Church as space to rehearse participative theodrama

Last week I wrote about the concept of breaking through the invisible fourth wall when we act outside the confines of the invisible walls of church, which you can read here.  As I have continued to think about the theatre metaphor, I began to think about some of the other trappings of the theatre, not just the audience/stage divide; the expectation of the audience, the community of the theatre, behind and in front of the stage, the community of the audience, however, the main thing I have grappled with is thinking about is the contrast in the orderliness of current performances of theatre, with the messiness of theatres’ historical past.

Boal charts this in his introduction to ‘theatre of the oppressed’ ; stating that “when it was free, the body could invent the dance, which came from inside; free, the body could dance in space and time. (then) The choreographer turned up and chartered the movement, explained the gesture, defined the rhythm, limited the space. The dramatic poet came and wrote his verses. No more freed thought or creative chaos. premeditated order had arrived. dramatic poetry and choreography were great advances, but freedom was over and done with” (Boal 2000) The essence of social and creative control had manifested into theatre, and despite some planned contravenes, was here to stay, the sense of orderliness – does restrict the freedom of the space, the time, the music, the story, the actors, the script – and prevents anarchy or a dischord.  If the production is slick, honed and ordered, then it can be sold as a product. Programmes of the performance, its acts, themes, characters, story and actors can be sold in advance, before the production – and those who want to can follow the order of acts and scenes as they happen in real time.  Aside from the odd momentary slip of the lines or costume, a large % of theatrical performances follow the same trajectory of pattern, even stand up comedy is scripted, as is most TV.

This is all very well, until the crossing of the wall. Before we do ( and i assume i am actually talking to someone) , lets retrace our steps a little, and think about the current performance of church as a moment of theatre, and/or how modern theatre & entertainment has shaped the Sunday acts of church. There are similarities; orders of service, a stage, music and singing that is led by one or many in a band, the main act of the preacher at the front. If there are moments of audience interaction – how do they happen – according to the same script – ie an anglican response – or defined moments of spontaneity. Yet for Sunday morning church are we closer to a programmable, controlled performance of contemporary theatre – or more recent shifts have taken place does interaction between people begin to take a more regular ocurrance – such as cafe church? – and what is at stake? – often it is the orderliness…

Samuel Wells (2004) introduces the role of habit and training in relation to ethics, and by implication doctrine, using the Duke of Wellington as an example, that Waterloo was won on the playing field of Eton. Wells goes on to say that Shared worship and common listening to scripture constitute the character forming habits of action, and that the play within the theatre of church is the training ground, or to use a theatrical model ; is the rehearsal space. Vanhoozer (2014) illustrates that “to do this in remembrance ( in regard to Communion) is to rehearse, it is a matter of doing something in the present that recalls something done in the past in preparation for something yet to be performed in the future”

 Thus, if the performance of church, within the walls, is the rehearsal space for performance outside the walls, what of the current theatrical way of sunday church is helpful or not helpful if the desire is to go beyond the walls during the rest of the week.  Yes as Wells argues character formation occurs as we perform church currently, yet what of the current performance of church is adequate rehearsal for a mission to people outside the walls?

If youth ministry is embedded in local church, could its purpose be that it follows this? To help young people rehearse within the walls what they need for ‘mission’ outside it (ignoring for a moment that according to Bosch every activity of the church should be mission (Bosch 1991:8). Moving away from infanticide, entertainment, consumerist methodologies, but to give them rehearsal space for the great ‘outside’ a place to safely perform, in readiness for reality.

Going back to the theatre analogy, if going beyond the fourth wall means that we have to become less programmed, and more interactive, impulsive and improvised, taking our cues from the streets, the conversations, the schools, the workplaces , then how might church a) create rehearsal space, and b) equip to be in those moments of interaction, and c) validate them.

But what if church is a place to gather to rehearse new formations of Gods Mission? Does this add depth to the question of what the purpose of gathering sunday by sunday is all about?

As Moltman states “the church does not exist for itself or its own sake, any more than Christ came to save himself. It exists to participate in Gods mission to the world” or Bonhoffer “The church must, with Jesus, go to him outside the camp and bear the abuse he endured”

It might be fair to say that for too long the more programmed, packaged and sold versions of christian Mission/evangelism, have followed the lead from the structures of education, or the trappings of church culture within the walls, and the orderliness of modern theatre. To go beyond the fourth wall could infer that within three wall methods might not be appropriate when we go beyond the fourth.

When I go to a football match, and Ive been to too many recently, i also get a programme, however, aside from telling me that the game starts at 3pm, and who the referee is, everything else in the programme is about what has happened in the past to the club, players, matches. The football programme cannot tell me what is going to happen in the 90, 95, 100 minutes of the game – if it did we’d all be down the bookies.  Very often we can say for certain what will happen if we go to the theatre, or if we go to a particular church service regularly – the order, structure, results are generally the same. But football, or sport is less predictable, more improvised action, reaction to a series of new situations on an ongoing basis, drawing of predetermined practiced moves or set plays in the real game. Taking the training behind the scenes into the spectre of the stadium and battling with a similarly well rehearsed opposition. It is more interactive as theatre, than theatre, and in thinking about the training and rehearsal for interactive action of sport is possibly helpful as a metaphor for the purpose of church as rehearsal space for interactive theatre.

But even the contrast between theatre programmes and the theatre of sports is limited as it is only the actors/sportstars that are improvising with a watching on audience and, going back to Boal, true interactive theatre would have no programmes and no separation of the roles, all would be performing and acting the ongoing drama. But if the theatre of football might be conceptually current as a metaphor in beginning to thinking of the rehearsal of interactive theatrical performance, then lets work from here.





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