Theatre & Dance ETDs

Publication Date



This essay will explore the spiritual leadership role of the patriarch with regards to my upbringing in River Road Fellowship, a non-denominational cult of roughly ninety people located in central Minnesota. It will also examine the affect the cult's leader, Victor Barnard, had on me as a spiritual father figure and the impact his ideology has on my approach to dramatic writing. I will analyze my play Ashes Crossing Yellow Lines, a story of two diametrically opposed brothers who find redemption by confronting their past and the memory of their father; a religious cult leader who tore apart his family and died while hiding from the FBI after sexually abusing a minor within his congregation. For the first twenty-two years of my life I grew up in River Road Fellowship. Most of my years in the church were a time of happiness. However, in 2005, my family and I were forced to leave the cult for disagreeing with Victor, whose practices had grown controversial, hurtful, and would soon be discovered to be illegal. In 2013, two members of the church came forward with public allegations that Victor had regularly sexually abused them while they were still minors. Victor excused his abusive behavior by saying that it was spiritually right for him to have sex with them. As a father of a seven year old son I ask myself, "How do fathers exercise leadership and care for their children without abusing their power?" When communication does break down between fathers and sons, how do we repair this breach? The first part of this essay will investigate how Victor's patriarchal status was carried out in River Road Fellowship through reinforcing western cultural myths. I will go on to demonstrate how destructive these myths were to the father/son relationship I shared with Victor. The second and third parts of the essay will explore the ways in which this upbringing has informed my themes and interests as a writer. I will conclude with an exploration of how my self-perception, as both a son and a father, has helped evolve my approach to dramatic structure.

Degree Name

Dramatic Writing

Level of Degree


Department Name

Theatre & Dance

First Advisor

Moss, Gregory S.

First Committee Member (Chair)

Moss, Gregory S.

Second Committee Member

Prugh, Caroline

Third Committee Member

McDuffie, Matthew

Fourth Committee Member

Holscher, Kathleen




Patriarch, Fathers, Sons, Religious cults, Victor Barnard, Empathy, Dramatic Writing, River Road Fellowship

Document Type