This is part two of my series Salvation via the Stage. The first post can be found here.
Every human being has spiritual needs: the need for a sense of meaning and purpose in their life; the need for community; and the need for a sense of connection to the wider world. Every human being also has the capacity for spiritual experiences: moments of transcendence, awe, wonder, and expansiveness.
These needs and capacities are built into our being, part of our genetic endowment. They have nothing to do with religion or belief in a deity.
Some people get their spiritual needs met through religious organizations. Others meet such needs through art.
A friend once told me that libraries were his church. Libraries, books, and the community of people drawn to libraries and books met his spiritual needs.
Theatre has often been my church. Here are three ways a church and a theatre troupe function similarly.
1: People Come for the Product, Stay for the Company
People go to church because they think they should or because they want support in living a good and meaningful life. For many people, the most important function of a church is social, being part of a community. Often, vital moments in the life of a congregation occur during coffee hour, social gatherings, small group encounters, and rituals involving food.
Am I welcomed in? Am I listened to and appreciated? Am I supported and nudged forward in a comfortable balance? Do I enjoy spending time with these people? Without a “yes” answer to these questions, many people will leave the church.
Theatre is no different. New people want to be welcomed into a production team. They want their ideas listened to and respected, even if eventually rejected. They want to have fun while striving to do the best show they can. Producers learn when to push people to stretch and when to reassure them that they are doing well.
Important moments in the life of a theatrical community include conversation during rehearsal breaks, cast and crew parties, and gatherings at a local pub or restaurant after rehearsal or a show. Without these moments, the glue of community never dries and individuals leave after a single project.
2: There is a Place for Everyone
In many areas of life, we are separated into groups of people who are good at the same things, interested in the same things, or approach life from similar perspectives.
In theory, a religious community embraces all who are born into it, in the case of religions that do not welcome converts, or who choose it.
In the theatre, people with different skill sets, different approaches to life, and different interests are not just welcomed, but necessary. A group putting on a play needs actors, backstage hands, carpenters, lighting designers, electricians, sound designers, costume designers, stitchers, special skill coaches, publicists, sales people, costumer service providers, project managers, bookkeepers, and financial planners. All these people work together in the service of a greater good: the play. Without any one of them, the production will be weak.
3: Dealing with the Deep Questions of Life through Story
Religions are attempts to answer life’s big questions. Who am I? How should I live? Most religious traditions have central stories that attempt to illuminate answers to those questions.
Plays also address questions about the nature of life.
Every story has a question at the heart of it. How will this character act in this situation and what will the consequences be? No matter how trivial the play may appear to be, there will be some question about human nature in the story. Being part of a theatrical production gives everyone involved an opportunity to be touched by the question of the play.
Not everyone takes advantage of the opportunity, but it is there for the taking.
Are there any parallels between art and church that you have noticed in your life? Share them in the comments.