The Power of Religious Theatre

Yesterday in Sacrament meeting a speaker shared an experience about when he lost his young son and how the Spirit helped him and his wife deal with the loss.  It was a powerful experience, and as I felt the spirit of his testimony I was reminded of a similar experience I have had.  No, I have not lost a child, nor have I personally known someone who has.  But I was in a play once where I felt that experience.  Now, before you start to criticize me for daring to compare a play to such a powerfully tragic experience, let me try to explain the Power of Religious Theatre.

I have been involved with theatre for quite some time now, my first school play was in the 7th grade, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. And then I was in a few plays in high school as well.  For me, though, acting was simply a matter of memorization.  You memorized your lines and you memorized your movements and then you simply repeated that for each performance.  And that was all.  I heard actors and friends talking about how hard it was to play certain roles, how ’emotionally draining’ it could be.  I didn’t understand that, because I simply memorized and regurgitated what the director wanted of me.  It wasn’t until I got started with religious theatre that I began to understand the power that theatre could have.

One of the first religious plays that I was involved with as I started with New Play Project was Maror by James Goldberg, where I played the Home Teacher who was watching a young son while his parents were at the hospital with their newborn, when the son fell into the pool and almost drowned, and slipped into a coma.  As I had a monologue where I tried to explain how I was feeling, being responsible for another couple losing their son, I found out how hard it was to act a role that is ’emotionally draining.’  It was hard as I nearly cried each night, as I felt the spirit of the audience, as they became emotionally invested in the play, and as I felt how I would feel had I been in the same situation as the character that I was portraying.  And it is this collaborative nature of the theatre that gives it its power.

Theatre does not happen alone.  Without an audience, I’m just standing on stage talking to myself.  It is when I feel the energy of the audience, feed off of that energy, and give it back that together we explore human nature and discover what that means for us individually.  I love the conversation that surrounds theatre, I love talking with audiences after a show about what they felt, what they thought as they sat there.  Theatre allows us to experience things that we would not be able to experience on our own.

I have talked before about why I love Testimony Meetings, the collaborative nature of sharing testimonies and spiritual experiences with each other.  For me, theatre works the same way.  I do not have to experience everything because others have experienced and are willing to share with me.  I firmly believe that Theatre, especially religious theatre, is a form of testimony. A sharing of something personal for the collective benefit.

I love going to the theatre, watching a play and then being part of the collective conversation about the piece.  We can learn so much from other’s experiences, even if they are mostly fictional, as theatre is.  But hidden in all of that fictional theatre are truths about the human experience.  The best plays are ‘real’ because we feel like we know the characters and he situations they are in and we feel with them and learn from them.

I want to invite all of you to experience a wonderful evening of religious theatre.  No, this is not a shameless plug, it is an honest invitation to a set of religious plays that I have loved so much and I want to share with you.  Tonight at 7:30 at Provo Theatre Company, 105 E 100N in Provo, UT come see The Best of New Play Project. Five amazing plays that are sure to inspire some deeper conversation, and tonight is the last show.  Come and share your spirit and energy with us and I promise that you will enjoy the show.

For other reviews of the show:

From me.

From Utah Theatre Bloggers Association.

From the Daily Herald.

From Ben Crowder of Mormon Artist Magazine.

I love theatre and I love this set of plays and I want to share this collective theatre experience with you to help you understand the Power of Religious Theatre.  It can teach us things that we can learn in no other way by allowing us experiences that we can have in other way.   Come and See!

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One thought on “The Power of Religious Theatre

  1. Ted

    I absolutely agree. This is why Mormon cinema will probably never take off, but Mormon theater will. Theater provides a very gritty, personal, visceral reaction to the things happening on the stage. When someone is screaming (in real life!) at his spouse about the death of a child in front of you, it sucks you in. On the silver screen, it’s just melodramatic.

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