I’ve been rehearsing a lot lately.
Actually, not just rehearsing, but painting a set, working on building costumes, directing, consulting, being frustrated, etc., etc. You know, all the great things that go along with theatre. Well, except for maybe the frustrated part, but I’ve never done theatre without that playing into it somewhere along the line.
I love how seriously the community of faith in which I currently work takes theatre. I’m working with a group as passionate about it as any professionals I’ve worked with. We have a full stage and expensive lighting and sound equipment with which to design, a budget with which to build sets and costumes, and all the fun that goes along with it.
I’ve been thinking lately, however, of other places I’ve done theatre. I’ve done it in places with bigger budgets (typically schools), with mediocre budgets (typically community theatres), and with absolutely no budget (typically churches). I’ve done it on stages, in sanctuaries, and on the street. I’ve done it with no equipment and with a lot of equipment. But some of the most fun I’ve had has been when I’ve done it “in the rough,” like improvisational sketches with a youth group or street theatre on a missions trip. That’s when the proverbial rubber meets the road: are you dedicated enough to make it work, and do you have the creativity to take next to nothing (sometimes only the actors) and make the show happen?
I’ve taken to calling it “theatre in the rough” in my mind…you know, like “roughing it” on a camping trip. I’ve had some amazing experiences in the rough; some frustrating, some no end of fun, but all growing me into a better actor or director or designer in the end.
This concept of “in the rough” goes beyond theatre, though. I think of churches who have no building to call their own, that are forced to move in and out of a rented or donated gym or cafeteria on weekends, or to completely migrate across town on occasion. The church in which I do theatre now began like that. I can think of at least one other prominent community of faith that began in the same way. I think when that happens, the mindset is closer to the way the church is meant to function…the worldwide church, I mean. I think the focus in clearer, sort of how theatre’s purpose is clearer when you’re working with next to nothing but determined to make it happen anyway. You come out of those “foxhole experiences” loving your art so much more, being so much more dedicated to it. Similarly, I think communities of faith come out of those experiences with a similar dedication and perspective on God, and what He wants His church to do.
Its completely counter-cultural to the “bodies, bucks, and buildings” concept that dominates church culture here in the Bible Belt. Somehow, everyone thinks that you need a building to be a church body. Certainly, God saw nothing wrong with ornate places of worship, just as theatre had its beginnings with basic sets and facilities. And while it is great to have these things, it is nowhere prescribed as necessary.
Sometimes minimalism is the most educational experience we can have, whether in theatre, in faith, or in any number of other areas of our lives.