That’s the question lots of people at Willow are asking. And of course, their use of the word “drama” is always a bit suspect, because we all know what we get in churches far too often when it comes to “drama.” Why the word “theatre” can’t be used tells us something. But whether an actor standing on a stage delivering a story in the flesh and blood reality of real time can be effective is a question even non-church folk ask. It is the age of the image, and the stage has only partially been about image, equally about word. Churches these days have video departments dedicated to delivering everything from announcements to sermons via live video feed, and even when you are performing on stage at Willow, nobody’s watching you because they’re all looking at your image on the big screen. Of course, Willow Creek’s main auditorium seats 7500 people, so no wonder the screens are needed. But still, it’s a hybrid world of performance aesthetics we live in, and frankly, in a 7500 seater, it’s hard to imagine that two actors sitting around a table on a couch can make much of an impact.
It’s about the face-to-face nature of real time, real space interaction. It will be a long time before we understand the effects that our technology is having on the way we do life, community, and relationship. Obviously, social networking is having huge positive impact as people link up to to take on the great evils of the world like poverty and human trafficking, as well work on issues like the care of the planet, and cultural bridge-building. As people connect through Twitter, Facebook, etc., a sense of ongoing engagement with many previously forgotten people in our lives (I love hearing from the old high school friends) is pleasurable, but it makes me wonder about the impact of connecting to the few friends we can go deep with. Are we spending time in the deep end, or in the shallow?
Theatre is a world of conversation. Many kinds of conversations, some shallow, some deep, but my instinct is that the basic bias in theatre is toward the deep. We playwrights write about what we care about, as do novelists and screenwriters and poets. The theatre is the place where the conversation happens in real time with real flesh and blood bodies sweating and speaking and grunting and laughing, audiences often doing the same before staggering into the night wondering what in the world they just experienced. Film can produce these same reactions, but the immediacy of performance will always be missing. It’s hard to appluad a screen actor at the end of a film. Or boo him, for that matter.
Is the theatre still effective? Does it still speak? How many eras have asked that question? Yet here it is, people still laboring in obscurity, writing characters and dialogue, inventing things that never happened so we can better grasp the things that do. All in hopes of perhaps someone producing our little play so that a few hundred or a few thousand people can see it.
Of course it’s still effective. Powerful, skillful, physical, theatrical story-telling will always change lives.
Headed back home today…