Increasing participation beyond the fourth wall

Have you noticed how important you are right now?  How crucial you are to this perfect moment, this dialogue between me, and you. You might be in the bath, on the toilet, in bed, in your lounge or on a train, but you right now are really important. Because I am speaking to you. I’m not writing about a thing, a theory or a reflection, yet, I am speaking to you.

Haven’t you noticed how important you are nowadays. Actors break off from drama in films (such as Deadpool) to refer to technology, or smile at the camera (thats to you) , celebrities reflect on their baking and judging during TV’s Bake off to talk to you, keep you interested in the person. From a TV perspective its nothing new, from Philip Schofield, to Andy Crane and now Dodge the dog, involving the audience has been key fodder in Childrens TV for years. Its even more apparent on the Radio. The Audience is key. Yet for the most part ( with the exception of ‘voting programmes’), there is limited return for the programme, in fact programmes like Bake off are filmed months ahead of schedule so theres no use, need or point of talking to the camera to the watching public, apart from giving us an insight into the personality of the person, outside of the challenge, the event or a pie with a soggy bottom.

In a way its not much more than token involvement from them to us. As we play not part in the conversation to direct the performance or the action.

In the football match, the audience does play a part, as, the wall is not separated by time or place or millions of digital signals (aka TV or film). The players encourage the fans, the fans respond to the action, the battle requires passion, song and unison between fans and players for the common cause with one in symbiosis with the other.

From the football ground to the stage, and then from the stage of the theatre, to the stage of the world. If God is the overall director and actor in the ongoing drama of redemption ( Vanhoozer 2005,2014), that takes place in the world, in the real space and time, might this sense of close present action cause us, as missionaries, as the church, as people in community, to think about the nature of the walls that are erected.

Not only that – but does the action that we profess to do ‘outside of the walls’ feel not much more than the bake off contestants telling us about their pie disasters, then they retreat back to the tent to try a different recipe?

What involvement does the audience have in participating in the ongoing redemptive drama – especially if in reality all are involved, whether they know it or not (Balthasar 1988:36) – so how might church be a conduit for increasing local participation, and a removal of the fourth wall in its entirety? And as it performs locally it improvises and acts locally, it acts according to the Spirit with fruitfulness and faithfulness. It learns as it performs, its identified as its action, and, linking to Freire, involves people in the learning and reflecting of its action.

However important you might be, or i might be right now, it seems that very few actual places in the world actually want me fully as a person. The essence of being a cog in many machines is tantamount, you are one of millions watching Bake off, for example, or a timesheet in a company, an economic contributor.

Yet should the church in mission value people as participants in Gods drama, as people fully, then at that point the church will be offering something hugely unique, and counter cultural, and Spiritual, and distinctive. Spaces of two way travel between the audience and actors.  As we interact in the world, being church-in-the-world performing the Gospel theatrically, the play takes seriously the humanity & wholeness of the audience, for actors have been audience too.

Improvising ensures authenticity. The Script is not learned by rote, it is performed and embodied in context, in reality and responsiveness to a real person in a real situation in a real place. Did Philip know what to say to the Ethiopian before hand? (Acts 9) but was he sent to be there so he could follow the Spirit and respond to the situation? Did this occur outside the City, on the streets, away from the crowds and a religious festival? beyond the walls.

The paradox is, is that you’re not as important as the TV, or these beyond the fourth wall moments cause you to think you might be. However much they may tell you, your vote is not that important (on the X factor). Might the church in mission, performing in Gods world be guilty only of valuing people too much to increase ongoing lived participation.


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