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Handbook Appendices Forms Theatre Scholarships For Theatre Majors, Minors, and Intendeds University Theatre Handbook Table of Contents Theatre Home

A.1.c. The Christian and the theatre.

General Comments

Discovering the relationship between your strengths, interests, convictions and what to do with your life is perhaps the major ques­tion of your undergraduate education.  Fortunately you can—and statistically you will—change your career several times in your working lifetime, so that decision is never made once.  But dealing with the larger issue of integrating your artistic impulse and talent with your faith, now that becomes a central fulcrum for your sense of life’s purpose, human worth and ongoing personal well-being.  It deserves some real attention.  Also, remember, it may also affect your work career preparation.

While it has not been with a unanimous voice that the Church has spoken about this dilemma, throughout its history some of its leaders have expressed significant reservations concerning the very nature of the theatrical act as well as, of course, the social responsibility of the art.

From ancient Tertullian to Saint Augustine to puritan Jeremy Collier, many Church authorities have indicated significant "uneasiness" with what they have perceived as theatre’s supposed flawed artistic base, its basic premise of "imitation."  They have linked it with  blatant hypocrisy—"the act of pretending to be what you aren't."  How can Christians truthfully write, produce or perform in a false act?

An additional quarrel some Christian leaders have carried on with the theatre is the seeming selfishness, or egocentricity they perceived as underling the very nature of acting.  It is arrogance, they have insisted, to assume the ability to enter into the soul of another for the purposes of manipulating the responses of an audience.  Humility, they have pointed out, ought to be the goal of the Christian, not the usurpation of the role of God in the creation of persons.  Such activity leads only to self-aggrandizement and inwardly-focused pride.

Furthermore, many Christians, leaders and laity, have had difficulty with various forms of the portrayal of evil, ranging from 1) the use of disapproved language, to 2) the moral dangers of the embodiment of unsavory or "evil" characters, to 3) actions and themes that violate specific mores of traditional Church teachings.

This last, coupled with a pervading notion that pretending an action or a character in a role will somehow endorse that act or, far worse, become a causal factor in the performer becoming like that character, these form the basis for much Christian criticism of theatre today.

“How can you ask my daughter to play a prostitute?”

“You can’t say that on our stage!  I can hear that anywhere!”

“You had a gay character in your play?”

“I know it’s not real, but do we have to have drinking in all our plays?”

“That play’s not Christian.  I thought you were a Christian university.  I was going to send my daughter (son) to your school, but not now!  I’m writing your President!”

To these and other moral concerns raised you must, as a Christian theatre artist, develop careful responses which will not defensively dismiss the objections as silly, or unimportant, or misinformed.  (Somehow you must separate the human being and the argument from the righteous vituperation.)  But you must also develop an informed aesthetic interfacing your faith and your art.  Because this aesthetic is so foundational to your artistry, it presents the most serious aspect of your philosophical development during your undergraduate years.

 What follows below is an introduction to a few of the traditional questions surrounding the relation of the theatre to the Church.  Answers certainly can’t be attempted here, but they must be a part of your thinking as a developing Christian artist.

Next section: Question One

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