Monday, August 23, 2010

Finding the Magic

Elsewhere on the internet, Lorna and I were talking about musicals.

Somewhere along the discussion, I went from joking that I can't admit I like musical theatre in my social circle of professional actors and employees past and present of Florida Stage, to developing a manifesto on what I want from musical theatre.

I want from musical theatre what I want from any theatrical experience: magic.

I want to be transformed.

Transformation doesn't have to be gigantic in terms of scale. One of my most transformative theatrical experiences was a tiny production of The Cherry Orchard, where you could see the zippers in the back of the actors' costumes.

Too often we forget about the magic. The way that a show can make us cry, gasp, laugh, dream, change. We as theatre practitioners get bogged down in the practicalities: how much does it cost? Where can we find an audience? Will this offend our subscribers?

And the practicalities are something we should be aware of -- no theatre should go broke in search of the perfect artistic vision.

Outside of the 2amt community, I don't hear most theatre people talk about the magic. (And even in the 2amt community, we often talk about the practicalities.)

I wonder if as creators of magic, we're empty. I often feel spiritually empty and that the magic well has run dry. Some days it is a chore simply to go out and see theatre.

If I think about those magical theatrical experiences, where the light and delight of storytelling came through, I find myself better able to go back to my job. Better able to go back to my keyboard and work on another scene.

How can we find that source of spiritual renewal in ourselves so that we can bring it to our work? What can we do together to find the magic again?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Embracing Failure

As most people are, I'm currently in the process of rediscovering who I am. In April, this manifested as a desperate search for my calling.

Over the past three months, I've realized that at my core, at the deepest part of my being, I'm an artist. For a couple of years, I've been on the outskirts of the artistic community. There were reasons for that, both good and bad -- but I'm now in the process of re-immersing myself into theatre culture: both by becoming a company member of The Naked Stage and by becoming active in the 2amt community on twitter.

The culture of artists, specifically theatre artists, is vastly different than the Unitarian Universalist culture where I've spent my time in these past two years, despite people of both cultures holding very similar views. Theatre people embrace the messiness of life; where as Unitarian Universalists search for order. Neither one is better than the other (and both have flaws), but I naturally fit in more with artists.

One of the aspects that I love about theatre culture is that we have set up a system that accepts failure. It's being encroached upon by the demands of the greater American culture, but we would never say "failure is not an option."


I was raised by a scrappy Shakespeare company in Columbus, Ohio. Instead of belonging to a Thespian society, I fell in with the Rosebriar Shakespeare Company.

One of my favorite stories of my time working with Rosebriar is when we produced Cymbeline. Cymbeline, for those of you not in the know, is the real cursed Shakespeare play, or as I could call it, "the Welsh play."

I signed up to be the stage manager of the production. At the time, I was understudying Mortimer in The Fantasticks at the Fort Hayes Pre-Professional Theatre Program. Fort Hayes is a vocational arts high school, and I went there for the second half of the day, after taking academic classes at my regular high school. Since I was only an understudy, I was bored and thought that adding the duties of a stage manager for Cymbeline would fill out my time. I've always been one of those people who does better when she has five things to do as opposed to one thing to do.

So I asked Valerie Meachum, director and playing Imogen in this production, if I could stage manage. Val said yes, and my time was filled.

Actors kept dropping out. Always for very good reasons: health issues, deaths in the family, etc. I went from being the stage manager to playing one prince to playing both princes rolled up into one role. At the same time, I went from being an understudy in The Fantasticks to actually having the role. It was a stressful time.

Opening night. Pete, the actor who was playing my adopted Father in Cymbeline, came in during tech week. He had been rehearsing with us for three days and I had been rehearsing in my role for about two weeks. Both of us were marginally off book.

Then came the scene where I had to bring in a severed head.

I completely lost it. Here I was, holding this severed head prop, which looked ridiculous, and I could not stop laughing.

In middle of my uncontrollable giggles, I said, in my best Shakespearean English, "Hey, Dad, I chopped off his head."

