And yet, I have yet to be involved in a situation where a church is making real theatre art that isn't ultimately limited to the service of illustrating the sermon. This is an okay use of drama, although perhaps a bit limited and not one I am interested in creating.
I had recently resigned myself to the idea that REAL theatre could only exist outside the church (even if the intended audience is Christians). There are just too many forces exerted by a traditional church congregation that make artistic exploration of truth near impossible.
But... I just found a theatre that's doing it! It's called the First Pres Theatre in Ft. Wayne, IN (of all places).
Their website is a bit sparse, but all indications are that they're doing real theatre and have been doing so for 30 years! They've tackled challenging works (that might not sit well with church-folk) including Equus, Jesus Christ Superstar, ART, Agnes of God, The House of Bernarda Alba, Doubt, and The Shadowbox. Their purpose statement page is downright inspiring. Here's a taste:
Strong dramatic presentations are a revealing test of those who call themselves Christians, especially when the presentations occur in a church theater. They test whether we, as Christians, really believe what we say we believe. If we have the faith that we say we have, we can expose ourselves to a cynical play without becoming cynics, to a nihilistic play without becoming nihilists. And we will not need first to have someone "safe" explain away the pain of the recognition and make just a nice little logical exercise out of the play.
The church is only ready for religion, only ready for drama, when it can open itself to the implications of dramatic revelation; when the congregation can accept the world of the imagination and can risk being excited, risk being frightened, risk being changed. Such risk is near the very heart of the Christian message.
I got a chill, did anybody else? Anybody?
May I just offer a THANK YOU to 1st Pres Theatre of Ft. Wayne. Thanks for encouraging me in my belief that Christians CAN encounter theatre art and that the Church can have a role in that exposure. I know you've been doing it for a while, but may God bless your every production for many years to come.