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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Cathy Schenkelberg is coming to the valley to perform her renowned one-woman show, Squeeze My Cans: Surviving Scientology, for one reason: Scott Smith.

“He’s been my friend since (we both lived in) Chicago,” Schenkelberg said during a recent phone interview. “We did Hair together, the Midwest tour. He was Berger, and I was Crissy. Scott is gay, and he knew that I loved him. I was like, ‘Oh, why are you gay? I want you to be my lover.’ We made a pact that if either of us reached a certain age, and neither of us had kids, we would have a child together. I remember when I got pregnant with my daughter, I said, ‘Well, too late. I’m pregnant.’”

Scott Smith, a beloved local performer who was on the board of Dezart Performs, died suddenly last year, after suffering a heart attack. He was 61 years old.

“I was literally getting on a plane to Ireland; it was March 1, 2018,” Schenkelberg said. “I got a call from Michael (Shaw, Dezart Performs’ artistic director). That loss was so great to me, because I had never lost anybody close to me, aside from family members. When I flew back from Ireland to be at his service, I said to Michael Shaw, ‘If you get together some kind of scholarship fund, I will make sure that I come and perform for you.’”

Schenkelberg will perform Squeeze My Cans on Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 7 and 8, at the Desert Rose Playhouse. The proceeds will go to Dezart Performs and the Scott Smith Scholarship Fund.

The show tells the true story of how, in Schenkelberg’s words, a girl from a large Catholic family in Nebraska wound up having her life nearly destroyed by spending 14 years as a Scientologist. Oh, yeah, it also discusses that one time she auditioned to be Tom Cruise’s girlfriend.

“It’s a roller coaster ride,” Schenkelberg said. “I take you down the rabbit hole of Scientology, but I also do it with humor, because how else is there to get past this loss of almost two decades and a million dollars, than being able to laugh at yourself? It was like being in a job for 18 years that you hated, or being in an abusive relationship, and going, ‘How do I get out of this thing?’ I find humor in loss.”

It all started when Schenkelberg met a Scientologist while she was in her early 20s.

“I was a successful actress in Chicago,” she said. “I did a lot of voice-over work, and I was the first female clown at The Bozo Show. I had a steady income, but I felt like I wasn’t contributing. So when I found Scientology, it was the right thing for me. Someone mentioned to me this morning: ‘You know, you wouldn’t have been in this for 18 years if there wasn’t something good about it.’”

At first, Schenkelberg said, Scientology made her feel special. “They love-bomb you,” she said. But as Schenkelberg’s career and income grew, the church took notice.

“On every step through the Scientology Bridge to Total Freedom, it’s called, I went to a higher level, and in this process, each level costs you more money, until (you reach) the point where you’re in ‘dianetic clear’—you’re clear of your reactive mind,” she said. “It’s an indoctrination, but it slow-burns. … I got to the point where I was afraid to lose (Scientology), because I thought I would die, or something bad would happen to me, or I would lose my friends, and my agent, and my doctor. All the people I was connected to, suddenly, were Scientologists. They isolate you in that way, but it was very slow. … If they’d have introduced the aliens early on, I probably would’ve been out of there in two seconds.”

Schenkelberg finally decided to make a break with Scientology for two reasons: She was running out of money, and the church started to come after her daughter.

“People who see the show will see, in 75 minutes, how someone can be indoctrinated,” she said. “Keep in mind (that when I started in Scientology in the 1990s), I didn’t have Google; I didn’t have the internet, and once you’re in the church, you can’t look at the internet.”

Schenkelberg said that although the show is about her experience in Scientology, its themes are universal.

“Each time I perform, I realize that this isn’t just about Scientology. It’s about anything anyone is afraid to leave,” she said.

I had to ask: What’s the story behind the name of the show?

“I was having a drink in L.A. with my agent. I said, ‘Eric I need a name for my show.’ And he says, ‘Squeeze My Cans.’ He used to always mock me when I was auditing … where you use the e-meter, which is like a lie detector, and connected to the e-meter are two metal cans. So it’s a play on words,” she said with a laugh.

Squeeze My Cans: Surviving Scientology will be performed at 7:30 p.m., Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 7 and 8, at the Desert Rose Playhouse, 69620 Highway 111, in Rancho Mirage. Admission is $30. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-0179, or visit www.dezartperforms.org.

Published in Theater and Dance