And Pete responded, "Oh that's okay."

To this day, thinking about that experience makes me giggle. (I hope Val is at that place too. She's a great actor and director and deserved better circumstances.)

It's a perfect example of how by having a "the show must go on" mentality, we embrace failure. Neither Pete nor I nor Val ever thought to say, "this is doomed. We should stop."

If anyone involved in that production had caved to perfectionist tendencies, it wouldn't have happened. There's an argument to be made that it shouldn't have happened, but then I wouldn't have one of my cherished memories of how I bombed as an actor.

Everyone involved in that production was committed to making it work as best we could, despite overwhelming odds. If we had an aversion to failure, we would have never gotten to opening night. The company had a serious amount of endurance, and despite the less than amazing product, I'm proud that I had a chance to work with such people. And I'm happy to have the memory of my worst moment as an actor. (If nothing else, it's a great story.)


In the professional world, we tend to have slightly better circumstances. But even there, we have a system in which we give ourselves the room to fail: rehearsal.

The whole point of the rehearsal processes is that there is room for folks to take risks. And when you're taking a risk, you're giving yourself room to fail.

As a theatre artist, I live for rehearsal. It's where you're allowed to be messy. It's where you're allowed to explore. As a playwright, I can throw scenes up and work on them with actors and hear what's working and what isn't working.

Rehearsal is the process of failing until you get it right. It's a place of constant learning, of constant discoveries.

I'm filled with gratitude that we have this mechanism to work on our art. Most of the world does not have this process built into how they operate: there's only one chance. I come from a culture that embraces many chances, many failures, and knows that you learn from each time you fail.

Now, outside of rehearsal, there is far less room to fail. But even there, we're making strides. For example, the National New Play Network has set up the concept of rolling world premieres. Three theatres within NNPN commit to producing a play, which means that if one production bombs critically in one city, the play is no longer doomed to never being produced again. I've also noticed that local critics mention when a play is a world premiere, suggesting that it takes two or three productions to polish a script.

The outside world's view of failure is encroaching in on the theatre community. Mainly through scarcity thinking. Professional theatres have less money to spend, and therefore are shortening rehearsal periods. There's also an argument to be made that theatres will take less risks in uncertain times, relying on old audience favorites.

But the theatre community has something very unique in our willingness to embrace failure. We should treasure that, and I hope that, we, as theatre artists, make sure that way of thinking is in our everyday lives. And I hope that I can bring the positive aspects of theatre culture with me into my work with Unitarian Universalists. I think the world would be a better place if everyone was more comfortable with failure, more comfortable with messiness, and more comfortable with play.

(This blog post was requested by Rev. Naomi King on twitter. Gwydion Suilebhan requested the Cymbeline story.)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Criticism: How We Miss Each Other

Today on twitter Rev. Naomi posted some interesting questions about criticism. As often happens with her broad, open ended questions, a discussion ensued.

It wasn't until we were far into the discussion that it hit home that her definition of criticism and my definition of criticism were two very different things.

Now, I'd like to think that I have an informed opinion on this. I took a year long class in dramatic criticism from Chris Jones, the Chicago Tribune Theatre Critic. I've hosted a panel discussion of local theatre critics, I've been to a panel discussion on the role of the critic in new play development, and I interviewed our local critics for The Dramatist magazine. I've also spent countless hours talking about the role of the critic and criticism with my friends.

I came to this discussion with all the following understandings of criticism:

1. Criticism isn't personal. Now, with many artists, we often feel that criticism of our work is an attack on our being. Not true, but it happens. I've been prone to it. That's why I like the Liz Lerman technique, because it allows for that necessary emotional distance to form. A personal attack is NOT criticism.

2. Criticism is specific. It isn't this thing sucks, but this thing is problematic because of x, y, and z.

3. Criticism is informed. If I have an opinion on something I know nothing about, it isn't criticism. It's just an uninformed opinion.

These are my basic tenants of criticism that I brought to this discussion.

