By: Dominique Johnson
“Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about, be kind,” it was this quote by Ian Maclaren that inspired Darius Mannino to produce a show incorporating the prayer of St. Francis for the community of Tenakee Springs.
Mannino and his wife live in Tenakee and Juneau, where he performed with Perseverance Theatre before leaving for graduate school in California.
Mannino became interested in puppetry in 2005 while in grad school at the California Institute of the Arts. It was its honesty and theatricalization that turned him on to puppetry, “It’s completely artificial and therefore the puppet is something for us to put ourselves on to…you can trust a block of wood more than another person,” he said.
Mannino and his wife returned to Tenakee in 2011, where they run the local bakery and post office in the small community and until recently Darius also worked for AT&T.
Last year Mannino received a Rasmuson individual artist grant to build a small puppet stage, so he could produce solo works.
Mannino wanted to write a show that would be inspired by the experience of living in Tenakee. Though he isn’t Catholic Mannino was inspired by St. Francis Chapel and began his research when he found the prayer of St. Francis.
In the prayer Mannino remembered the quote to be kind, and wanted to use the prayer of St. Francis to remind people that we should be kind to one another, even though it can be a tough task living in a small, close knit community.
“This idea of commitment within the St. Francis prayer, to make me an instrument of your peace, to let me make the better choice when offered something else,” Mannino saw the prayer as a self-commitment to being kind to help promote a more peaceful existence.
The show Mannino created was simple, yet powerful. Using shadows, he wrote the quote by Maclaren, backwards and out of order, so words would match up while saying the prayer of St. Francis.
For Mannino this was a very intimate and challenging production, “I’m communicating the prayer through speaking…I’m challenging myself to write this very difficult thing, and the prayer is challenging me in a certain way” while giving the audience the same challenge to take the prayer to heart, as well as be kind to one another.
“Not only am I asking for kindness, as a community member…but I’m also asking that of myself,” he said.
Mannino said he could have written a show based on the history of the church or the life of St. Francis, but wanted to put out the challenge to people to practice a prayer and commit themselves to that practice.
The St. Francis chapel has a special place in the community. Mannino shared, “So many places in this community are empty, because it’s a part time retirement community. Though the chapel for the most part is empty as well, it remains open and cared for,” giving people a peaceful place to pray.