Theatre Church (part I)

I couldn’t sleep tonight and so got up to read. I had been reminded of Peter Brooks seminal work ‘The Empty Space’. This is, for all theatre practitioners, the closest thing we get to a Bible! Peter Brook, for me, was the leading force of the 20th century theatre. He set the pace for study and innovation in the theatrical arts. The text is separated into four sections; Deadly Theatre, Holy Theatre, Rough Theatre and Immediate Theatre. I read the section on Holy Theatre and I wanted to share some quotes. The problem is the whole chapter is superbly observed and to try and do justice to such a classic text by paraphrasing would belittle the immense impact of the work so here some from the first two pages;

‘the notion that the stage is a place where the invisible can appear has a deep hold on our thoughts.’

‘We may make a personality cult of the conductor, but we are aware that he is not really making the music , it is making him – if he is relaxed, open and attuned, then the invisible will take possession of him; through him, it will reach us.’

‘In Coventry, for instance, a new cathedral has been built, according to the best recipe for achieving a noble result. Honest, sincere artists, the ‘best’, have been grouped together to make a civilised stab at celebrating God and Man and Culture and Life through the collective act. So there is a new building, fine ideas, beautiful glass work – only the ritual is threadbare. Those Ancient and Modern hymns, charming perhaps in a little country church, those numbers on the wall, those dog collars and the lessons – they are sadly inadequate here. The new place cries out for a new ceremony, but of course it is the new ceremony that should have come first.’

What you hear throughout the chapter is Brook mixing the language of theatre with church. What it reminds me of is the huge depth of spirituality theatre has and that actors, directors and designers are attuned to. They search for a language for this need of ritual and connection with this invisible ‘energy’. Theatre is already, I believe, their church and has a missionary people we should go into their church and, like Paul in Athens, preach about their ‘unknown God’.

When I was in my ‘spiritual wilderness’ (North London really) I denied God and the Church and immersed myself in the theatre community. I used to read Peter Brook’s ‘The Empty Space’ continually. When I reflect back on my time ‘without God’ (or as I call it my Gap Year from God) I can see that God was shaping me and my spirituality and when I went to Riding Lights’ Summer school (see Riding Lights Theatre Church? post) God had been preparing me.

I want to minister to my brothers and sisters of the stage. I want to help them see God working in their lives, speaking to them through the theatre. When, where and how are the questions I must wrestle with now.

In Angela Shier-Jones’ book ‘Pioneer Ministry and Fresh Expressions’, she sets out some principles of setting up a Pioneer Ministry; Gather support, Rehearse the message, Aspire to greatness, Communicate the vision, Expect success. It doesn’t necessarily have to go in that order (but it helps as it spells out grace and is, therefore, easier to remember.) I spoke before about gathering support and a team (see Riding Lights Theatre Church? post) and I’d like to rehearse the message. What form would this take?

I have thought about going to a local theatre group and rehearsing a play with them and working through some of my thoughts and ‘experiment’ on them. That sounds manipulative and it wasn’t meant to be. I meant I wanted to play and see what God might want to do with a group of actors. The problem with this is that the group has an agenda already; to produce shows. In order for this to work and be a proper ‘rehearsal’ (You can see why I like here phrasing!) the actors need to be aware of what is happening too. I’ll talk to some people and see what doors maybe opening to this. I continue to listen and pray and watch for God’s hand.

My problem is, I can’t wait!