I have a suspicion that I was the only one who brought this understanding of criticism to the table. It's been confirmed by Ila's separation of criticism and feedback. For me, part of criticism is the art of giving feedback.

I would like to think my opinion is informed -- I've spent a lot of time thinking about this. But it comes from a very specific cultural background and context.

And now I wonder what I missed because my understanding of what constitutes criticism is so very different from what everyone else's understanding in that discussion.

I wonder if I could go back and have that discussion again where we had one working definition of criticism. Would I have said that I love asking questions if my definition of criticism was the same as others? I'm not sure. I'm also still unsure of what the consensus of criticism means in that context. That definition, from what I can glean, seems to be a lot more personal and negative. To be honest, I'm not sure if that definition will be helpful to my furthering understanding of criticism.

The interesting aspect of this is that it proves that we all come to a discussion with our own definitions, contexts, and biases. If I had this conversation with the 2amt crowd, we would have had a similar working definition of criticism. But we all view the world from a very specific lens.

However, I seriously missed where others were coming from today and I think everyone missed me. We had a conversation, but we weren't able to really understand each other. It's a fascinating case study in how we can miss each other, even with people whom we know well and who know us extremely well.

I once complained that Unitarian Universalists constantly search for concrete meanings for abstract nouns. At the time, I was really annoyed because people were arguing over the term "faith development." I understand the impulse a little more now, but I think the better way to deal with it is to ascertain a common understanding, with the knowledge that concepts mean different things to different people. No one looks at the world in exactly the same way.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Writing Advice: Winning the Arguement

"No. You're listening to me, but you're not understanding me."
"No, I'm disagreeing with you. That doesn't mean I'm not listening to you or understanding what you're saying - I'm doing all three at the same time."
- Aaron Sorkin, The West Wing

Everyone has arguments that come up again and again in their lives. Generally these arguments are with our families, our significant others, our closest friends. These arguments may start over trivial matters, but they return to a clash of core values. They return to an essential disagreement that may or may not be insurmountable. But the words used are always similar, the arguments always the same.

These are GREAT fodder for writing, particularly generating raw material.

I recently invested myself in one of those endless arguments, and I went down to sit at my keyboard. And I rewrote the argument. This time I got to say what I wanted to say from the depths of my heart, and I allowed all my messiest thoughts out onto the open screen. This time, I was able to win the argument. This time, I could make the other person listen.

I generated a great deal of good material. It'll need editing, and who knows how much of it will end up in my play...but it was a wonderful exercise in getting to the deep, vulnerable stuff that makes good writing and it also allowed me to have control over the situation, which I never do in real life. I simultaneously lost all control and gained complete control.

So if you're stuck right now as a writer, go back to some essential argument. A place where you fundamentally disagree with someone else's view. Rehash every bit of that argument -- really explore what's there. You might find that you change your mind. You might find that you still believe what you believe in your deepest core. But in the end, you should also have a lot of good material for your play.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Theatre as Ministry or How Theatre Can Heal the World

On Wednesday, I went to the Golden Broom Awards of the Jewish Cultural Arts Theatre. I directed The Sisters Rosensweig for them earlier this year, and wanted to go support the kids who teched my production.

J-CAT (as they term themselves) mostly works with kids and teenagers, with a smattering of shows for adults. The Golden Brooms was an awards ceremony by and for these kids, particularly some beloved seniors that were going off to college.

It was a great time. Not something I normally say about an awards ceremony.

It was great because in every little skit that these kids had put together, you could see the love that they had for the artform and that they had for this theatre. In the middle of this, I thought, "Micheal and Lillian Andron have a fantastic ministry here."

Now, Michael is a Jewish religious professional (a mohel), but I doubt he would consider his theatre ministry.

But I stand by my original thought. Micheal and Lillian's work with these kids at such an awkward time of life is nothing short of a mitzvah.

