US actress and former Scientologist Cathy Schenkelberg was so upset when she heard about the cult opening a centre in Firhouse she decided to do something about it.
Almost two decades as a member of the Church of Scientology cost her close to $1 million and left her depressed, socially rejected and facing financial ruin when she left in 2009.
Prior to losing everything she had been one of America’s highest paid voice over actors, earning great money from her involvement in some of the biggest TV ads of the 90s and 2000’s.
In 2015 she came up with the idea for “Squeeze My Cans”, a one woman play about her experience in the cult. Its title is derived from the “cans,” or handles of an E-meter, the device used in auditing.
Cathy gave her first performance at a workshop in Chicago in July 2016. All three performances sold out. She entered a fringe theatre festival in Hollywood, with the same result. Since then the show has earned rave reviews all over the US and beyond and landed her the award for “Pick of The Fringe” at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August.
In presenting her story, Cathy says she hopes to reach people who feel lost, desperate and alone, searching for answers to life’s problems; those who have lost loved ones to a damaging cult, and anyone who has given up their identity, community and life-savings to organisations like Scientology.
Tomorrow (Sunday) Cathy will perform “Squeeze My Cans” in Firhouse Community Centre at 2pm. She isn’t selling tickets or charging money for the show and is performing for free to warn the community about what the so called church is like.
InTallaght met up with her ahead of what promises to be a very interesting afternoon in the real Community Centre…
Hi Cathy, you’re very welcome to Firhouse, so how did you end up here on this freezing cold weekend?
Thank you, it’s great to be here in the real Firhouse Community Centre. So how did I end up here? Well I did the Edinburgh Fringe festival in Scotland in August and I met a bunch of ex Scientologists from Ireland who told me about the Scientology Community Centre opening in Firhouse and I thought, “oh dear God” because I know exactly what they’re doing. They can’t get places opened up in other countries, America is saturated with all the news about Scientology and they have to go somewhere else and find new victims, people who may not know a lot about the cult. So I was really upset and I thought I should bring the show here to Firhouse. Someone told me there was a community centre across from the Scientology centre so I contacted Deirdre here and she told me I could perform “Squeeze My Cans” in the this wonderful space on Ballycullen Drive.
Should local people be worried about having the Church of Scientology trying to integrate itself into the community? Absolutely they should. Sure there are bigger issues to worry about like homelessness and people not having enough to eat but I really feel people need to come together to stop the cult getting their tentacles into this area and beyond because that is what they’re trying to do. What is happening here is like the show Stranger Things. Ireland is the above, the upside down is Scientology and all its roots are growing so you don’t even know whats happening and when you walk into their “community centre” and your child signs their name and address and email you are now on a list, which you will be on forever. You are in what’s called Central Files.
Are they bringing jobs to the area? What are they doing for the community?
How exactly did you become a member? I joined in 91, in my early 20’s, I wanted to join the Peace Corps but a friend told me that Scientology was the group that is “the hope for mankind,” the group that will change the planet and make it a saner place without war and drugs and all that stuff. And I believed that and I got in under this guise of helping others and I kind of liked it at the beginning, the camaraderie, the belonging to a group but then the further I got in they tell you that you become more your self. Their whole slogan is “think for yourself,” what’s true for you is true for you. But the further I got in the more I discovered it wasn’t true, you can’t think for yourself, the more you think for yourself the more you get indoctrinated into these ideals and pretty soon you find yourself thinking “I’ve just spent all this money and I don’t want to say I messed up,” so it becomes very difficult to walk away. My first course cost $35. After 18 years I’d spent $983,000.
The loss of so much of your hard earned money must have been traumatic? The money is so secondary to the disconnection of families, alienating yourself, I had all these friends, accountants, brokers, I was making a lot of money doing voice over then all of a sudden my accountant is a Scientologist, as is my tax lawyer and so on. They insulate you so you can’t leave, your whole social structure is based around the church.
In Scientology you’re responsible for your own condition. I’m responsible for being mad, or bad or glad but here’s the deal. You make a lot of money and you donate to the church.
Eventually I got disenchanted with it all and the final straw came when they tried to recruit my daughter. She was never a member. That’s the thing, they do try to recruit children and young people even though they say they don’t.
Is it true you were once considered for the real life role of Tom Cruise’s girlfriend? ‘I was called into an audition for a video run by Golden Era Productions which is the Scientology media departmentI was a successful Scientologist, I was one of America’s top voiceovers. I remember there was a load of us in the lobby of the Celebrity Centre.
I didn’t know I was being auditioned to be Cruise’s girlfriend, so I was being asked on camera: ”Where are you from? What level are you on? Then, “What do you think of Tom Cruise?”
‘I thought I was auditioning for a training course, so when he asked about Tom Cruise, I said: “I can’t stand him, I think he’s a narcissistic baby!” Even before I was in Scientology I didn’t like him.
I then go on a litany about him and I remember saying at the end: “Do I have a script now? What do I need to do?” And they said: “No, you’re finished.” I was like, “I thought this was a training video”.
‘When I left the room, there was another actress outside and she asked: “How did you do?” I said: “What do you mean?” She said: “Well, that’s an audition to be Tom Cruise’s girlfriend”, and I said: “I don’t think I got the gig.”‘
Finally Cathy, you’ve described “Squeeze My Cans as your own unique form of therapy. Could you explain? Well it is! I don’t want to take the church down, I’m doing this for therapy as every time I do this show, a piece of me comes back. It really is therapy.
I don’t make fun of Scientology I just share my experience. The further I got in the harder it was to get out. In Squeeze My Cans I demonstrate how Scientology strips away everything in a person’s life not connected to the church until there is nothing left for them but to serve the organisation.
I had reached the upper levels of Scientology’s courses but when I experienced a downward swing in my career and the money dried up I was shunned. There was no more money to get from me and that’s when I really saw that I was in a group that was truly evil.
I’m not upset about the money but I am upset about all the lost time. That makes me the saddest. It’s the one thing I battle with because I can’t get those years back. Now I’ve returned to acting and I’m making up for lost time. It’s therapy for my soul and I’m so happy people like it.
“Squeeze My Cans – Surviving Scientology.” takes place at 2pm Sunday December 10th, Firhouse Community Centre, Ballycullen Drive. Admission free with all donations sent to Firhouse charities.
Follow the hashtag! #SMCIreland