Last Friday night as a very late Birthday present (my birthday was in March) I went to see Milton Jones at Middlesbrough Town Hall on his Temple of daft tour. The first time I have been to see live comedy. The first time I have been so close to the front of a live show (fourth row) and in the middle, the first time I have got to my seat with some trepidation, thinking that the likelihood of being picked on by the performer.
Fortunately I escaped, the people that returned from the interval late, weren’t so lucky.
However, what struck me, and the reflection I have of the evening takes me back to my thinking about Theatre, performance and the ongoing stage enlargement of the redemptive gospel. But first I contrast this performance with a musical I saw only 8 weeks ago, at Edinburgh Playhouse. It was a performance of ‘The Bodyguard’ which I bought tickets for my wife Lynn, as part of her Birthday.
This isn’t the space to critique the show, its performance, style, music. But the role of the audience was minimal, and the role of the stewards, was to inhibit the involvement of the audience in the process of interrupting the live performance, maybe rightly so. Aside from the ‘sing along’ of a dance tune at the end- where incidently no men participated, sitting mostly uncomfortably as their partners danced to cover versions of Witney ( well what did i expect>!) , the audience participation was as staged and controlled as the performance itself.
Thats not to say it wasnt real, a distinct performance, in the present tense. But the actions of the audience, especially after alcohol were somewhat more dramatic.
Fast forward to last friday. A night of live comedy, a night where the vastly talented Milton Jones’s script was interjected and interupted by the audience, and actively done so, even encouraged at times. It was a managed collaborative comedy night, where lack of laughter, pauses, and contributions were reacted to. A night where a script was changed to be made contextual (yes there were gags about Hartlepool & Newcastle), a night where reactions to the contextual were acted upon.
And yet the drama of being present was that at any moment there was a possibility that to stand out in the crowd would invoke a response, so, mobiles off, and blend in. But that doesn’t mean that the audience wasn’t involved, shaping the performance, adjusting the script and direction, and causing new actions and improvisation.
So, the question is, how is does the role of the audience affect the ongoing script of the church in its performance? are there times when ‘the show goes on regardless’ , like a tightly performed musical, or where audience involvement in local theatre production is actively sought and encouraged?
To dance the tune of improvised mission, and improvised church in community surely the scripts should act as openings for audience and community participation, and the community beyond the walls. As Vanhoozer suggests; “The Missionary (as opposed to the crusading) task of the church- the discipling of the nations, playing Christ’s in ten thousand places- is essentially a matter of interactive Theatre” (italics mine). (Vanhoozer 2014: 183)
Let just hope that it can be comedic, creative and life giving.