I went to see a play that was part of the Durham Drama Festival tonight. I agreed to go and see this show as a new friend of mine, who I have had the privilege of meeting and chatting with, was the lead. The Durham Drama Festival is a forum for new writing from Durham students. Unfortunately, due to my hectic schedule at the moment, I was unable to see any other shows in the festival (which runs till tomorrow night.) As I sat, alone, in the auditorium fifteen minutes before the show started I started praying. My prayer was that God would speak. I have tended to pray this since becoming a Christian when I go and see shows. I sat and read through the programme for both the festival and the night’s event. I was disappointed when I read:
A Note from the Director: I have decided to stage this play entirely in the nude for the following reasons: to place this production in the great theatrical tradition of on-stage nakedness; to shock complacent and smug audience members such as yourself from the bourgeois assumptions regarding theatre, clothing, propriety, and their habitual juxtaposition; and most importantly, as a gratuitous act of pure theatre, one which has no bearing whatsoever on the plot, character or themes, and is all the more effective because of it. Enjoy.
Oh great, some pompous attempt at edginess! As I sat there and the student populous entered into the auditorium and I saw the relationships and the identities mixing. I heard conversations and caught glimpses of whole worlds as they interacted. At the back of mind I was thinking “What have I got myself into?” I have never been a natural student (partly why I never went to university!) and the student culture and lifestyle is not where I feel ‘at home’ with. There is a big corollary between this community and the acting community; pretence. I guess it’s in all parts of society but in these communities, the student and the arts, it’s flaunted and engaged with, questioned and abused. What do I mean? Well people know the conversation they’re having is fake and they are fake, they are nothing but words. We all (and I involve myself in this)use big words and attempt to prove that we know about things beyond our own intelligence or understanding. They complicate things even further, however, by admitting they know they are fake and are attempting to break with the cultural norm. It gets very confusing!
When I was immersed in the theatre scene I used to feel suffocated with this ‘networking’, lingo, “everyone is performing all the time” attitude and I despised it. Everyone knew they didn’t know who they were and they carried stock personas around and pulled them out at given moments. You could be having a conversation with someone and they were playing the part. It meant relationships were always questionable. You didn’t know where you stood. You judged all conversations: “Are they performing? Are they trying to subvert the knowledge that we have no language in which to speak? What game are they playing?” You tie yourself in knots at the flaunting of philosophical ideals which you don’t understand.
I found myself sitting in a theatre with students who had a passion for performing. I found myself judging each one as fake or phoney and then it hit me… I am just like them! They are searching for who they are and, as a crutch for finding no answers, have decided to embrace that we are nothing and play a game with it to be clever in an attempt at finding meaning. We play games with each other to forward ourselves. We twist convention and play with these rules but we play in order to be edgy. I read again ‘Notes from the director’ and cringed inwardly at the prospect of the attempt that would follow…
The lights fell and rose on a fully clothed cast.
What followed was a fascinating, funny, intricate script being performed by competent performers who added subtlety and depth, never straying to into comedy or tragedy but balancing it nicely. Most impressively, however, they were clothed.
So why the ‘Notes’? It must have been a typo. Maybe it was meant for the next show. Maybe they chickened out of the shock factor for a more real performance… or it was a joke. I read through the ‘Notes’ again and realised the director was satirising the directors who genuinely think that it is clever to just add nudity for no reason… Why did he do it? A joke. It was confusing as it was not in line with the play that it was attached to.
I reflected again at my prejudice on this use of big ideals and philosophical thought and on the people I was among, and myself. We’re all attempting to better ourselves in search of who we are. We play games with life and language in search of something. This whole post, for example, is wrestling with ideas far beyond my intellect and there are seeds of truth in it but it’s far too complicated.
What’s the answer?
After the show I went to dinner for a friend’s stag do and sat with a fellow ordinand and a new friend of mine who I met at the meal. He is an actor and a Christian. We talked at length about theatre theory and practitioners we liked or didn’t like. We dipped in and out of philosophy and the concept of metaphor in both Shakespeare and the Bible. At the end of it I came away with one conclusion… Claim ignorance and worship God… or as my fellow ordinand rephrased it: Claim ‘innocence’ and worship God.
For the students and the theatre community we can play at intelligence, we can try gain a better understanding of the world but in the end it is nothing compared with the greatness and splendour of the Truth. We cannot contain the Truth merely be blessed when we, by chance, happen to have the privilege of embodying it, something we can not find by a formula or rule. It is grace.
The theatre may be able to speak into the church but theatre needs the truth of the gospel… unless you become like children you will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
And what of God’s current tugs on my heart? It also struck me that if I am to minister to this community of student theatre then there are two elements: yes, there is the theatre aspect to explore, but also the student facet to work into the mix as well. I need to remember that, for this time and in this place, it is students who will be the ones shaping it. What this means in terms of the ministry, I do not know but I must continue to listen…
So Did God speak to me tonight in the theatre? I think so! What did he say? Not absolutely sure but there’s stirring in the heart!