Theatre Church (part XI)

I’m sat in Sanctuary 21 after another introductory meeting for my placement. Two people came tonight but instead of being disappointed I am overjoyed. Why?
I have come to realise that this small ‘drip-drip’ approach to the start of this group is more in keeping with the ‘organic’ nature I felt was needed. The big flashy, explosion onto the scene was never going to work. As I approached tonight I was struck by how Jesus started his ministry; by gathering one or two and focussing on getting to know them and building them up and the rest followed suit. I was particularly drawn to John’s account where the first two went and invited others to come.

I’ve been thinking about the way in which people begin to belong. I’ve returned to my months of deep listening that I’ve done since a year ago. It’s important for me to note the changing understanding of what this group may look like. My vision is not perfect and to look back over the common themes and points of interest is important to see clearly what is developing. Throughout my journal I have written a need to model community, natural, raw and organic. One of my notes has the quote from ‘Organic Community’,

We need to bear in mind that the most accurate word to describe the process of forcing intimate connection is rape.

This may sound harsh and ‘over the top’ but to force people to be community is never pastoral and is not godly. This connects with one of the things I noticed about the DST. I want to clarify, before I note the things that I have become important in the last week, what I really think and feel about DST as an organisation with the people involved. I love the DST. I love the work they’re producing. It is full of talented, passionate and intelligent people who are very successful, both here in Durham and across the country. I want to lift them up as a great example of student theatre and the potential is really exciting. What follows are three things that I felt was lacking in the DST and ‘gaps in the market’ where I feel the new group developing here at Sanctuary 21 will fill.

The first thing I noticed and have re-read in my journal, marking my deep listening, is a sense of how many auditions there are each week.
Most of the people I have come to know, and admire, will go from audition to audition, some successful and some not. This cannot be healthy for a person’s sense of self. I have seen this in professional theatre as well. An individual will just travel round and put themselves on the line so often that sooner or later they will forget who ‘themself’ is. As a defense mechanism an actor will quickly begin to perform and say what they think a director wants to hear or see. I experienced many people come to auditions for my theatre company and they will be performing the whole time. I wanted to know who people were, what they were about but all I got was a walking CV with what they have done or what they can do (juggling, acrobatics, accents,etc.). Auditions force artists to say and do things that may not fully describe what they are about and soon they will lose sight of what they have to truly offer.

I must remember that auditions must never play a part in this group. I want to truly discover what each individual has to offer and to honour their unique creative voice. I want to encourage everyone to know they are a part of the group not because of their aptitude to perform but because they are uniquely made. Any conversation where I am welcoming someone into the group must be clearly a welcome to the community rather than a test/interview/audition. I have begun to tell the people who are now becoming this group to voice this in any conversation; “We don’t audition, you are welcome if you want to join.”

The second thing I have noticed in my journal is my interest in the speed at which shows are produced. The usual rehearsal period is three weeks, at times its two. This has its benefits; it means people get lots of experience of a wide range of plays and meeting lots of people. I will not deny that it does get people mixing and it means people get a packed CV for future careers. Again I see an unhealthy aspect to this approach. If you were an actor and you were digging into your emotional memory to perform a character and then the show just finished and you moved straight onto the next thing without giving that emotional journey closure and you repeated this again and again then what does this create in you. There’s a pastoral issue here of managing your emotions. Relationships are never given enough time to grow deep and so, although your meeting lots of people, you’re not investing fully into them as you know you’ll be finishing the show in two or three weeks. Due to funding cuts the professional theatre has adapted this model of work where an individual actor may move from one company to another without developing long term relationships.

This has been a big drive to the creation of this group. At this time we have no need for funding and so we can be extravagant and explore what happens when a real ‘company’ is created and those relationships are as much a part of the creative process as the individual. The group, therefore, must be committed long-term with each other. Any ‘product’ does not mark the end of the relationship but a shared experience from which we can grow together.

The final thing that I have been reminded of this week is what I’ve witnessed in terms leadership. In individual companies there’s a sense of hierarchical power play. There is a producer and a director who drive the rehearsals and the actors who follow that vision. Due to the shortness of the rehearsal period an actor just turns up and does what the director wants and the choice of story/script is down to the director. Obviously an actor will choose if they want to be a part of that play but, from my observations, most people don’t actually care about the play they just want to do anything. This puts a lot of pressure on directors and also builds for them a pedestal on which some love and others hate. Directors and producers become the ‘gods’ of this community. People talk to them because they have something to offer (a part) and this makes it a lonely existence. I’m not saying that it’s this extreme but I’m painting a picture.

This image mirrors what is happening in churches and something that I don’t want to model… but that’s another issue!

This group must have, in its DNA, a flat leadership or rotational leadership. The group is the responsibility of each member not just me who suggested its inception. The existence is based around each giving themselves and steering it. This allows the potential for sustainability and flexibility in future.

I want to finish by stating one final thing. I’m still fairly open to see where God will fit into this. I know He will be present but I don’t want to cut out His role, I’d prefer He just took His place. Does this require all of them to be Christian? No. Would God exist even if all His creation denied Him? That’s a big question to leave you with!