Katie’s Musings: Church/Theater
May 21 2019
One of the first theatrical productions I was a part of took place in a decommissioned Episcopalian church.
In retrospect, it was a bit of an odd setting for a musical called Starmites: a rarely performed production about super heroes and heroines in an intergalactic world fighting an evil force known as Shak Graa. It’s got everything, from a sneaky lizard sidekick to an electric guitar weapon known as “The Cruelty,” and during the summer before my senior year of high school, it was presented in an old church, complete with glorious historical stained glass, a makeshift set and costumes, and a lot of bat droppings. And it was really, really weird and cool.
The relationship between theater and church is an interesting one, particularly in my life. It was my first love, my first “career” (if it could be called that in my case?) and it is now one of my favorite creative outlets. And you may want to ask what church and theater have in common. It’s cool, many have, and many have pointed out that certain aspects of the skill set required are indeed similar. But it’s deeper than that.
One of the longest standing traditions of theater is simply that it has always been a home for folks who felt different from the world. Historically, it’s been a refuge for folks who were misfits and outcasts, folks who couldn’t find a home anywhere else…. which sounds a bit familiar to the historical origins of the church and Jesus’ tendency to welcome those who felt unwelcome from the rest of the world. For theater folks, often the theater IS their church – the place where they find community and beauty, music and creation. And it’s a good thing, because theater folks are often folks who have been shunned or turned away or barred from traditional churches, particularly LGBTQ folks. The churches of their younger days may have turned them away and invalidated them as people… but the theater would always have them.
As a minister who can still be frequently found navigating theater world, I hear a lot of stories like that pretty frequently – stories of heartbreak and anger, stories of shock that a minister-type could be other than what they grew up with (i.e. not a man and not anti-LGBTQ), stories of why they could no longer trust the church or ministers. And as much as I usually want to shout about how there are SO MANY ministers like me and so many churches that affirm folks just as they are, I know that’s not what’s needed. That reorienting of the brain of one who’s been harmed by a church of exclusion to believing in a church of acceptance is not a quick fix. So I listen and commiserate and answer questions as compassionately as I can.
Last week, I was lucky enough to see a production of Assassins, put on by Brigit Saint Brigit in our own Memorial Hall, and I confess I spent a lot of time transported back in time to the production in a church that gave me my love of performing. To be honest, one of my favorite things about Omaha theater and First Central is that when I introduce myself to folks and what I do and where I work, they always have a frame of reference. “OH I know that church, I went to a play there!” Folks who may have only known exclusion from a church, who could never bring themselves to step through the front doors on a Sunday because they’d been treated horribly in other churches, come to see plays in one. For a moment, maybe, it hits them – that a church that welcomes a theater company to make itself at home, that supports and celebrates the arts… that’s a church and a God that might not be so bad after all.
And that’s a powerful ministry in itself.