When I was a teenager, I whiled away the hours at the (now defunct) Davis Discovery Center, performing in Shakespeare. While I think I was in the world's worst productions of some of these classic plays, I was taken out of myself and transported to someplace wonderful -- a place where I was accepted and loved, even if I was an awkward, tall, overweight kid. I could disappear into a role and I became strong or hilarious. My time at the Davis Center made me feel whole and loved in a way that I didn't get in school or at home. I wasn't the only one saved by this environment -- I was one of many suicidally depressed teenagers who found that performing the words of the Bard could elevate their lives and make them feel loved and loveable, accepted and acceptable.

And what the Davis Discovery Center did and what Micheal and Lillian are doing is no less than what I think of as ministry. Making people feel loved, needed, accepted, and whole.

I've spent the past two years volunteering for a congregation that I have since left. During my time with that congregation, the congregation itself was in turmoil over ministry. Who did it serve? Why was it here? I asked those questions again and again, and received no clear answer. I left because it seemed to me that they were more interested in having a church building than having a ministry. And all along, below my office, a fantastic ministry was already going on.

I started this blog and openly declared my intentions to the world because I'm no longer interested in art for art's sake or church for church's sake. I want more out of my creative life. I wanted to share my desire that theatre can heal the world. And this past week, I got a nice little reminder that it already is.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Making Them Ours: An Approach to Arts Advocacy

Today I received an email from Richard Simon, artistic director of the Mosaic Theatre, passing on an article about the soon to come drastic budget cuts in Broward County. Richard didn't say anything in his email, just passed on the bad news.

And it is bad news. I'm unsure why the commission is dead-set on not raising taxes, considering all the losses from the cuts so far.

I'm hoping that this bad news will be used as a rallying cry -- similar to how the Miami-Dade Arts Community rallied in support of the arts last year. These calls to action are important and vital to the continued support of the arts everywhere.

But I think that arts advocates need to think more broadly, more deeply. Instead of waiting to show how relevant, how vital we are to the communities we serve when we're in danger of cuts, we need to be doing this all the time.

At the Unitarian Universalist Florida District Assembly, Gini Courter, the Unitarian Universalist Moderator told a story about a congregation who had an influx of GBLT members after supporting GLBT rights at a protest. This congregation rented out their building to another faith community, and someone who was visiting the visiting faith community left homophobic material. This caused a major rift in the congregation -- even though this material was not sanctioned by the congregation, or the visiting faith community. Many people left the congregation -- and as Gini said, they left "because we didn't make them ours." (Her whole presentation is on YouTube. I highly recommend it.) The congregation didn't do enough to fully engage them in what it means to be a part of the congregation and make them feel completely welcome.

And as artists and as arts leaders, we need to think about how do we "make them ours." How do we make sure that we are vital centers of the community? What are we doing to make our communities a better place? How do we enrich the places where we serve? Not only should we find those stories and tell them to our commissioners, but we need to make the commissioners ours. We need to make the communities in which we live ours.

I think the question we need to ask always (and if we have a good answer, shout it to the rooftops) is: "if this theatre were to go away today, how would the community suffer?"

If you have made the community yours, then it would be a great loss. If not, then aren't we just engaging in vanity theatre?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Embracing the Larger Conversation

Over at Mission Paradox, there's a few weeks old post on the wasted power of social media. The basic sentiment of the short post is "Social media are tools for conversation, NOT SELLING."

I cannot tell you how many arts marketing workshops I've been to where professionals are encouraged to get on twitter, facebook, foursquare and the like without having the mindset on how to properly use these tools. Many theatres that I love are tweeting "BUY TICKETS NOW" as if twitter and facebook were simply advertising space.

Social media is about having a larger conversation. For arts organizations, it is more about showing our true relevance to the larger world than it is about butts in seats.

And given the precarious position arts funding is, particularly in the state of Florida, engaging in the larger discussion to prove our relevance to the larger community has never been more important.

Arts organizations could learn a lot from Unitarian Universalists. For example, on twitter, I've had insightful conversations with Melanie of TapestryUU, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Mission Viejo, CA. If she was using twitter simply as a way to advertise her congregation, I would not be a part of her target market. There's a slim chance that I'll ever get to visit, much less join her congregation. But we're had conversations about the importance and relevance of our greater religious movement. There are active social media ministries that I'm proud to be engaging with.

