I would first like to thank Michael for bringing me here as representing someone who has been part of Stage Fright which I will be referring to throughout the talk.
I went to Stage Fright summer camp for four years. It was a lovely social creative environment and each year we came up with a show. Basically this was based on just one word. I remember ‘freedom’, ‘danger’, and my particular favourite – the one on ‘words’. Through them we would devise a piece of theatre and at the week end a performance and to create a piece of performance in just one week is quite a spectacular achievement, especially at the levels at which it was being produced. As I went through the programme, later on I gained several close friends who I have kept contact with throughout my life.
The transformative power of theatre
Depending on your interpretation of ‘transformative’, theatre fuels personal development. It builds confidence. I remember the first year at Stage Fright in the production when I played Joseph’s father Jesse in a particularly timid rendition whose only line was ‘I am watching football’ in a terrible American accent which I am ashamed to remember now. And the last year of Stage Fright which transformed me like a cocoon to a butterfly with (big voice) ‘Get behind me children, I am your mother goose’ which without the context doesn’t make a lot of sense but it did get a couple of laughs.
Also the theatre is a quite demanding art form. The process of construction and rehearsal is intended to get a pitch perfect product at the end and when you perform it you feel that the audience is responding on an emotive level; if you hear them laugh when you pull a gag or tell a joke there is a sense of achievement which is tremendously rewarding. (I love hearing an audience laugh.)
The feeling one always has at the end of Stage Fright is that you have created a great performance that is based on something real .
Most of Stage Fright performances relate to a biblical story. This year in Stage Fright One we referred to Jesus’ forty days and forty nights in the desert and to Jonah and the whale so you create a piece of theatre which references the bible at the same time.
How does theatre help spiritual development?
My next point is that theatre fuels spiritual development in a certain way. I should explain that. The aims of contemporary theatre and the aims of Christian faith are surprisingly similar. Contemporary theatre wishes to change the audience’s life and viewpoint and that is the same for the Christian faith. The aim of theatre, I believe is to bring up philosophical questions and the aims of the Christian faith or any faith is to provide the answers to these questions; and when they are both interlinked the results are often quite fascinating and tremendously moving. There are two theatre companies that immediately spring to mind: Salt Mine and Liquid World Theatre
Salt Mine is a Christian Theatre company who tour. They are absolutely tremendous. One of the productions I have seen was a performance of the Bible – (not the whole bible but significant snippets ). It was more of an act of creative storytelling. Another production was ‘Pilgrims Progress’. When the stories of Faithful are portrayed on the stage they are extraordinarily moving. There is something very interesting about a mixture of theatre and faith.
The first performance put on at my University was by the Liquid World Theatre. They put on a piece called ‘Operation Greenfield’ based on the lives of four adolescents who go to a church youth group. Three of them are protestants and one of them is catholic. They form this band and there is a village fete and they write a song about the liberation of the world. So this is a piece of theatre raising the question of faith versus belief and pride in one’s faith. Adolescence is a very difficult and awkward time if you are in a Faith because I know personally that the temptation is to give off a certain image, but this play was encouraging one to have pride on one’s faith. If I saw it at a younger age it would have influenced me much more.
I can confirm that attending Stage Fright did help me personally with my spiritual development. The fourth year production which I was involved in was mostly metaphor about Words. One part was about the Upper case and the Lower case. The lower cases were unable to use long and meaningful words but the upper case had a complete set of words to use. Another part was about creating the Word as a metaphor for Jesus, and then there was the church Word as a persecuted faith. The secret police were trying to hunt down the Word, trying to keep it away. But of course you can’t keep Jesus away because he will always come back in one form or another. It was comic theatre with very thought provoking moments. I know that many people were considerably moved.
This year I went as a leader of Stage Fright One (8-11 year olds) and admittedly I was slightly cynical because I did not think that children of that age would be able to make the same quality of theatre as the older group. But I was given a group of three children to act out the scene of Jonah and the Whale being told by God to go to the people of Nineveh and I was told to go ahead and make what I could of it. What they came up with was anarchic and absolutely hilarious. One of the girls was playing the angel acting as an assistant to God and when Jonah said ‘Why can’t you send one of the other prophets?’ the angel said ‘Well Elijah and the whale didn’t sound quite right.’ Absolutely brilliant and surprisingly, my faith was increased by that.
How do you inspire spiritual development through theatre?
This was the key question that I was turning over in my mind on the way up here. If you want to make successful Christian theatre, to my mind you have to use the truth. We were given the Bible and that is an essential part of Christian theatre. Theatre is essentially works of fiction desperately trying to find the secret of life and people are still deeply affected by it - despite its fictitious nature. You have to imagine the effects of portraying the truth on stage through metaphor and creative theatre. I remember a sermon when I was eleven years old, seven years ago, when the preacher made it a first person narrative of Zacharias. It was one of the best sermons I have ever heard and I still remember it vividly seven years on. In the time between it has been youth group meetings or prayer meetings which have influenced my faith but perhaps not so much. My experience in the theatre: seeing Pilgrims Progress and the Operation Greenfield production, my years at Stage Fright, seeing a one man show about Robert Andrew who illegally took bibles behind the iron curtain, these have had more influence on my faith than prayer meetings. My final point is that without theatre I would not be quite the same as I am now.