Aug 10, 2018

Surviving Scientology's suppression


Squeeze My Cans is a one-person show about Cathy Schenkelberg’s experience with Scientology. The religion declared her a suppressive person in 2011 after leaving Scientology. (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)
Actor shares her story about life after religion

Randall King 
Winnipeg Free Press
July 23, 2018

A few years ago, actor Cathy Schenkelberg was considered enough of a celebrity that she warranted an audition to be Tom Cruise’s new girlfriend in the wake of his breakup with Nicole Kidman./ Winnipeg Free Press)

That’s the theory anyway, recounted at the Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival in Schenkelberg’s Scientology survival show Squeeze My Cans, performed at the Platform Centre (Venue 24).

At some point, she was ushered into a room in Los Angeles’s Scientology "Celebrity Center" and invited to talk about Scientology’s most prized celebrity without knowing why.

THEATRE PREVIEW
Squeeze My Cans
Written and performed by Cathy Schenkelberg
Winnipeg Fringe Theatre Festival
Platform Centre (Venue 24), to July 29
Suffice to say, she blew that audition.

It probably wouldn’t have lasted anyway. As an actor, she was literally invisible, earning most of her revenue as a voiceover artist for commercials, to which she would lend her warm, expressive voice.

And anyway, after spending close to a million dollars at the church to achieve one of the highest ranks possible — an OT VII — she effectively chucked it all when she realized her continued participation in the church would risk not only her sanity but her relationship with her only daughter.

That story is recalled in the one-woman show Squeeze My Cans, a bawdy-sounding reference to the metal cylinders attached to an e-meter, employed to measure electrodermal variations in a Scientologist’s body during "audit" sessions.

It’s a hair-raising story, but it’s told in an entertaining and engaging manner that transcends the subject of the religion started by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard.

"The show isn’t just about a cult and Scientology," Schenkelberg said. "It’s about: what did you survive? Did you have a job you hated? Were you in an abusive relationship?"

“I was brainwashed. I think back and I get choked up because, emotionally, it’s hard for me. I have to relive it, but every time I tell the story, it’s the first time you’ve heard it."

Schenkelberg makes her journey so relatable, it’s not unusual for her to receive consoling hugs from audience members after the play’s emotionally charged conclusion.

"We all have our crosses to bear," she said. "Why don’t we leave something when we know it’s not good for us? Because we think: if I leave, I’ll lose my family or I’ll lose my insurance. I’ll lose my child.

"So I do get a lot of hugs and I’ll tell you, the hugs I get from 20-somethings and teenagers are the best hugs ever," she said. "Because I’ve had people tell me, ‘Oh, I walked down Hollywood Boulevard and they wanted to give me a stress test,’ or ‘I picked up this flyer but I didn’t know it was Scientology, so I went in.’

"So this is what makes me incredibly happy, to reach that demographic."

That helps, given that two decades with the church bring up bad memories for Schenkelberg, not only of her treatment by the church but of her beloved family.

"I was brainwashed," she said. "I think back and I get choked up because, emotionally, it’s hard for me. I have to relive it, but every time I tell the story, it’s the first time you’ve heard it. That means I get to tell you how much I loved my dad, and how close we were, and how my brother’s death affected me.

"So my journey, getting through two decades and a million dollars, has been a long one," she said.

"I still relive it, but I’m functioning and I’m happy. I make very little money, but I’m happier than I was when I made a lot."

"My journey, getting through two decades and a million dollars, has been a long one."

She has experienced some mysterious, petty acts of sabotage against her once she left Scientology. In one instance, a person walked up and down the aisles during one of her spoken-word performances.

In another, she found the air had been let out of her and her daughter’s car tires at their home.

Still, she said she has not endured the abuse suffered by other "apostates."

"I was declared a suppressive person in 2011," she said, referring to the religion’s designation of a known subversive.

"I took a picture of the letter and posted it on Facebook," she said. "It is kind of a badge of honour because you’ve survived something. But everybody has a story to tell. I think of the story of a girlfriend who just got divorced after 17 years in an abusive relationship.

"That was her cult."

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @FreepKing

https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/arts-and-life/entertainment/arts/surviving-scientologys-suppression-488938631.html

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