Going beyond the fourth- to challenge the fifth wall?

So if participating is on the stage, what part might a renewed audience play in becoming participants themselves, if their initial experience is in receipt of the threatened breaking of the wall? (by the actors performing across the wall See http://wp.me/p2Az40-5J)

Is the fifth wall the gatekeeper who allows the viewings of the performance to be viewed by the performers – the barriers to participation?

Would they be akin to Jesus’ disciples who prevented the children, who disregarded bartimeus, who dismissed the plea of the bleeding woman?

Vanhoozer (2014) states that “Audience participation is part and parcel of the theatre of the gospel, indeed to invite others into the action- the triune communicative action oriented to communion and reconciliation- is the very purpose of the play” (2014:46) going on to say that “The church being both the school of discipleship and the stage for interactive theatre”, though  if the stage is the church – what might that imply about the audience?  and how the audience interacts with the stage, who can and how might participation occur? and maybe as importantly how might the church-as-stage be the barrier in itself for audience participation?

so is it cost? – ie who can afford to participate?

is it access? – who is able to get in? who can experience it?

is it langauge? power of language, translating?

Is it ability? behaviour, class, culture?

how is this decided? who holds the keys to the power that does? or is the performance itself the factor that decides who can participate.

Does breaking down the fourth wall, allow for the freedom of participation, or should the actors be aware that the fifth wall is the main controller of the participatory space of the audience.

yet what about institutional church – or the trappings of (youth) ministry – if theme park days out cost £25 (with a christian band), or SU holidays 4 times that (cost) – or that services are scripted for those who can read ( in maybe one or two languages) and rarely are powerpoints in more than one language (and never in braille). What of the young people who think or learn in different ways than ‘just’ crazy games, or being sung at in a school by the latest christian _____ band. Maybe these are actions within the confined of the fourth wall anyway, and not beyond the fourth, invisible, wall. Given that in the main, the buy in for these experiences, their language, culture and community is already realised, others have to fit in.

So, what of improvised performances beyond the fourth wall, and challenge the power boundaries of the fifth?  What of the christians who have worked, like my wife, with young people who’ve had abortions, where does Christ not only meet them- but where do they perform? or the young people with alcohol addiction & mental health? what of the generous spaces where conversation between LGBTQ people, christians and church emerges? or dialogue between the muslim and the christian, between the poet and the artists. Some of these challenge the barriers of the fifth that seek to control who is included in the audience.

Does detached youthwork confront and dissolve the fifth wall? – is it an open space for inclusion, for embrace, for performance, well it can do, depending on its approach, depending on how its performance encourages and challenges the status quo. Yet its more of an equal space as we’re with young people but as we journey with them, then the inequalities stacked against their favour emerge.

Our conversations on the streets over the last year have been mostly about three things, 1. who we are as DYw’s, 2. School/College/future and 3. Religion/Spirituality/Faith – It would be obvious to suggest that none of these subjects would be the hot topics of the young people if we werent there, however it does show that young people, have an interest in faith, in church, in religion – despite, or because they havent had an experience of church. Maybe they’re more interested because its an unknown space, a space they havent been disillusioned, bored, or annoyed by. If breaking beyond the fourth wall causes us to interact in the world, how might those outside maintain an involved participation that starts from these initial moments of conversation and exploration on their level. (and resisting pre determined, non-improvised programmes), and once this occurs, what about the fifth wall – the barriers that young people face in their participation – whether from within the values and behaviours of their host community and family, or from the gate keepers of the faith community themselves- not unlike those first disciples who wanted to decide whom, when and how people could participate.

Cockburn & Wallace (2010) talk about youthwork practice that is both liberal and critical – as christian faith-based youthworkers we have a role in acquiring spaces outside of the established church – to the streets, to the clubs, to the schools, and in that understanding of life beyond the walls, challenge the barriers that prevent participation so that the stage can be enlarged, and new local performances occur, yet in that shared space with young people the injustices and barriers are ‘hopefully’ felt and desired to be acted upon and challenged.

Vanhoozer (2010) in the context of the segregation that befalls America at Sunday at 11am, states that “The church demonstrates her understanding of atonement by breaking down the dividing walls of racial and ethnic hostility” (2010,440) – yet i would also add that there are walls of participation in the church of young people, of young + disabled, young people suffering with mental health, LGBTQ? people, and ask who is in the critical, free, space to encourage the breaking down walls? who supports the wall breakers? how much power is maintained to keep the walls?  is it easier to create new communities of acceptance outside the walls of the church, than keep trying to find acceptance/participation of young people within the established walls?

Dan Crouch recently discussed about participation , you can read his thoughts here, essentially youthworkers , if they take their critical, reflective role seriously are attempting to encourage young people to be liberated to become, as Boal would suggest ” a subject, an actor on an equal plane, with those generally accepted as actors, who must also be spectators” (1970: 135).

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