Arts Help Exorcise Demons of Abuse
By Bronislaus B. Kush
Telegram & Gazette
November 11, 2006
Worcester — Strangely, George "Skip" Shea believes his heavy drinking problem during his teenage years saved his life.
"At the time, alcohol helped me cope," said the 46-year-old Uxbridge man.
Alcoholism was one of many demons that Mr. Shea tangled with after he was allegedly abused by the Rev. Thomas H. Teczar and the Rev. Robert Shauris at St. Mary's Church in Uxbridge during the 1970s.
Mr. Shea, who eventually agreed to an out-of-court settlement with the Diocese of Worcester, recounts his emotional battles and his turbulent life during a multimedia show at 8 tonight at Razzo Hall at Clark University. The presentation, part of the MassBay Film Festival, follows the 6 p.m. screening of "Hand of God," a documentary that chronicles the life of a Salem man who had been sexually abused as a child by a priest.
Mr. Shea refers to his program as a "theatrical memoir" and presents his story through paintings and poetry.
"This show has helped me deal with a lot of bad things that have happened in my life," he said.
"Catholic (Surviving Abuse and Other Dead End Roads)" debuted last December at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York City and has been presented at several venues around the country, including Jimmy Tingle's Off Broadway Theater in Somerville. An agent for Katherine James Books was so impressed with the presentation in New York that he offered Mr. Shea a book deal.
Mr. Shea, who studied theater at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and art at Worcester State College and the Worcester Art Museum, said the show's content is intense. A question-and-answer session follows the 80-minute show.
"You don't want to bring the kids," he said, noting the presentation is graphic and contains raw language.
"The show is honest in what my life has been like since the abuse began. It's pretty grueling. However, anger, no matter how ugly, is still part of the healing experience."
He said he tries to break up the intensity of the program with jokes.
The art in the show includes paintings and drawings by Mr. Shea in oil and charcoal. Two are personal representations that offer a stark contrast of his life: One painting shows him drinking beer, the other sipping coffee. Mr. Shea said he stopped drinking in 1998.
He said his roller-coaster life began after his first instance of abuse at the hands of a clergyman at age 11. Plagued by post-traumatic stress disorder and metal health problems, he said, his life was further complicated by other issues and events, including the death of his 16-year-old twin daughter, Shawna, in a car accident on Route 16 in Mendon in 1999.
"Unlike other Catholics in similar situations, I couldn't turn to the church," he said, noting several of his poems are in tribute to his dead child.
He said his life really began to take a tailspin in 2002 when the sexual abuse crisis in the Boston Archdiocese made national headlines. Seeking some comfort and relief, Mr. Shea said he turned to the arts and poetry and began studying Eastern religions.
"I meditate daily," he said. "I do have faith in something, but I don't believe in a God who instills fear and guilt."
Mr. Shea said many people who have been abused by the clergy turned to the arts to heal emotionally.
"It's an incredibly healing process, whether you go into Web design, paint or write a book," he said.
Mr. Shea, who will also appear Nov. 20 at the Coffeehouse at the Mews in Provincetown, said he feels a little better every time he presents the show, but he doesn't believe that he will eventually be healed.
"After every show, it's like I go to another level. The abuse isn't as devastating as it once was," he said. "I also hope people take away something, some knowledge that will help them to understand what victims are going through. And I also want to let individuals who have been abused know that there is hope."
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