Next Steps: Catholic Artists’ Community in NYC

Brief update to let you all know what’s going on with the institute of consecrated life devoted to artists:

I’ll be disappearing to the family ranch in Kansas for the months of September-December to finish my dissertation. I will not be working on anything not related to my dissertation (which is on the Eucharistic theologies of the Reduta Theatre, the Rhapsodic Theatre, and Jerzy Grotowski’s Laboratory Theatre), except for a talk in New York City in November. (If you’re in the NYC area and want to get together then, let me know in the comments!)

In January, I plan to move to a house of spiritual formation for Catholic young adults on Long Island, New York. There, for a year, myself and other interested artists with whom I have been discussing the idea will lay the groundwork for a lay community of Catholic artists in the New York City area. Some of us will also be exploring the creation of a theatre company, or at least the mounting of individual productions.

open hands

Here are the answers to some questions you might be thinking:

Q: What’s a lay community? Is it the same idea as the institute of consecrated life?

A: The two ideas are different. The institute of consecrated life would involve eventual permanent vows of poverty, chastity and obedience in an institute recognized by the Roman Catholic Church (with a form of affiliated membership for non-Catholics). The lay community idea involved Catholic artists living together in intentional community, without vows or any promises of permanent membership/residence. I have discovered that while there are a few artists who feel called both to an artistic vocation and a consecrated vocation, there are many more who would like to live in community with other believing artists in a way that provides spiritual support for all the members, but without placing limitations on their work or careers, or their ability to pursue dating and marriage. The lay community would, basically, be a group of Catholics who are also artists living together in a shared house or apartment.

I expect that, out of the lay community, there may eventually arise a few candidates interesting in pursuing a consecrated life dedicated to service through the arts and to artists. At that point, we will explore the institute idea more fully.

Q: What would this lay community look like?

The current idea is that a small group of Catholic artists – probably 3-6 to start – would live in community in either donated or privately rented accommodation. (If you have any leads on appropriate sources of housing, please comment below, or email me!) We would continue to work in our normal jobs – as actors, filmmakers, painters, etc. – and would maintain our own individual finances. In order for the community to be intentional community, we would have at least some structured shared time together each week. (For example, when I lived in the Oxford University Catholic Chaplaincy, we took turns cooking each other supper on Sunday nights.) For those who wish, there could also be some times of shared prayer each day. In addition, anyone who wants to cooperate on a ministry project, could. However, requirements would be flexible, and not oppressive. This would be a freely-chosen and freely-developed way of community life, chosen for a period of time, not a permanent commitment to a structured monastic timetable. One of the benefits of living in the community house in which I intend to live over the next year will be learning what works and what doesn’t in structuring a community, especially one in which the members are not necessarily working normal 9-to-5 jobs. (For example, it makes no sense to require a house full of actors to attend communal morning prayer at 7.30am. Actors often work until midnight.)

Q: Why Catholic? Why not Christian (or ecumenical)?

The primary answer to this question, at the moment, is that it is Catholic artists who are interested. I have had conversations with non-Catholic Christian artists who are interested in some form of community life, but the ones who have indicated immediate willingness to create something now are Catholic artists interested in creating a Catholic community. It is important to me, as a Catholic raised in a Protestant church, that all the members of Christ’s Body work together. Therefore, I hope that a ‘merely Christian’ community can also be founded at some point. And if anyone wants to take up that project, let me know how I can support you. I am excited to see how the Spirit brings together these two ideas.

As for a religiously-ecumenical community – that is, a community of artists who belong to a variety of religions – I think such a community is a good idea. It is not, however, the idea I feel called to pursue. For me personally, at the moment, it is important to partner with other artists who share faith in Christ, so that we can support each other in that faith, and preach Christ to the world. However, my prayers and blessings go with anyone who does feel called to witness to the commonality of faith between people of different religions by living together in intentional community. For, in the world, we are all called to live together in community and love.

Q: How can I learn more?

Fill out this form, and let me know your questions. If you request, I can add you to my list of people to inform via e-mail once we get started. I can also send you a copy of my draft document describing the proposed institute of consecrated life dedicated to artists and service through the arts.

If you have any thoughts, questions, or comments, or would like to support this project, please comment below, or shoot me an email. Thank you for your prayers.

Yours,
Cole

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Image credit: Reg A. Klubeck – “I looked at my hands today”

Juliusz Osterwa’s Dal & Genezja: A Vision for Theatrical Religious Orders from Post-War Poland

From Kazimierz Braun, A History of Polish Theater, 1939-1989: Spheres of Captivity and Freedom (Contributions in Drama & Theatre Studies, #64) (London: Greenwood Press, 1996), p. 20, bold added:

While in Warsaw the Clandestine Theater Council worked on practical plans for the operation of theater after the war, in Cracow [the famous actor and director Juliusz] Osterwa alone drew up a statement on the moral, ideological, and religious foundations for future theater. Osterwa based his concepts on a thorough critique of the prewar Polish theater, including his own work, from an aesthetic as well as ethical point of view. He concluded that the Polish theater, along with the entire country, must undergo a “great transformation,” as a result of their “purification” by the sufferings of war. The purpose of the transformed theater would be an absolute devotion to the service of the nation and of God (testimony to Osterwa’s Catholicism). In the process of developing these postulates, Osterwa created a vision of the entire theatrical life in free Poland, encompassing different types of theater institutions, their objectives, organization, architecture, and rules for the Actors’ Union. To establish new work ethics and transform theater people internally, Osterwa envisaged two theatrical associations, Dal (“Further away”) and the Fraternity of St. Genesius or Genezja (“Born again”). Dal was to be a community of theater artists oriented toward service to society through service to art. A personal vocation to devote one’s entire life to theater would be a precondition for membership. Besides training, rehearsing, and performing in the productions, members would supervise community groups, teach acting, lecture, preach, and publish theater manuals. They would work within a cooperative structure, and their way of life would approach the monastic. Genezja would be an artistic-religious order, a brotherhood of theater people, representing the next step up beyond Dal. Service to God, within the Roman Catholic Church, would be the first priority in Genezja and the basis of service to society, through the medium of theater. The monk-members would lead a monastic life, observing religious practice, training as actors, preparing performances with religious themes, and organizing church ceremonies in which they would participate as lectors, vocalists, and preachers. Both Dal and Genezja were clearly utopian projects, but, like every utopian idea, they challenged the present and contained a seed for the future: a call for total sacrifice to theater and for the subordination of theater itself to higher values.

