Youthwork in the here and now – Theatrical Youthwork

Ive got to admit that in that moment when youthworkers get together and discuss about how films have shaped their youthwork, ive struggled. Probably because until recently i havent engaged critically with film as part of my life, or even that much with young people. Yes ive watched films ( and recently found ‘Jimmys Hall’ & ‘Selma’ very provoking and powerful in regard to working with young people), but havent been as animated about the notion of film and youthwork as others i know are. There was talk in one youth ministry book a while ago which argued for the film theatre to be the new church of society, a place of story, sharing space, critical thought and moral catharsis.

Dont get me wrong, i can see the attraction – but what is it about film that captivates youthworkers ahead of other artistic pursuits that painting, poetry, prose or (you guessed it) theatre?

A few weeks ago i went to the Reduced Shakespeare Co. History of Comedy at Middlesborugh Theatre, and not unlike my previous experiences of Theatre (predominantly panto) there in front of me was not only opportunities for improvisation and creativity, but also the completely unique performance of a cast, a crew and production company. There were suitable colloquial jokes (about the NE), references to people in the audience, and also times of audience participation, where the feelings and reactions of the audience energised the cast.

I can understand that the theatre can be more expensive, or the pursuit of a type of class of people (compared to film/cinema) – yet to explore the nature of theatre in more depth, and to espouse church that looks like a more equal theatre (aka Boal) is, i believe, a better model, that the notion of film or a cinema.

Two of the strengths of the theatre are that a) its always a unique performance by the cast. No two productions can be exactly the same – unlike film, and b) the cast can adapt deliberately to its audience, in real time. Neither of these are possible in film. Yes the writer/director commentates on their current context, literature, politics to create the story, script and production – yet there is a disconnect between the deliberations of the director/producer, and the actual audience of the cinema – in every cinema. Yes a film may be targetted to a market ( disney/families, twilight/teenagers and so on) but each production is relatively the same ( 3D/imax excluded).

In Performing the Sacred Johnson and Savidge (2009) describe the dialogue between theology an theatre, helpfully in the introduction they discuss the epistimology of theatre, and of drama, where ‘Theatre’ comes from the greek word Theatron- meaning Seeing Place, and Drama (Greek word dromenon) means ‘a thing done’, something then intended for public performance and driven by imitation of action.

Thinking of Theatre as Seeing place means that it is impossible to thinking of it as anything other than a physical reality, where people, audience/actor, are visible to each other, a space of dialogue & communication between stage to audience and back again, creating community.  In our locally performed theatres of youthwork , these are real spaces of art at work, places of space, places of communication, dramatic theatre at work.

When Vanhoozer espouses that church is a local theatrical performance (2005:413) he isn’t far wrong, as each local performance is locally set, locally structured and visible to its local audience – yet why do local productions receive gladly the tried and trusted ‘ministries of elsewhere’ as John Drane warned in The Macdonaldization of the church..

Nevertheless – regardless of the church, as youthworkers, being more aware of the theatrical might help us to be in the here and now of every moment with young people, as every production, every moment with young people is uniquely different – we are to be ready to do  and be improvisatory in the space created. Theatre over film – might be contentious for some – yet allows for artistic to flourish with young people in an emerging ongoing space of performance. Its an open performance, where the acting is ongoing – rather than a closed book or film. Theatre happens in the here and now – it may refer to a previous story – but its concern is the audience of the present.

Maybe we should be taking young people to the theatre more? especially as the attraction of cinemas has reduced given the rise of home film rental/large screen TV – what might theatrical youthwork look like, and how might this engage young people in their artistic intelligence?



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