Rehearsing For Excellence: Theatre and Worship

Darling pigeons,
An unusual Saturday for me. Instead of putting finishing touches on a Sunday morning worship service, I am entirely focused on the temple of theatre and being part of a very fine production of “Cabaret.” Yes, it’s gratifying to earn a standing ovation with an amazing cast. Yes, it’s personally rewarding to walk the emotional path of a memorable character who has wonderful scenes and songs, and it is emotionally satisfying to tell the story along with talented performers while supported by stellar design artists, tech crew and an orchestra that makes me wish I could be in the show and just listen to them play all night with my eyes closed. My efforts feel richly rewarded.

The intimacy of the theatre is so much like the intimacy of church. You know what I’m talking about: gathering in a space in order to be transformed by words and music and silence that invite in the Holy – even when the Holy brings us to uncomfortable or painful recognition about the human condition and our brokenness.

“Cabaret” is exactly that. It was most gratifying of all, when I was talking to someone who saw the show and she asked me if it was a difficult show for me since I am of Jewish heritage. I told her that it is — that I think of my many extended family members who went to the gas chambers and feel in strange communion with them, almost apologizing in my heart to them, asking “Is it okay that we are telling your story with singing and dancing and entertainment?” My best friend saw the show last night and she texted me, “That was devastating.” And then the friend who had asked me if it was a hard show for me said much the same thing (her daughter is our star, Sally Bowles). She said that she felt it was a powerful reminder of that time in history that is in danger of being forgotten, and should be produced often for that reason.

Theatre and church: reminding us of that which is danger of being forgotten.

What I wanted to talk to you about more than anything, though, is the beauty of the craft of theatre and how it applies to ministry.

We rehearse and rehearse so we know what we are doing with our voices, bodies, faces and emotions while we enact the “sacred scripture” (in this case, a book by Joe Masterhoff based on source material by Christopher Isherwood, and put to music by John Kander and Fred Ebb). We do not leave to chance where we will wind up on the space of the stage, just as those who lead worship should know where they are going, and with what intention, when they move from liturgical element to element.

We warm up, and take time to carefully dress, prepare our mics, do a sound check, and make-up our faces. No responsible performer would dream of arriving at the theatre late and skipping any of these important steps. We do it not only to assure our own best personal performance but out of respect for the other artists who need us to be prepared, as grounded as possible, and totally ready to go on at curtain. It is about trust. We look out for each other and we help each other get ready.

[To be continued…]

2 Replies to “Rehearsing For Excellence: Theatre and Worship”

  1. Theatre and church: reminding us of that which is danger of being forgotten. Amen and amen. I’ve done a bit of community theatre and led worship for eight years, and I could not agree more. Thank you, as always, for your thoughtfulness and honesty. And blessings on the performances!

  2. Great post–I want to save it to share our worship team (I am a lay UU worship leader) but . . . you stopped in mid sentence! I’m dying to know what comes after “Are we . . . “?

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