Another conversation that I'm excited to be listening to is the reaction of the Chicago Theatre Community to Mike Daisey's production of How Theatre Failed America at Victory Gardens Theater. While I can't participate in the conversations that are happening in person, I get to read about them on blogs, facebook, and twitter. If Daisey's point is to start a national conversation on the state of regional theatre (and I think it is one of his goals), then social media has done a great job of keeping those outside of Chicago in the loop (pun intended). These are difficult, fascinating conversations that need to be had, and I'm thankful for the theatres that are engaging. Its a lot more terrifying to use social media to engage in difficult conversations than it is to simply direct market.

But its necessary for art organizations to engage in difficult conversations. We need to treat the larger community as more than simply potential ticket buyers. As non-profit leaders, we need to return to our missions and remember why most of us got involved in this crazy art form anyway: we wanted to change the world. Social media is another way to engage in the larger world, another way we can participate in the greater cause.

Friday, April 23, 2010

John Adams and the Curse of Non-Enoughness

Anyone who knows me fairly well will be unsurprised to find out that I have a historical crush on John Adams. It started when I first saw 1776 in middle school, but my general philosophy is "anyone who can keep the love of someone as amazing as Abigail Adams had to be a pretty neat guy."

One of the things that I like about Adams is that he comes across so incredibly human and vulnerable in his journals. When he was in his mid-twenties, he wrote about how inadequate he felt because he hadn't done enough. This is a man who would go on to be a leader in the American Revolution and our second president. At the time, he was an accomplished lawyer. And he felt that he hadn't done enough.

And here I am, over two-hundred years later, at age twenty-seven, feeling that I haven't accomplished enough. I've only written two full length plays. I haven't been professionally produced. I wasn't able to promote positive change at my former congregation. I'm not spiritually mature enough. I've never had a long term relationship. Peers of mine are going off to the Yale School of Drama or to become Unitarian Universalist Ministers or have become ensemble members at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company.

The negative tape in my head can go on and on and on.

The big question I keep coming back to is "what to do with all this fear?" Because that's what the negative tape really is: fear of not being enough, not accomplishing enough.

I can combat the negative tape with rational thoughts, such as "Self, you've done a lot for a person your age - like run a non-profit" or "What is the measurement of enoughness of spiritual maturity?"

However, that sort of snap-out-of-it thinking doesn't permanently stop the tape. John Adams carried this feeling of not-enoughness his whole entire life -- and I think we can all agree that he accomplished a lot. I have yet to meet a fellow playwright who doesn't have that look of fear in his or her eyes after a reading, the fear that the play will never be good enough.

This fear is the curse of the artistic soul. Our work falls short of the imagination, and likewise, our lives fall short of what we imagine them to be. Because we can imagine a better world, a better life, a better play -- we create. And the dark side of that coin is that we carry that fear.

A wise woman once blogged, "Failing at something is not the same thing at all as being a failure. The only failure in life, as far as I am concerned, is not risking your own life to extend the circle of inclusion, to care more than you imagined possible, to love more deeply than you’re comfortable, to make the world a better and more just place through your particular gifts and talents."

John Adams failed at many things in his long life, but he wasn't a failure. He carried that sense of not accomplishing enough and not being enough. And as I travel along that path, I look for the fellow travelers, the Ben Franklins and Abigail Adamses, to keep me grounded. Oddly enough, the sense of not being enough, not accomplishing enough is a part of being whole.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Floundering for a Sense of Calling

A member of my former congregation announced that she's going off to seminary next year. I'm excited for her. For all sorts of reasons, not the least that she gets to experience Chicago, which I still feel is "my city."

I'm also jealous.

(And not just because I miss Chicago.)

Because I miss that feeling of calling.

