March 23, 2007

Theatre - What Church Should Be

When I went to Baylor to interview for my graduate assistantship the faculty recommended I poke my head in for the workshops occuring that Friday afternoon.

The undergrad directing class would be presenting their Shakespearean scenes and, they said, it'd be a good chance for me to get to experience a class in action.

To be perfectly honest, my primary reason for showing up was to impress my eagerness upon the professors of the class, who were a part of the committee that would give me the thumbs up or down.

I expected 12-15 students gathered in the black box theatre space to see these scenes. So I was quite surprised to arrive to a packed house of 150 undergrads, grads and professors.

Students and faculty had come to support their friends and students, and to see what other classes were doing. The place was abuzz with enthusiastic greetings and shouts from the house to the catwalks as students acknowledged their friends who were assigned to tech for the impending scenes.

By the time I was seated, a student was announcing the "student of the week" and the "faculty member of the week" for whom everyone applauded. The professor asked if anyone else had announcements. A young man jumped up "I've got two spots left for concessions this week, if anyone's interested in helpoing us out let me know." [The following weeked was the opening of Annie Get Your Gun, a large-scale musical production.] Then, a young woman popped up and added, "And we'll be in the costume shop pretty much all night tonight and a lot this weekend. If anybody can use a sewing machine, we'd be glad for the help."

I was witnessing community.

The professor welcomed everybody, and the director of the first scene gave a quick introduction and reminded us to turn our cell phones off.

Then the lights went down. And like any good blackbox when the lights go down, its dark to a degree that's difficult to describe. Let's put it this way, closing your eyes doesn't impact the visual experience. The music fades up nicely, a smoke machine is effectively adding a misty mysticality to the space, and the lights come up.

There was not a whisper, a murmur or even a cough. The importance of the event occuring before us was palpable. The scene was from one of the less exciting scenes of Julius Ceasar, but I didn't sense I was in a room full of people fulfilling some sort of duty to the art. It didn't feel like the dentist waiting room, where people give half smiles to each other as if to say, "Gosh I dislike this, but... I guess it's inevitable." They were enraptured. And even more amazingly, it wasn't just the sotry that held their attention, but the WORK. The wrestling with this masterpiece was the main event here. How would their peers set their teeth to this piece that they'd all seen attempted and maybe attempted themselves? The room was electric, and it was a love of the art and each other that was conducting the charge throughout the space.

I thought, "this is almost like church." And then I thought, Wait a second! No it's not! I really want to be HERE! Why isn't church like this? Why isn't it a place wear I'm dying to reconnect to the members of my community, where calls to service don't need clever skits or marketing to drum up interest, where worship is approached with a sense of awe, and where the audience/congregation is as enraptured by the people tackling the subject matter as they are the content?

I have no doubt that I'm idealizing the experience to some extent, but I think the point is valid. And perhaps it's more an indictment of my own feelings about church than it is of the Church. I'm certainly not conducting electricity in my sanctutorium (we meet in a school's lunch room) . Where is my reverence? Why do I lack that palpable sense of importance to what's occuring in church?

I don't know the answer to this, but I do know I saw God in those Friday afternoon scene workshops. And I'll be looking for him again there.


Deanna said...

Dan Buck.... THE Dan Buck.... has commented at my blog?!!! How in the world are ya? Great to hear from you.... and how did you find my blog?!! Loved glancing over yours and seeing the pictures of your adorable kids! Congratulations! Wow, much has happened in our lives, yeah? Also, congrads on the upcoming move to Baylor; what an exciting time for you!

Thought about you a few months back... Scott is the Director of Student Ministries at a church in Warsaw, IN, and we were looking for a great Improv group for an event we hosted. I truly thought, "Dang... where is Dan Buck when we need him?!" Yeah, instead, we were left with a group out of Indy who left the kids bored. I guess their "tame" version of Improv = lousy!

Anyway, great to hear from you and to hear that you're still doing what you love!!!

Mark Baratelli said...

Theatre is theatre and church is church. If you take elements of theatre and put it into church, then church becomes theatre. And that to me seems wrong.

Meatball said...

I just wanted to say, I am one of the undergrads that performed that day. I really enjoyed reading your it weird that we google/stalk the incoming Grads/Undergrads? Probably...but that's sort of where the community thing first comes into play, huh? It is so amazing that you get it already. There are people that have graduated from this program that still don't get that it's about the "work". Even if the scene isn't that great. There is still "work". Many of us can't wait to meet you, and hopefully work with you in the future. Congratulations on your acceptance, and see you in Waco soon.