Re: Covenant Players Oxnard, CA Charles Tanner
Date: March 17, 2012 01:26AM
I feel compelled to add my perspective to this thread. I was in Covenant Players from 1984-1985. I agree that it is a Christian-based ministry, BUT it has many cult-like characteristics. I wish to first address a few things other posters have said.
J.S. Fugate wrote “ . . . that THEY turned Chuck Tanner into an almost omnipotent leader . . . but that was their doing, not his.”
I disagree. This is an excuse, saying it was “their doing”, as if it were solely their responsibility. Chuck Tanner did nothing to counter these feelings and rumors. He allowed them to continue. So yes it WAS as much his doing as the people who placed him on a pedestal.
J.S. Fugate wrote “He was a genius, and one of the most prolific playwrights that ever lived .”
I realize this is a matter of opinion. I feel his single/double page “plays” left much to be desired. Yes he had talent with writing but genius level? Highly doubtful. So many of his characters were stereotypical and when I performed one of his “sci-fi” plays, being a science fiction reader I had a lot of problems with how the characters were portrayed and the general story line. It just wasn’t good science fiction.
J.S. Fugate wrote “Chuck never received any salary or took any of the funds raised by any unit. He lived on the royalties of outside groups performing his plays, and the sale of his play books”
What outside groups performing which plays? What royalties?? These outside groups charged admission? Never took any funds raised by the units? Who sold the playbooks? The units did.
S. Fugate, in an earlier post you said that Chuck Tanner bought and paid for his home when he was working as a Hollywood writer/director and that he “left that life’. Yet in a later post you claim that his filming was for the military, that he did “no commercial films" Which is it?
S. Fugate wrote “have heard murmurs over the years of people referring to this group as a "cult" - and I find that offensive. It undermines the personal growth I experienced, and all the wonderful work that the group has done, as well as the plays written by Charles M. Tanner.”
With all due respect for your years in CP, I get a strong sense of hero worship regarding your views of Chuck Tanner, due to you repeatedly calling him a “genius” and in your opinion one of the greatest playwrites that ever lived and that the *world* would agree with you if his works were more widely known. The fact that you feel there is a strong possibility that “Twilight Zone” stole some of Chuck’s ideas?! Can’t you see how absurd and unrealistic that is? Nothing wrong with role models, but this goes beyond that. And I think it clouds your judgment.
Yes a lot of folks had personal growth, but the opposite is also true. A lot of folks were injured by CP physically(indirect), psychologically, and emotionally. Yes the group has done wonderful work, and it also has done damage. Both deserve equal time and attention. Does all the damage negate the wonderful work? I’m not sure. But the fact remains that people in the group, their families, and others the group encountered have been hurt. Covenant Players had a responsibility to the safety of its members, and the fact that you said you had to recover from post traumatic stress, and that it put young immature inexperienced kids in charge of the lives of others is incredibly irresponsible. Having to be “forced to grow up” is not a good thing! It implies traumatic experiences that in this type of situation need not/should not happen!
As far as you learning more in CP than in college, that is true for all Real Life experience as opposed to book learning in a class room! Not just time with Covenant Players.
Now I wish to address some of the elements of Covenant Players that I found to be damaging/cult-like, some of these being responses to some of the questions the moderator had for Fugate.
One of the worst things to me was the way Covenant Players habitually used people. For example taking anyone with experience in auto mechanics and having them work hours on end into the wee hours of the morning working on the fleet of vans. No they weren’t paid. Utilizing your members knowledge and experience is smart, but this went beyond that. It was in the attitude shown; one of entitlement. *Any* thing a person had, be it experience or material objects, they were *expected* to throw them into the general pool so to speak. This attitude of entitlement also showed in the expectations of staying at people’s homes while touring. I saw people treating these homes as if they were their own, as if it was their right to stay there, not a privilage.
Using people even went as far as the following; A Covenant Player had been seriously injured in an auto accident. From what I heard, the van had been parked on the shoulder of a highway and the girl was in the back of the van doing some typing work. A truck slammed into the van. I’m not sure the extent of her injuries, only that she had been badly hurt. Chuck Tanner made the incident into a play. Okay, no problem there on the surface. But the way the girl was presented, the whole of the play, it left a bad taste in my mouth. It seemed artificial, I wish I could describe it better! Almost presenting her like a saintly martyr.
Covenant Players were VERY discouraged about leaving the group at the end of their commitments. Overall the attitude was that if God called you to CP, he doesn’t call you away. People were encouraged to believe that the best use of their life was in CP, that it could fulfill anything they wanted to do in life, and fulfill it better than anything outside of CP. Many Covenant Players were extremely obsessed with CP, everything they did, they somehow tied it to CP.
Chuck Tanner discouraged couples who found each other in the group from marrying because then he would loose two members, not just one.
Any negative or critical remarks about CP were discouraged. Even to the extent of referring to people who had fulfilled their commitment and left for good as “Covenant Players who are not touring right now.” The senior members of the group took pains to pat Cpers on the back, in a “look at us, we are so much better” type of thing. For instance at the all night awards ceremony, pointing out how CPers were so much better than those at the Academy awards because we always thanked God, and they don’t. Which isn’t even true. They would mention CP reunions, how “those who aren’t touring right now(ex-CP) always looked so wistful, and said how they missed it, they shouldn’t have left, etc. What wasn’t pointed out was the fact that people who left CP and were content, or wanted nothing to do with them, didn’t go to the reunions! Those who missed it, did go.
I witnessed Unit members discouraging kids from going to college, trying to convince them CP was the right way for them instead of saying, hey it’s up to you, they are both important.
It was expected that if Chuck can do it, so can everyone. The best concrete example I have of this was the fact that Chuck could do fine on 4-5 hours sleep a night. I remember seeing Chuck’s son-in-law at a gathering. He looked so ill, absolutely exhausted, because he wasn’t sleeping enough. You were encouraged to only sleep a little, so much to do why sleep? And people who were ill and went on stage anyway during a playdate were heralded as having “stamina” and were praised. The story I was told was about someone who went on with the show even though they were ill with pneumonia! Isn’t that great, they said. Umm, no, it was foolish.
Oh and the poster who commented that it was more important to send the HQ money than it was to eat; I can verify that as well. I went through that myself.
I did have a lot of excellent experiences In CP and I have had a lot more excellent experiences outside of CP. Unfortunately, the negative outweighed the good. When I left, I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. It did attract a lot of Bohemian types, but even within the group, those types were ridiculed.
So in closing I do feel that Covenant Players exhibited a lot of cult-like characteristics, that even tho it feels it helped people in regard to CP’s religious beliefs, it hurt plenty of people as well. CP fostered some of its own volcabulary, most members seemed not to be able to think about anything else except CP, there was sleep deprivation among other things, there was pressure to stay and make huge time commitments(even life), that it was run by one man who was charismatic, that the members were paid little to no money, sending it all to HQ, etc.
Thank you for reading this!