3 Ways Theatre is Like Church

This is part two of my series Salvation via the Stage. The first post can be found here.

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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.

Introducing Kate Arms-Roberts

I am Kate Arms-Roberts and welcome to my new home on the internet.

Here, you will find me writing about the power of play, creativity, stories, and beauty to provide a basis for meaning-making in a troubled world. I have been blogging on these topics for several years now, and all my previous posts are available on this site.

From the links in the navigation bar above, you can find information about the classes I teach and the creativity coaching and writing services I offer.

If you like reading my work, please subscribe to the blog. I have a special gift for subscribers – an audio-recording of me leading the full InterPlay warm-up. Follow along with the guidance in the warm-up and enjoy a 15-minute self-care break and an opportunity to connect with the wisdom of your own body. Just sign up in the box on the left and you will be directed to a download link when you confirm your subscription.

Over on Facebook, I post inspirational quotes and links to articles about play, creativity, and story-telling. Please Like my page and enjoy those resources.

And now, for those who don’t know me or want to know a little more about me, here is an Introduction, 

If you met me at one of my InterPlay classes, you would see a tall woman in flowing black trousers and a black or jewel-couloured top. I would welcome you and provide a comfortable environment for you to connect with your own body-wisdom. You would find me compassionate and open, vulnerable and strong. You would hear a laugh in my voice. When I danced with you, you would see remnants of ballet and modern dance training abandoned decades ago but still present in my body.

If you met me as an actor in a play I was directing, you would see passion and drive. Always moving forward, I wouldn’t let you rest on your laurels. I would always be nudging you to find more truth in the moment, a deeper commitment to the emotional life of the story. And yet, when you struggled, you would find me encouraging – realistic about your limitations, but always striving to help you bring out your best performance, and always in service of the play.

If you met me only through my fiction, you would find regret, horror, magic, and transformation.

These are all part of me.

As a child, I suffered from existential depression and found meaning in my life through theatre and dance. My writing comes from the depths of my being, where I still wrestle with existential questions. My work as a director, coach, and InterPlay facilitator comes from the compassion for humanity I discovered through art, performance, stories, and my commitment to making my life meaningful despite the lack of external answers.

I am on a mission to bring beauty and meaning to the world, grounded in an Ethic of Play, with full acknowledgement of bodies and feelings as essential components of human experience, recognizing the immense variety of human beings in the world, and claiming the power of story-telling to bridge the gaps between individuals. I refuse to deny the horrors in the world, but I insist on seeing the wonders, too.

Kate