “you’ve done something wrong.”

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Q: Is there a specific personal example of shame that you brought to the table, and can you talk about it?

A: As I mentioned before, I have struggled with anorexia and I can’t remember a time where I didn’t struggle with food or body issues. My anorexia stemmed from a need to control. I couldn’t control my environment but I could control my food and body; it became a way for me to feel safe. Eating disorders are rooted in shame; it twisted around inside of me like a dark shadow, seductively whispering that I wasn’t enough.

Now, several years into recovery, I wanted to speak out loud about the shame of how my eating disorder made me feel and what it made me do. It is an ongoing struggle and this show is all about how we can heal from our inner darkness, from the demons we fight, and step into the light of becoming whole.

Q: What are a few examples of the contributions that other cast members made?

A: Without giving too much away, we have several scenes about the stigma of chronic and mental illness, coming into our true selves, and shame within the work and home environment.

Q: I’m curious about the idea of collective shame. Can we feel shame on behalf of a country? How about smaller geographical or organizational units, like cities, companies, families, racial groups, etc.? Do you get at all into the idea that there is an evolutionary or psycho-biological underpinning for shame, in that it helped humans form cohesive social units?

A: We did play with some of these broader ideas in our devising and have elements about collective shame represented in our show. We share briefly that shame has roots internally and externally. However, we chose to have more personal narrative instead of looking at the evolutionary and psycho-biological roots of shame.

Clockwise from top left: Jayce Ham; Selene Laszlo; Marissa Lopez; Pearl the Poodle. All are part of Near/Far Theatre’s ‘OverCome.’

Q: Some people are said to have “no shame.” Any thoughts on this?

A: I think all of us feel shame to an extent. Even those who say they have no shame (or are said to have no shame) are hiding in fear of having their internal messiness exposed. As humans, we are broken and life is chaotic. Even if we brazenly assert we have no shame, to me, that means we don’t want to admit that we are vulnerable to each other and to ourselves.

Q: How topical is the play? Do you talk about current events?

A: We touch on the shame of the pandemic and social distancing. When we first started rehearsing and devising we had no idea a global pandemic would occur and decided it was important to have a brief look at the pandemic, even in a humorous way.

Q: What have you learned about shame — and yourself — through this process?

A: Throughout this process I have learned that it is important to not let shame keep us silent. As we speak and give voice to our personal experiences it allows us to create safe space for others to grow and heal. Shame likes to single us out and make us feel alone but resilience invites us into a community of healing and growth.

Q: Anything else you’d like to say?

A: I was truly honored to be the core artist in this project. It has been a journey and such a joy to walk alongside so many talented people. I think we have all become more authentic versions of ourselves along the way and for that I am grateful.

Bonus question: I am a big poodle fan. What can you tell me about Pearl the Poodle, who is listed as part of the cast?

A: The segment below is written by Hope Nisly (Pearl’s owner):

Pearl the Poodle spent the first six years of her life finding her way around the streets of Los Angeles. Upon adoption, she adapted quickly to small-town life in Reedley although she still (after six years away) misses the delectable pizza crusts found in L.A. dumpsters. Pearl loves everyone whether they love her back or not. In fact, the only limitation to her love is that she does not understand why so many humans make life difficult for people not exactly like them. She steered her owners safely through the pandemic, and in turn, they enable (perhaps even encourage) her lap addiction that intensified during this year.

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

Comments (1)

  • Bern Ruelas

    Good article Donald. Thanks for posting this and covering the arts most people would not hear about.


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