In ‘Late Nite Catechism’ at the Elmira Clemens Center, the audience joins



to play

Welcome, sisters’ catechism class. Here there are rules.

There is no chewing gum and absolutely no inappropriate clothing.

Like any class, students can participate and ask questions. But there is a difference between Sister’s class and a normal class: Sister’s class is on stage.

A catechism class is the setting for “Late Catechism of Nite,” a one-woman-show playing the Clemens Center Mandeville Hall until Saturday, April 13.

Denise Fennell plays Sister, the nun in charge of leading the class.

“No show is ever the same,” Fennell said. “Even the shows that I will do in Elmira, if you came to see the show on a Wednesday and then came to see the show on a Saturday, you will see something different. You will see something new. Because that’s the whole thing. based on audience interaction and how they participate. “

Denise Fennell Joins a Long Line of Actresses to Take on the Unique Role of “Late Nite Catechism”

Written by Vicki Quade and Maripat Donovan, “Late Nite Catechism” debuted on May 28, 1993 at the Live Bait Theater in Chicago. Since then, it has grossed over $ 100 million at the box office and raised over $ 4 million for charity. The show has been presented in more than 410 cities in six countries, with more than 3.5 million spectators.

There have been over 100 actresses who have portrayed Sister. Fenouil played the role for about eight years.

There are eight shows in the series, a different one in each city. In Elmira, Fennell will perform the first work of the series.

As she turns from city to city, she bounces between different works and often returns to cities to perform the next work in the series.

This will be Fennell’s first time at Elmira. In this room, several saints risk being fired because of church closures. Thus, the class must choose which saints should stay and which should leave.

“St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost and found items,” Fennell said. “We should probably keep him around. It is very useful.

If you are going to see “Late Nite Catechism”, prepare some questions for the sister.

The show is designed with room for improvisation so that the audience can interact with Sister. Members of the audience are encouraged to answer and ask questions, as if they really are in Sister’s class.

“It’s happening in the moment, at this moment, in the present,” Fennell said. “It’s very interactive. So if something happens with a member of the audience or if something comes up with the news or someone asks a question, we can get off topic completely. It can go anywhere. It’s a mad rush. “

The spectators may have to tell my sister where they are from or who they are with. Sometimes Sister offers marriage counseling.

“Last night we talked about March Madness, because of the parentheses,” Fennell said in a telephone interview from Fort Worth, Texas on March 28.

Yes, Sister has support.

“I bet on it in real life so I can play the game,” Fennell said. “Last night I was furious because I bet on all the Catholic teams and I completely broke my parenthesis last week.”

After many years, the “Late Nite Catechism” co-writer finally convinced Fennell to perform the play.

Donovan discovered Fennell when she was performing in the now-closed “Tony n ‘Tina’s Wedding” off Broadway. After seeing Fennell perform, Donovan sent him the script and asked him to perform the play.

“I said no for many years,” Fennell said. “Because I was very intimidated by this play. You have to learn a lot of theology. You have to have a great understanding of the scenario, and you also have to be able to think very quickly and be able to handle a lot of situations that arise. present. “

After about a year and a half of constantly hearing ‘no’, Donovan convinced Fennell to perform the play.

“She believed in me,” Fennell said. “She was patient as I took the time to believe in myself.”

Now, Fennell talks to Donovan – who frequently offers new material and jokes – on the phone each time before taking the stage.

“I wouldn’t have done it unless she pushed me to do it,” Fennell said. “She personally trained me, and she just became my mentor.”

Fennell grew up in Boston, with an Irish Catholic father and an Italian Catholic mother. Fennell describes her grandmother – who went to mass three times a day – as “the holiest woman” she knows.

“Whenever she could, she would take us to church,” Fennell said. “And so I didn’t want to be there. But I learned a lot.”

Fennell’s family and his Catholic upbringing served as the basis for the performance of the “Late Nite Catechism” each evening.

“To laugh at that and get a good grasp of the background, that’s helpful,” Fennell said. “But the show plays on all religions.”

Comedy often faces questions about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, politics

Although the play is a comedy, letting the audience run free means that sometimes darker topics enter the conversation. And when it comes to the Catholic Church, it is almost impossible to avoid the subject of sexual abuse.

“Last night a lot of things happened in the classroom,” Fennell said. “A lot of people talk about politics; a lot of people want to talk about what’s going on.”

Fennell received strict instructions from Donovan on how to deal with more controversial topics. While topics like the sex abuse scandal are brought up by members of the public, Fennell is not joking about them.

“It’s not something that I’m going to stand up here and try to make it funny, because it’s not,” Fennell said. “People have been injured and lives have been ruined.”

Fennell does not defend the Catholic Church or the wrongs committed by its members.

“I don’t play the game of politics; I don’t discuss any of this in my class,” Fennell said. “I’m really not interested in having that in the classroom. People try to bring it in, but that’s where I rely a lot on the training I received for this show and knowing what topics. we can discuss and what the topics aren’t going to make it a fun experience in the room. “

Like Mass, Fennell takes an audience collection at the end of each show. Donations are distributed to retired nuns and Catholic organizations in the United States

“Because of this, I was able to meet some of the most amazing women I have ever met in my entire life,” Fennell said. “Women who have taken a vow of poverty, and their only purpose in life is to help people and not ask for anything in return.”

Over $ 4 million was raised. And Fennell frequently visits religious nuns during her tour stops.

“These are real people; these are real conversations,” Fennell said. “It is about memories, experiences and traditions.”

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If you are going to

What: “Late Catechism of Nite.”

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Or: Mandeville Hall at the Clemens Center, 207 Clemens Center Parkway in Elmira.

Cost: $ 40 general admission. For tickets, visit the Clemens Center box office from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, or call 607-734-8191 or 800-724-0159, or online at

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