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Acting Acting
From the Editor -
David Ian
Acting Up
Featured Script
Truth in Advertising?
By David Ian

Imagine if someone asked you over to their house in order to watch the movie "Keiko the Killer Whale: Shootout at High Noon". You agree, thinking that youíre just going with a friend to watch a rented movie.

What you didnít understand is that the movie was part of an environmentalist group gathering. Included in the evening are reading of the minutes of the last meeting, some rousing environmentalist songs of which you know none, and after the feature presentation of "Keiko", a short recruitment presentation is given, along with donation pledge drive.

During the non-movie times of the evening, you might find yourself squirming in your seat looking wistfully at the "Exit" doors. While you knew that your friend was an environmentalist, you may be wishing that your friend was a little more forthcoming in what the evening was all about before you committed to going.
The Room
By Randy G. Foncree

Theme:

Jill Christianís ability vs. Godís ability in her.

Characters:

Jill Christian (on stage at all times)
The Voice (off stage at all times)

Scene:

Jill Christian is standing in the middle of a room. There is a door at the other end of the room that sheís making every effort to reach. Thereís only one problem, Jill canít move. If she tries to move her arms or take a step, itís as though some unseen force is restraining her.


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Or think about what kind of host you would be if you invited a friend over to your house for dinner, but the event was actually a wedding dinner. Your friend would definitely feel out of place, expecting an informal dinner but instead realizing the evening had a very definite purpose and agenda. They would feel underdressed and ill-prepared.

If these are things that we would find objectionable in a social setting, then why is it assumed this kind of precedent is acceptable when churches put on theatrical events? Iím addressing essentially the times when we invite the general "unchurched" public into our churches under the guise of "seeing a play", when in reality the "play" is part of an entire worship service, which includes singing, offertory, announcements, church business, corporate prayer, even communion, all of which are not designed for inclusion for the people we invited.

To clarify, I am not addressing the kind of scenario in which a holiday worship service includes a drama, when it is understood it is part of a larger service. People often seek out and find a holiday service at Christmas or Easter time, and featuring a drama in such a service is fair game, if not greatly encouraged. Iím addressing the times when we put on a theatrical production and invite the public to the show, without disclosing the caveat that it is part of a regular church worship observance.

And then thereís my own personal prejudice. Why, if we donít sandwich a play with a worship service, do we have the pastor come up after a full-length production and then give a fifteen to twenty minute sermon to explain what has just been seen or experienced? In the meantime the audience member is not allowed to let the play affect them on an instinctual level, or make it relevant in a personal way. For regular plays you donít have the director come up after the show and start explaining Hamlet's struggle to the audience, or the juxtaposition of relationships and prejudice in West Side Story. In these situations, there is often underlying insecurity that some message in a drama will be "missed" if it is not immediately explained after the fact. Jesus let most of his parables speak for themselves, to let "he who has ears to hear" hear the message within. Why can't we do that ourselves?

Too much emphasis is also placed upon "harvesting" for church theatrical events -- how many conversions were brought in by showís end. I remember being involved in a production which was considered a "spiritual failure" after a three week run because only one convert was made. This kind of mindset is not taking into consideration the seeds of Truth that have been sown, or even the cultivating of peopleís spiritual soil so that it can become more receptive to future seed plantings. Not to mention, some people just having a pleasant experience entering the doors of a church, a pervasive problem to which many churches turn a blind eye.

So whatís the alternative? How do we have a theatrical production in a church for the general public and not instill an expectation that they must either observe or become unwilling participants of some alien service?

I had the privilege to be part of a Passover production at a local church; I was filling a "guest role" as Jesus. What I saw in how they mixed a theatrical production open to the community at large, made me wish I had invited different people to the show.

The production was allowed to have the atmosphere of a play -- there was no opening greeting to the congregation, the play began the evening just like with "regular theatre". When all was done, the Fine Arts pastor addressed the audience, simply thanked them for coming to the show, pointed out the church phone number in the playbill, the dates and times for Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday services if any were looking for a place to observe those holidays, and wished the audience a good evening.

Something about it felt very right. Many of the "unchurched" people who saw the shows were accompanied by friends, with whom they could talk about what they had seen afterwards in a more comfortable environment of say, a coffee shop or home. This would be better than being trapped squirming in their pew seat, listening to someone they didn't know describe the meaning of what they had just seen. Any others who might have wandered in alone, could find someone to talk with if they had questions. No one who was truly seeking was without recourse, and the audience was treated intelligently and with dignity. What's more, their possible unfamiliarity or potential awkward feelings towards the church, its customs, people and etiquette, were respected.

Christ is a prize worth seeking. Seekers are a prize worth respecting. From my viewpoint, when we create a theatrical production designed to attract and bring in the "lost", we should consider how we prepare our house, and to what sort of table we invite them. We should be mindful that we donít pull a sort of "Bait and Switch" tactic that we abhor in bad used car dealerships.

There is a reason why they donít come to the Sunday morning services week in and week out, so letís not thrust them into that same situation when they come expecting to be an audience to a play. Christian theater works on an entirely different level than does a morning sermon or church service, and its growing popularity is a testament, in part, to its success in this way. But I think we need to identify where its strengths lie and go forward with that in boldness, instead of using what may perhaps be a weakness and, possibly, do more harm than good.

Perhaps identifying and defining Christian theatreís strengths and weaknesses is a topic for next month. Until then, blessings.

David Ian is the Founder and Artistic Director of "Unchained Productions", a Christian theatrical production and resource organization. He is an award-winning playwright, performer, and is touring a one-man comedy show entitled "The Replacement Disciple". His website can be found at www.UnchainedProductions.com.