Jana Ross (also our Touring Manager) is the lead artist on the next pop-up, The Forgiveness Project . We spoke with Jana about the work-in-progress and theme of forgiveness.
Q: Tell us a little about your pop-up.
Jana: I’ve been really curious about the concept of forgiveness for a while and I noticed that many of our stories address forgiveness in some way — forgiveness of someone else, towards one’s self, choosing not to forgive.
Many of our stories about mental health have shades of trauma or shame or guilt, and that got me curious about forgiveness on a bigger level.
Q: What has the process been so far with developing the pop-up?
Jana: It’s been wonderful and overwhelming! I’ve been doing a lot of reading and research about forgiveness in psychology, criminal justice, religious perspectives, interpersonal relationships, culture… questions about how do we teach children to say “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you”…
The heart of the piece will be true stories of people’s real experiences. There were certain perspectives I made a point to seek out, but other interviews came from people who were already in our network and just approached me with something to share.
The exciting thing about this work is that you can never really predict what someone will bring to the table when story sharing. It’s almost never the most obvious thing, so it’s a great opportunity to notice your assumptions and just let them go. A lot of times the person themselves will be surprised by what they end up saying. It informs the way I see people I pass on the street, because each person is carrying around this entire emotional ecosystem. I think people are so funny and so adaptable. Pretty lovable.
Q: What have you learned so far about forgiveness?
Jana: (Laughs) That it was naive of me to think I could get a real handle on forgiveness – everything I uncover, I think it just opens up ten more questions!
But one thing that has resonated with me is that… If you’re a person on your path and someone does something to wrong you or you are deeply hurt by something that has happened, it can really alter your reality and the way you see yourself in the world. It can knock you off your path of where you thought you were going.
You’re on this path and then no matter what, before or after you’re not going to be on quite the same path. And I think that can have the power to confuse us and really shake us to the core.
Forgiveness seems to be about being open with yourself; maybe reclaiming what has been lost, maybe acknowledging what has been lost and letting it go and rebuilding a whole new path in a different direction. It all seems to come back to our relationship with ourselves and our identity. I also think there’s a lot of power in recognizing the pain and limitation of the person who wronged you, which seems to come easier with time.
Q: Are their medical or mental health benefits to forgiveness?
Jana: Psychology is pretty short on forgiveness. It’s been more the territory of religion, and is relatively new territory in terms of academia. There are studies that show the immune system is worn down by “holding grudges.” Those that were able to forgive substantial incidents enjoyed better sleep, heart health, and immunity.
As I continue to explore the topic for the production in May, I hope to unpack the theme and share true stories without presenting one answer. I also want to honor that there are situations where forgiveness may not make sense.