For most of my life I had that certainty that I was called to this profession. I started to act when I was in first grade, and I felt that the stage was the place I belonged. I kept that feeling throughout the crazy years of middle school and I tribute the Davis Discovery Center for keeping me relatively sane in high school.

I started writing in the Fort Hayes Black Box Theatre program. And it wasn't a change of calling, but a refining that calling. It was uncovering a deeper part of myself. I was a playwright. That calling took me to NYU and helped me find the Theatre School at DePaul University.

I never felt so purposeful as I have writing In Common Hours. Here I was writing a play that I had been wanting to write for four years or so...and it was realized in production. The whole experience was really rewarding. I was doing what I loved, and told a story from my heart that others connected to. People both laughed and cried at that show. I knew I had found my calling as a storyteller, specifically as a playwright, because I loved that process of storytelling with a bunch of others.

Then I graduated and I've been lost ever since.

I'm still in the profession. I have a job that supports me and my cat. I'm still writing in a professional context, and I'm even a regional representative for the Dramatists Guild.

I've had a few flashes of that sense of calling. The two weeks I spent at the Kennedy Center two years ago. The weekends of the playwright development program. The Naked Stage's Annual 24 Hour Theatre Project.

Most of the time though, I'm floundering, trying to rejoin that sense of purpose.

I've wondered if a calling can stop, and if I should devote my energies elsewhere.

I poured my energies into my job. I've accomplished at lot of good things, and I'm particularly proud about bringing Free Night of Theater to South Florida. But pride in my work did not fulfill me the way writing used to.

Then I threw myself into Unitarian Universalism at my former congregation. I thought if I just worked hard enough and with enough dedication, I could help call people to the higher purpose that I think Unitarian Universalism is here for. That whole experience exploded in my face, which is why my former congregation is my former congregation.

Which leaves me still here, wondering what my higher purpose is. On days when I'm stressed, I joke that I want to run away and work for Sesame Street. Or I remember Avenue Q and think no one really knows what their purpose is, really.

But I miss that certainty.

Maybe I can get it back if I manage to create a theatre of joy. Maybe I can get it back if I work more on my play about time traveling art thieves. Maybe I can try to get it back through prayer. Because I miss that connection. I miss that deeper sense of self.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Love Letter to Amy London

Two years ago, I was in the process of organizing a meeting on saving the Carbonells. The South Florida Theatre Awards Ceremony was on the brink of going away, and the Theatre League of South Florida was hosting a panel discussion about how could we stop that from happening.

At the time, I privately stated to close friends that I wouldn't care if the Carbonells went away. I had been to two ceremonies by then and they were long and sometimes painful to watch affairs. I had seen how much the discussion about awards had torn our community apart. Small theatre companies felt cheated, people complained constantly that the nominators and judges were not qualified, and Joe Adler never missed a chance to rant about how awards destroy the community, despite his many wins.

I've always been a process person. I prefer the process to the finished product. Ask my parents: awards have never interested me much. I won a lot of awards in school, and I never really cared. The few recognitions that I have gotten that I am proud of have more to do with my pride in my work than the award itself. It's nice that In Common Hours was a finalist for the David Mark Cohen Award, but I'm more thankful that people recognize the craft that went into creating that play.

So when I heard that an awards ceremony that is long, dull, and brings a lot of strife into my community is about to go away, I inwardly danced a bit.

Thankfully, my wish did not come true and Amy London took the helm of the ceremony.

The past two Carbonell Awards Ceremonies have been a wonderful experience. They've been fast paced, well planned affairs, but more importantly Amy knows that the Carbonells aren't about celebrating individuals, but about celebrating this community. She has taken the theatre prom concept and made it into the best possible thing it could be. Amy's Carbonells are about how wonderful it is to be in the same room together.

And I'm so happy that I can be a part of that. Not only as an audience member, but as the organizer of the official after party. It's so great to throw a party for people who walk out of an awards experience feeling jazzed about being a part of their community. The Carbonell After Party has a vibe unlike any of the other parties we throw, and I'm positive that it has to do with the vibe that Amy has created for us with the awards itself.

