Church

And the preacher he kept preaching
Long is the struggle, hard the fight

GIVENS

This church idea is something I’m into exploring, as well … so, how do we make our audiences as devoted as the weekly church-going crowd?
Rebecca – GreyZelda Land

… church to me means spiritual experiences felt through the institutionalization of dogma, and for me theater shouldn’t be about institutionalization or dogma… it should be about rediscovering individuality and self-generated energy (two of the values that were bandied about elsewhere yesterday), and the community is secondary to that experience – though still a big part of the theatrical experience. What do you think?
Nick Keenan  – Theatre for the Future

I hereby incorporate by reference the rest of my blog.


First let me say that, unlike George Hunka, I found yesterday heartening. Is homework for a hundred by-nature-navel-gazers a somewhat daunting idea? Sure. But as a breed we really need to whittle down our conception of why We do this and why They should care to something more concrete than "it is art". Attempting to do so in parallel with one another is a useful exercise.

If you’ve been reading me at all, and someone beside the Google spiders has been (I’m the #1 hit for the Google search "Racist Snowflake"!), I don’t need to bold anything in the quotes taken from comments on yesterdays entry. They bold themselves. I will highlight them for new kids though, and there are punch and cookies over by the counter.

I am all about the audience.  To a fault. I love messing with them. I love challenging their expectations. I LOVE making them feel things, especially things they’d rather not.

On the practitioners’ side I am all about community.

Neither is a secondary concern for me.

Nick, I disagree with your assertion that theatre  "should be about rediscovering individuality and self-generated energy". To my thinking everything in American culture is geared toward the discovery of individual and  honestly that’s why theatre as secular church works as a metaphor for me.

Churches work because they are moral collectives. Where ever two or more are gathered in the name of something there is that Energy.

Every theatre company that has been truly and deeply successful on whatever level they are shooting for has a strict mission, and a group of people who adhere to it. They are not necessarily a tribe in the way Scott Walters has been discussing, but they are a collective, and are structured very similarly to a church.

They have a  a head (strong or weak as they choose), a dedicated inner circle, and a more fluid outer circle that collectively adheres to a code. Is that dogmatic? Depends on the group honestly. But dogma isn’t bad. Rigidity is bad, and they aren’t the same thing.

And that Rebecca is how you keep them coming in.

Why do people keep going to McDonalds? Familiarity.
They know what they’re getting. (and it’s addictive!)

If you want to breed a congregation you have to give them quality, CONSISTANT product at a great price.

And then you make it belong to them. The Recessional matters.

There is a Snob gap in theatre that needs to be overcome, and the way to bridge that elitist chasm is to allow your audience to explore their ideas about the show with you.

I know you’re tired. I know you want to get to the bar and unwind. I know that the last thing you want to do is examine the ideas that you have been wallowing in for the last 6 weeks.

But they are the point.

And this their one shot to grapple with these ideas in this moment.

That is a moment that makes theatre completely separate from other arts.

Don’t rob them of it.

Now church it started right on time
Just like it does without a doubt
And everything was all just fine
Except when it came time to let us out
You know the preacher he kept preaching
He told us I have one more thing to say
Children before you think of leaving
You better think about the Judgment Day

~Lyle Lovett – Church

Transformations Image

  • Nick Keenan

    I dig it!

  • plainkate

    First of all, I love when refreshments are served with a blog post. Secondly, I am all about cultivating community by sharing ideas with the audience, yet not everyone enjoys a post-show discussion as much as this nerdy girl does, so are there less formal ways we might do this? What if we invited the audience to join us at the bar, for instance (see the aforementioned refreshments) where we could enjoy a collective post-show kibbitz?

  • That is in fact exactly what New Leaf Theatre does. I think it's great. I worry about it in Austin because the bar isn't on the corner and once you get in the car you lose half of the interested folks and you lose the breath you shared in the space. Shorter answer: you're right I haven't figured that out here to my satisfaction.

  • Agreed! I am one of those frustrating folks who believes that theatre still retains a tiny, glowing shred of its religious/ritualistic roots, and I am afraid that our theatre audiences (like everyone else in this world) are being to trained by commercials and marketers to step into the theatre (like everything else) as consumers, and not as participants in an experience or on a journey. What successful religious institutions do so well is to engage their audiences on a lifelong shared journey, with a common and complex narrative, and a deep sense of belonging. With a few extreme exceptions, people step into a church to put their world and their lives in perspective, to participate in something that is beyond themselves and to develop within a beloved community. That seems very much in alignment with the potential power of the theatrical experience.

  • I think part of the way in which churches are genuinely successful is by doing more than holding weekly services. Community is built by all the church socials, the wakes, the bazaars, and the other events at which churchgoers are spending time together without listening to somebody preach. That, I think, is what theaters ought to be doing to build community/congregations: holding non-theatrical events that bring audiences into the space to connect with each other.

    For me, other than that, the theater = religion comparison is… strained.

  • Do you have a post or writings somewhere that talk about your reactions to
    religion?
    I just want some background rather than making assumptions about your
    experience.

  • Indeed, Gwydion. Theater = religion is strained because theater is not religion. Theater is, like churchgoing, a ritualized, communal experience. It is that ritualized experience that keeps congregants coming through the doors of churches instead of just staying home and praying in dark corners. They come because they feel welcomed and safe and part of something greater than themselves. On our best days, that is what we try to do when we stage a production. We extend an invitation to a shared, meaningful experience, and we dialogue about it.

  • I wish I did… but I killed that blog about three years ago.

    I do have the text of a talk I gave in St. Louis a couple of months ago — one that I'm giving again in DC in December. It's called (Susp)ending (Dis)belief: Art and Atheism. Hopefully the core of a one-day-finished book…

  • I couldn't agree more. Theater is (or should be) more like churchgoing than religion… which puts me in mind of this poem by Philip Larkin:

    Church-Going

    Once I am sure there's nothing going on
    I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
    Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
    And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
    For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
    Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
    And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
    Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
    My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

    Move forward, run my hand around the font.
    From where I stand, the roof looks almost new –
    Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
    Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
    Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
    'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.
    The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
    I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
    Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

    Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
    And always end much at a loss like this,
    Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
    When churches will fall completely out of use
    What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
    A few cathedrals chronically on show,
    Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
    And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
    Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

    Or, after dark, will dubious women come
    To make their children touch a particular stone;
    Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
    Advised night see walking a dead one?
    Power of some sort will go on
    In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
    But superstition, like belief, must die,
    And what remains when disbelief has gone?
    Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

    A shape less recognisable each week,
    A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
    Will be the last, the very last, to seek
    This place for what it was; one of the crew
    That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
    Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
    Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
    Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
    Or will he be my representative,

    Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
    Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
    Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
    So long and equably what since is found
    Only in separation – marriage, and birth,
    And death, and thoughts of these – for which was built
    This special shell? For, though I've no idea
    What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
    It pleases me to stand in silence here;

    A serious house on serious earth it is,
    In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
    Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
    And that much never can be obsolete,
    Since someone will forever be surprising
    A hunger in himself to be more serious,
    And gravitating with it to this ground,
    Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
    If only that so many dead lie round.