5 Questions I’ve Never Been Asked: Steve Swift

Photos by Jay Adkins

Bible Camp! With or without the hoary exclamation point added, the phrase sends a shiver straight up my Jewish spine. Oh, I can just picture it, I can hear it, I can imagine it:

“Hey, everybody! Even you, you little Christian runt! How ’bout a little Leviticus softball? How ’bout a little Ezra arts and crafts? If we put two sticks together, we can light up a fire of eternal damnation!”

You will notice my total absence of jokes about sleeping bags.

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But seriously folks, if New York City had to get a good dose of down-home Southern saintliness on the stage, then Sister Myotis’s Bible Camp, a new play written by and starring actor Steve Swift, might as well be the mint julep in question. The always Southern-minded Abingdon Theatre Company is producing; the direction and set design are the handiwork of Jerre Dye.

And if the name Sister Myotis rings a bell, there’s a good reason: Swift’s in-character video, featuring something of a sermon on the thongs and certainly lots of cottoning about “good Christian panties,” is a YouTube favorite:

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Sister Myotis assumes everyone knows of her 80,000-member mega-church. Even the two members of her flock who appear on stage with her — Velma Needlemayer, played by Todd Berry, and Ima Lone, played by Jenny Odle Madden — likely couldn’t fathom the notion that Sister Myotis’ pronouncements might not yet have reached your choir or thrown you (or someone you love) down to knees in deep prayer. Then again, the occasion for Sister Myotis’ visit — an annual Women’s Church Retreat — is the perfect way to give “backsliders, whoremongers, and the ‘chronically mediocre’ a second chance at salvation.”

For if the truth be told, not only is Sister Myotis doing the Lord’s work, but Lord knows New York needs a lot of work. Can I get an “Amen”?

(Oh, so you’re wondering who Swift is? Here’s his bio:

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Memphis-based actor and playwright Steve Swift received a Memphis Theatre Award for Outstanding Performance for his roles in The Merry Wives of Windsor, Floodwatch and Translations. Regionally, he was recently seen in Playhouse on the Square’s production of Amadeus and in Voices of the South’s Place of Enchantment. Since joining Voices of the South in 1999, he has become recognizable to schoolchildren across Memphis for his role as Mother Duck in Voices of the South’s Southern version of The Ugly Duckling. He is an alumnus of the University of Memphis.

Dye, by the way, is artistic director of Voices of the South.)

Can I get an “Amen” now?

Sister Myotis’s Bible Camp runs June 20 through July 4 at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre (312 W. 36th St.). Call 212-868-2055 for tickets or click here.

And now, 5 questions Steve Swift has never been asked — and a bonus question:

1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
“Are you related to me?”

2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
From someone who had seen my YouTube video preaching against the proliferation of thong-panty wearers in churches: “We are praying for your ministry…how can we book you to come minister to our congregation?”

3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has ever asked you about your work?
Weirdest question? How about weird situation? I have yet to determine whether it’s due to my agility as an actor or my decidedly unmasculine features, but the truth of the matter is that many people (particularly senior citizens in the South) are often left with the impression that I am a woman. Meeting audience members in costume, it still baffles me when I encounter those that don’t have a clue — poised, elderly Southern ladies openly discussing the trials of menopause and their husbands standing alongside offering no eye contact, mesmerized by my ample “rack”! The constant objectification is sometimes more than I can bear!

4) Viewing your YouTube thong video, Sister Myotis is clearly a beacon of faith. Who are her evangelical idols? Which evangelical idols, in her view, have transgressed against God the most? What does she know about religion that the rest of us don’t?
I don’t think Myotis really has any evangelical idols…her assumption would always be that others would look to her for guidance! Myotis understands the power of authority — she interprets scripture, sermons and her own “prophetic dreams” with a misguided sense of logic that always serves her ever-growing quest for control over others. Her moral compass isn’t really God as much as her insatiable need to be right. And for the record…I have been told that I bear a strong resemblance to Sister Vestal Goodman!

5) Does Sister Myotis believe homosexuality is a sin? If so, could she describe in vivid detail what will happen to Sen. Larry Craig, Rep. Mark Foley, Ted Haggard and George Rekers when they die? Can she offer proof so the rest of us won’t offend the Lord?
Myotis only keeps abreast of current news through secondhand sources — the preachers at church tell her all she needs to know about what’s going on in the world. When I ran this list of names by her, she said that it was her understanding that Sen. Craig gets a foot palsy when constipated, Pastor Haggard was on Oprah (so he’s been forgiven), Pastor Rekers has a bad back and was simply in need of a personal “caregiver” when he made his purchase on Rentboy.com, and Mark Foley is from Florida, so his behavior should have been expected, anyway. Like all sinners (and Floridians), Rep. Foley will burn forever and all time in a lake of fire and never escape no matter how much he hollers and screams.

For the record, Myotis actually had to look the word “homosexuality” up in her trusty Funk & Wagnalls. When she found out that it meant “taking a gay lover,” she explained that as good Christian woman from the South, that is just one issue she doesn’t have to deal with. In the South (aside from Florida), it is understood that “those kinds of people” simply move away (to places like New York City), while the few that might remain simply run their beauty parlors in a discreet fashion and stay out of the suburbs.

Bonus question:

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6) As an actor, why are Southern Bible-thumpers more inherently funny than Northern Bible-thumpers? Have any religious leaders in Memphis threatened or assailed your work as Sister Myotis in any way — overtly or subtly?
Are there really Northern Bible-thumpers? Really?

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Actually, I’ve had no problems at all from religious leaders. Quite to the contrary, many are even fans of the show, and often recognize Myotis as an archetype within the church. I’ve been able to walk a pretty fine line that has allowed me to garner an audience that seems to be about 50 percent gay, 50 percent conservative Christian, quite an odd mix of people that I hope leave the show having shared some “common ground,” if only for a few minutes. And those who are offended by our blatant use of a vibrator as a kitchen appliance seem to eventually recover, requiring only brief hospitalization.