Eliott Cherry did not plan to write a one-man show. Yet, after his partner of sixteen years gave him permission to tell the tale of his physical death, Cherry created A Finished Heart. As the writer and composer, Eliott utilized journals he kept about the conversations with his late partner, Chris Chenard, to create the piece.
On April 30th and August, the piece will be performed in Portland, Oregon. In April, at The Portland Building. A performance for Prism, the LGBT Employee Resource Group of Multnomah County, and LGBTQ and Friends, the Employee Affinity Group for the City of Portland. The August performance at Providence Portland Medical Center as part of the 2015 Navigating the Journey Caregiving Series created by the Age Friendly Portland Initiative: Building a Community for All Ages is currently postponed.
Here, Eliott Cherry discusses what prompted him to create and share, A Finished Heart.
For those who do not know about A Finished Heart, give us a summary of the story.
A Finished Heart introduces Chris, my husband of sixteen years. At the age of 56, he is diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and has three months to live. As I care for him, Chris shares his experience of dying and we talk intimately about love, forgiveness, suffering, peace and meaning. A Finished Heart is a one-man performance of story, dialogue and poetry with a musical score.
Why did you feel the need to share this journey with others?
As Chris was dying, I was amazed by our conversations and knew that I would be compelled to tell our story. So, I asked his permission to share with the world and he said, ‘yes.’ It means a tremendous amount to me that we are continuing our visibility as a gay couple. Our gentle activism of walking hand-in-hand in our community was very important to us in a world long before legal marriage for same-sex couples existed. Chris cared deeply for all people. A Finished Heart is a way for his caring to continue and for us to keep growing together. An audience member wrote, ‘Thank you, Eliott, for creating space within my heart and the hearts of many to give and receive love in ways unimagined.’ It is so rewarding to touch people’s hearts by performing this piece that I cannot imagine ever wanting to stop.
How was the process of writing this piece? What is your background with writing?
I have always loved to write. I didn’t pursue formal training but grew up with a mom and dad who are artists of different sorts and the world of creative expression has always surrounded me. I studied music composition and performance but I think of myself as someone who has always needed to create in any form that feels right at the time. The writing is just one blossom from that tree. I don’t like to label myself in any particular way, although that can be difficult when going out into the world.
The process of writing this piece was a combination of journalism that could have no objectivity and an outpouring stream of consciousness. I didn’t intend to create a narrative in its present form. I had hoped poetry would be the sole expression. After Chris died, I wrote about 450 poems — although I think I would rather call them “utterances.” But I wanted Chris’ experience to be just as central as mine, so I decided to use my journal of care and conversation as the base. Of course, the editing process meant cutting and revising many, many times in order to create a work that can reach people. I wanted audiences to understand what Chris and I went through together. But one concept I have come to hate is the notion that somehow, art mirrors life. It simply cannot.
Was there a moment you felt that it was too revealing to share this story?
No. And that’s an interesting question because, as the years have progressed since Chris died, it feels less safe to be revealing in every day interactions with people. Being as revealing as I can allow on stage becomes an antidote to that.
What do you hope audiences feel when they witness this performance?
I hope they will feel immensely that which is completely individual and perhaps more than they expected. And will feel a powerful sense of validation of their own emotions. In that way, I hope they become much more than witnesses. I hope they will feel inspired ‘to give and receive love in ways unimagined’ and will feel the infinite love in both time and space between me and Chris. What is the heart in A Finished Heart? It is the physical body that is blissfully finished, yielding peace; but our love has no end.
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