Theatre as/in Worship

Here’s an article by JasonHildebrandand DonTjart(the cast of Fish Eyes about theatre and worship.  It makes some really good points:

I have a whole lot of thoughts to add to it, and maybe even argue a bit with it.  These are thoughts are pretty loose, and I should do a lot more research and source-finding to back these thoughts up.  But hey, this is a blog!

The origins of theatre are in worship.  Theatre was born out of ceremony, and it arose out of community expressions of faith.  The first known “plays” were enactments of harvest legends, fertility rites, etc.  Western theatre largely extends from the Greeks, which at the time were worship experiences.  They were community proclamations/exhortations to the gods on the state of society, etc.  (forgive my very loose summation of theatre development here!)  But obviously, as theatre began to formalize, it began to take different shapes, and its artfulness began to surpass its function.  However, the CORE of theatre, in my opinion, remains rooted in spiritual experience.  That doesn’t mean it is worship, but it means that it arises out of the impulse to worship. The other thing that ties theatre to worship is that theatre is not storytelling, it is storyBEING.  It is enactment or incarnation in thought, words and action.

The bottom line for worship is expressing love and adoration for God through thoughts, words and actions.  A worship service is supposed to help us get there, I suppose. Theatrical techniques of guiding thought – soft music in the contemplative moment, loud singing in the celebratory one, visual beauty, etc. are used in a worship service even on the most basic level.  The use of “script” to guide the process – liturgy or any pre-set form.  The words we say and hear are meant to lead us to God, and in many churches, people do things as well.  Catholics and Anglicans kneel down to adore – evangelicals tend to close their eyes and raise their hands, etc.   So, in that respect, all the actions we do in a worship context  are theatrical, because theatre is humans thinking, saying and doing.

But “theatre” implies an audience.  A moment of theatre requires an action and a viewer (thank you Peter Brook).  So, I think that’s the big difference between worship and theatre in my opinion.  If church becomes theatre, then it is dead because you have some people worshipping, and some people witnessing, but not participating in it. If worship is happening, no one is outside the “performing” circle.  No one is in the audience except God.

Besides, as a theatre person, it’s very very difficult for me to adore God while I despise the hokey theatrics in a worship service.  I don’t want theatre in worship, I just want to worship. The theatricality in worship ought to be rendered beautifully and with integrity. As for the pageant – I love watching children learn to express themselves through theatre.  But, I can’t say I’ve seen a pageant that has real integrity.  I’ve seen a lot of slap-together cute kid-parades.

But, I can definitely love God in a beautiful moment of theatre.  When theatre is good, my thoughts turn to God for sure. As a theatre person, I need to do my best work in order to bring my faith and art together.  That doesn’t mean adopting a Christian pose, or having Jesus in a play, it means creating the play with integrity.  What makes that effort “Christian”? Well, it’s not just that I happen to be one.  I don’t think it’s accurate to say that because I am a Christian, all my work can be called “Christian” work.  I believe for my work to be called, “Christian”, it needs to arise out of the Christian community.  It’s not enough for me to do a decent production of Moliere and say, “this is a Christian production because I did it with integrity”.  I think that the work needs to address core spiritual experience, and be a voice of the Christian community or speak to the Christian community.

About The Transmission

The Arts Engine is an organisation that powers professional Christian artists and arts projects into action. We connect artists with communities to inspire, challenge and encourage the world around them through meaningful arts experiences.
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