How useful is the metaphor of Theatre for the practice of (christian) Youthwork?

A few weeks ago i wrote about theodrama and Youthwork, as ive been reflecting on this a bit longer, i was wondering ‘what difference does it make?’  to think of (christian faith based) youthwork in Theodrammatic terms. I wonder if there are a number of things;

Firstly, a Theodrammatic view of our youthwork provides us with a metaphor of the theatre, of acting, of stages, plays and roles within which we can also make assimilate comparisions between the stage of the safe space weve created for/with young people, the young person, and ourselves. The scenes of our youthwork are set, often not of our own making, but they are set none the less.

A theodrammatic view, takes seriously the view that Youthwork is an art, performed by artists and philosophers, creating newness of flourished life, in young people in community – not following a scientific/data ridden approach. It recognises that each young person, in the context of their community is an embodied soul that can think, be, reflect, create, and can do all of this educatively in the space of the stage.

A Theatrical view gives the young person the chance to perform on the stage, allows for their performance to be cheered on and encouraged by the stage hand of the youthworker, not that the youthworker scripts their performance, but guides, encourages and provides the tools for an authentic performance. It gives the young person a rehearsal space for the trials and challenges of life outside the space.

A theodrammatic view means that Theologically we take note of the actions as well as the conversations, or the actions/educations within conversation that occurs that causes a new act/action by a/a group (of) young persons. We take a note of the conversations/actions of God as Trinity in the whole Biblical Drama ( which is still unfolding through us), and become church in the space between people ( Vanhoozer 2014).

A theodrammatic view, encapsulates history and future thinking;  i was reminded of Tony Jeffs statement in Informal education (1999) –  That youthwork is future orientated  (and i thank one of my colleagues, John Ristway of this reminder) – and so the action takes place in time, in the current and the future, based and reflected on from the past. This is in some way linked to Barth/Vanhoozers take on the Sacramental vestiges of Christianity, reminders of the past, rehearsals of the future, played out in the present. Yet as youthworkers we interject into the action so that young peoples actions on the stage are not what might have been expected, assumed, that they might have a better future, despite the past that they have already lived, or the expectations of that past.

In thinking about the interactive performance of the young person, we concern ourselves with the here and now, the process of erecting, shaping and cultivating the stage on which the performance occurs, like youthwork, the judgement of the success of the performance is for others to judge. The process of the stage is the concern, the interaction of the actors, the artistic performance in the moment is the space of the youthworker, but to predetermine the outcome of the performance is to dictate the nature of each young person, and hinder the performance itself. I remember being a young person and having to act out a stage production for tear fund ( i think) – it was billed as funny, scripted as funny, but after so many rehearsals, and my own lack of acting prowess, its subjective response did not match the effort, or action – ie its outcome wasnt funny. yet the process of rehearsing was very hard work. Is that not a model of the stage productions we cultivate with young people, they are in and of themselves worthy – but to dictate that they must have outcomes they lose the very essence of the process that might allow the outcome to happen. Better to improvise art, than manage art to fulfil a purpose.

A Theodrammatic gives us reason to find significance in every moment with a young person, there are no ‘extras’ on the stage, though some moments may be fleeting, they are no less significant. The young people who watch us from the edge of a group, or watch how their friends react to us on the streets are being audience to their own friends performance, but are also involved none the less, as they set the context for the scenes being performed. Some young people will involve themselves in the performance and assume leading roles, but the skill of the director is to involve all, regard all as actor-learners, but yet that fleeting moment is part of a lengthier scene, in the same way each act of the overall theo-drama leads to a final moment of completion, yet no one knows the last. As Vanhoozer states: “Theatre occurs whenever one or more persons present themselves to another or others” (2010)

A theodrammatic view provides the youthworker with a philosophy in which to regard their fellow human, as someone also participating in the ongoing stage production, willing to be heard, called and to play a part, and possibly already working towards an understanding of their own purpose in life, connection with belief and identity, its only the beginning stage of a process that we ourselves, as life long learners also confess to be. To quote Vanhoozer here that the ultimate goal of the actor is not simply to play a role, but to project the main idea of the play” (2005:372)

A theodrammatic view causes us to realise that each community performance is unique, as each person, each time, each season and setting is unique, that the regurgitation of same script and programme with new actors wont be a surefire way of exacting the same process let alone unintended outcome. We must do improvisation according the parameters of the stage set before us, young people deserve us to be even more in the here and now, than they are.

The image of theatre, of the Christian Theodrama, and our role as co-actors in the performance may be a useful metaphor for the artistic acts of Christian youthwork, like many metaphors it can be taken too far, however, in thinking about the usefulness of the metaphor im even more convinced it provides a Theological,philosophical and theoretical concept that encapsulates not only the essence, but also the practice of Christian faith based youthwork. The Stage of the act of youthwork is ready, how will you and the young people perform?




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