Thank you Amy London!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Thoughts on Being Present

This past Saturday I was taking a workshop led by Connie Goodbread. She had laid out the room with a bunch of chairs in a circle, and placed a toy on each chair. I went immediately to the chair with the stuffed lemur on it, and started playing. The lemur waived at everyone who entered the room, and at times wagged his tail at folk.

There was a variety of reactions. Some settled right into play with me. Some smiled, but refrained from interacting. Others were made uncomfortable. I discussed the experience later at dinner with others who were at different workshops at District Assembly, and first knocked it off to my being internally five scaring people. I was gently reprimanded and told that it wasn’t that I was being childish, but that I was present. I came into the room and I was emotionally vulnerable and ready to work.

One of the things I’ve noticed in both my faith life and my professional life is that people have a serious ambivalence towards presence. We want people to be with us, but not too with us. We want presence in our actors and our ministers, but not in our audience and our fellow worshippers. Presence is something for others, professionals, leaders. In situations of worship or in a darkened audience, I find that we want to think, but not too much, feel, but not too much, experience, but not too much. Those that do experience the theatre more fully often get berated as bad audience members. Those that come to worship fully present often get strange looks.

If we are to create sacred spaces, it requires participation from everyone in the room. I’m tired of passive church and theatre experiences. I want to be in the room. I want to play with stuffed animals, sing loudly, clap loudly, laugh loudly, cry loudly, and be fully present. I want to gasp when the sword is unsheathed and sing when the spirit moves me.

One of my spiritual practices is to exist in a space that is uncomfortable for me so that others may be comfortable. I understand that some people need quiet in order to be present. I respect that, but I don’t want to mistake quiet for polite or either for present.

In what ways do you find yourself present? What helps you listen or engage more fully?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Holy Theatre

The concept of the Holy Theatre comes from Peter Brook's The Empty Space. Brook divides his book into four essays, describing different types of theatre, including a holy theatre.

Except that he spends most of his essay on the Holy Theatre failing to find a definition for it. He describes experiences of Beckett, Artaud, Grotowski, but never defines what could make theatre holy.

For me, holy theatre is a place of open revelation. A space where I can enter into a relation with the divine through art. It is not a space I have visited often, but I have been there often enough to fully appreciate its value. Many times in Unitarian Universalist circles, we ask about where we have experienced the divine or something greater than ourselves. Most of the answers are about quiet reflection in nature.

The moment that I have felt most in touch with the divine was when I was at the back of the Auditorium Theatre watching the Alvin Ailey Dance Company perform Ailey's masterwork, Revelations. The audience was one with the dancers and we all were performing a sacred ritual together.

I've had similar experiences of audience/artist fusion at The House Theatre of Chicago. When the audience moves from a passive participant in the process, to an active (yet respectful) participant, that is holy for me. I want my theatre and my worship to require me to be fully present, fully a part of this current moment. That's what I seek in a holy theatre.

Why Towards a Holy Theatre?

For a long time, my amazing, soon-to-be-former minister, Rev. Naomi King has been urging me to blog. She is experienced in the blogosphere, as she has three blogs: The Wonderment, Universalist Prayers, and City of Refuge.

I've thought about it...but then I always came back to "what would I blog about?"

Then yesterday, I went to the Unitarian Universalist Association's Florida District's District Assembly and I heard Gini Courter, the UUA moderator, speak. Emerson once wrote, "In every work of genius, we see our own rejected thoughts." Gini spoke to so many of the problems, the worries, the concerns that I have had about my life in my faith and my life in my art.

Why not blog about the intersection of those two segments of my life? The concerns and issues that trouble the theatre world are very similar to those that trouble the world of free religious practice. I have come very close recently to leaving the faith of my childhood and the profession I have devoted my life to. But I keep coming back...because both theatre and Unitarian Universalism have so much to offer.

I hope this blog will explore the intersection of liberal religion and theatre, as they both come from the same prehistoric origins. I hope to use this blog to help me find a sacred space.