After 25 years in the storytelling biz, we at Story District have learned a lot and want to share our stories and insights with you. In honor of Halloween, we are featuring the written version of a story Rachel Hinton performed as part of “Horror Show” in 2015 as part of The Bentzen Ball at the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C.
When you grow up in a deeply evangelical community, you do not celebrate Halloween. You celebrate weird knock-off Christianized versions of Halloween. So, when I was a little kid, I would dress up as my favorite Bible character and go to our church gymnasium for the Harvest Festival – unrelated to Halloween. When I got a little bit older, I got the opportunity to audition for our church’s “Hell house.” If you have never heard of a hell house or have never attended one, congratulations! You did not have a religiously scarring childhood.
Hell house is when your church – or in my case – an abandoned movie theater is transformed into a walk through theater. And in every room, you’re introduced to a different set of characters, mostly teenagers, who are all exposed to a variety of different temptations. Then, they have to decide whether they’re going to fall into sin or whether they’re going to stay true to their Christian faith. At the end of the story, everybody dies. And you get to follow them into the afterlife to see who goes in Heaven and who ends up getting tortured for all eternity by Satan and his minions. Finally, you’re ushered into a back room where a pastor encourages you to convert so that you don’t have to worry about eternal damnation.
As a 14-year-old, I was really really excited to audition for my very first Hell house. I was even more excited when I got cast as one of the bad characters. It was well known among the good Christian kids that it was way more fun to be a bad character because you were basically given permission to act out all of the things that were forbidden for you to do in the real world. I had been cast as Jackie, a slutty cheerleader who contracted syphilis and got in a fistfight with another girl at the free clinic. There was only one problem and that was that my character was instructed to dress provocatively. As a total nerd that spent 95% of my time either in my school uniform or my church clothes, I didn’t really have a lot of options. I was concerned when I asked my mom about going shopping for revealing clothing. Much to my surprise, she was totally down for it. I guess it was okay to show a little skin as long as you were being slutty for the Lord.
I don’t remember what store we were in but I will never forget how I felt the first time I put on the shirt. It was sleeveless, black, made of spandex and so skin tight with a zipper that went down halfway down my body. I paired it with the tight, non-mom jeans that we had just purchased and it was the first time that I looked at myself in the mirror and I thought I looked kind of hot.
Hell house was performed for five weeks and thousands of people would come through with multiple teams. When I finally got the shirt, we were well into rehearsals. Most of the cast members were other youth group kids like myself, but we did have a college guy who came in to play Jesus because none of the high school kids had the appropriate amount of facial hair. I don’t remember the college guy’s name, but we’re gonna call him Dean because he had this real “Rebel Without a Cause” cool guy vibe. He had been in the youth group but since he went to college, it was really clear that he had become less religious. I did not like Dean. I felt like it was inappropriate that the person who was portraying our Lord and Savior seemed the least interested in him. I caught him smoking behind the movie theater and I came very close to reporting his hypocrisy to our pastor. Because 14-year-old Rachel was the absolute fucking worst.
Luckily – because my character went to Hell – I didn’t have to spend a lot of time with Joe Camel Jesus. I did get to spend a lot of time with a sophomore guy named Tony, who played the guy who gave me syphilis. The scripts didn’t call for a lot of real PDA. I was just supposed to sit in his lap and be flirtatious. But I noticed that once I started showing up in the shirt, those flirtations started coming backstage because even though I was a gangly teenager with a unibrow, I still had C cups. I will never forget the first time that Tony kissed me. He was helping me scrub off some of the fake blood from my neck because in this year’s script we all died in a school shooting. He was softly taking off the fake blood and he suddenly started kissing me. It was sloppy and wet and overeager and also the hottest thing that I had ever experienced. Suddenly, Rachel: virginal math Olympian was being transformed into real life Jackie: sexy hot cheerleader in the tight black shirt.
My makeout sessions with Tony started to become more and more frequent and with each show, the zipper started getting lower and lower. I felt guilty but not guilty enough to stop. I told myself that it was all fine because nobody actually knew that this was going on. We weren’t going to get caught. Until one day when Tony and I were in the middle of one of our wet, too much tongue involved, make out sessions. I opened my eyes, looked over his shoulder, and I saw… Jesus. Not actual Jesus, but Dean and his full Jesus costume. Objectively, this was the best case scenario because of all the people that could have caught us he was legitimately the one that could have cared less about a couple of teenagers sucking face backstage. He made eye contact with me, kind of smiled, shook his head and walked away. But the symbolism of the moment was not lost on me. Jesus was so incredibly disappointed that he had sent his emissary in human form, to catch me backstage.
I broke it off with Tony. It was the last week of our performances. We all died in a school shooting for the final time. And I told myself that I was back to being Rachel in the knee length khaki shorts. I kept the t-shirt and I told myself I’m just going to keep this in case I also get cast as a sexy character next year, so my mom wouldn’t have to take me shopping again. But a few weeks after the show, I noticed I started wearing it out. The zipper went from being way up top to being lower and lower until Rachel in real life was pretty much dressed like Jackie in the Hell house play. They say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. But in my experience – my path to godlessness and enjoying in real life all the things I once only pretended to on stage – started with a black spandex t-shirt, a fundamentalist Christian house, and a fictional slutty cheerleader named Jackie.
About Story District: In 1997, The Speakeasy was born, an open mic series for storytelling. Over time, we evolved into Story District and now we host dozens of shows and classes every year, while also leading trainings and creating custom performances for businesses, government agencies, colleges and nonprofits. Visit StoryDistrict.org, subscribe to our podcast, “Story District Presents,” our YouTube channel StoryDistrictLive and follow us on Instagram @storydistrict.
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