Anyone know where this statement can be found, or if either of these two ideas have been taken up? Anyone want to make them happen?

Grotowski’s Vision for a Theatre Renewal

From Jerzy Grotowski, “The Theatre’s New Testament”, in Towards a Poor Theatre, ed. Eugenio Barba (London: Methuen Drama, 1991), pp. 50-51:

From where can this renewal [in the theatre] come? From people who are dissatisfied with conditions in the normal theatre, and who take it on themselves to create poor theatres with few actors, “chamber ensembles” which they might transform into institutes for the education of actors; or else from amateurs working on the boundaries of the professional theatre and who, on their own, achieve a technical standard which is far superior to that demanded by the prevailing theatre: in short, a few madmen who have nothing to lose and are not afraid of hard work.

It seems essential to me that an effort be made to organize secondary theatre schools. The actor begins to learn his profession too late, when he is already psychically formed and, worse still, morally moulded and immediately begins suffering from arriviste tendencies, characteristic of a great number of theatre school pupils.

Age is as important in the education of the actor as it is to a pianist or a dancer – that is, one should not be older than fourteen when beginning. If it were possible, I would suggest starting at an even earlier age with a four year technical course concentrating on practical exercises. At the same time, the pupil ought to receive an adequate humanistic education, aimed not at imparting an ample knowledge of literature, the history of the theatre and so on, but at awakening his sensibility and introducing him to the most stimulating phenomena in world culture.

The actor’s secondary education should then be completed by four years’ work as an apprentice actor with a laboratory ensemble during which time he would not only acquire a good deal of acting experience, but would also continue his studies in the fields of literature, painting, philosophy, etc., to a degree necessary in his profession and not in order to be able to shine in snobbish society. On completion of the four years’ practical work in a theatre laboratory, the student actor should be awarded some sort of diploma. Thus, after eight years’ work of this kind, the actor should be comparatively well equipped for what lies ahead. He would not escape the dangers that threaten every actor, but his capacities would be greater and his character more firmly moulded. The ideal solution would be to establish institutes for research which again would be subject to poverty and rigourous authority. The cost of running such an institute would be a half of the amount swallowed up by a state aided provincial theatre. Its staff should be composed of a small group of experts specializing in problems associated with the theatre: e.g. a psycho-analyst and a social anthropologist. [What about a theologian? – Cole.] There should be a troupe of actors from a normal theatre laboratory and a group of pedagogs from a secondary theatre school, plus a small publishing house that would print the practical methodical results which would then be exchanged with other similar centres and sent to interested persons doing research in neighbouring fields. It is absolutely essential that all research of this kind by supervised by one or more theatre critics who, from the outside – rather like the Devil’s Advocate – analyse the theatre’s weaknesses and any alarming elements in the finished performances, basing their judgements on aesthetical principles identical to those of the theatre itself.

Is this something we can, or ought to, do as Christians in the theatre? What would a network of small ensemble theatres made up of spiritually- and artistically-motivated Christian actors/pedagogues/researchers look like?

Would it be a network of Christian “theatre monks”?

Help Wanted: Consecrated Artists for Christ

I am looking for Catholic and other Christian artists (of any type – visual artists, performing artists, musical artists, etc.) who are interested in exploring the idea of an institute of consecrated life dedicated to artistic creation and ministry to artists. This proposed institute would have both a residential community (probably located in either New York City or Los Angeles to start) and the ability for members to live individually. In addition, it would include both vowed members (professing the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity in celibacy, and obedience) and non-vowed (or alternately-vowed) associate members, who can be either married or single, Catholic or non-Catholic Christian.

Visit the links on this post for more information about the vision of the institute. Fill out the contact form below if you would like more information, including a more recent draft document describing the proposed charism of and rationale for the institute.

I look forward to hearing from you. Prayers for discernment appreciated.

St John Paul the Great and St Genesius, pray for us.

Yours in Christ,

Cole

To Share the Fruits of Contemplation

I recently listened to a wonderful 25-minute podcast on In Otherhood, a blog which explores secular, interfaith, and art monasticisms. It is written by Nathan Rosquist, one of the artmonks of the Art Monastery in Italy, who is starting his own Art Monastery in San Francisco. The podcast was an interview with Christine Valters Paintner, Abbess of the Abbey of the Arts, an online community of artists interested in living and creating contemplatively. She herself is a Benedictine oblate, and recently wrote a book called The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom. I recommend checking out both Nathan‘s and Christine‘s websites, if you’re interested in art and monasticism. (And if you’re within travelling distance of St Andrews, Scotland, and interested in joining a monthly discussion group about art and monasticism, please contact me.)

As a response to that podcast, I thought I would share with you some of the fruits of my recent contemplation. A few months ago, I went on a silent retreat at an Ignatian retreat centre in England, shortly after having finished my BA module on Christian Spirituality at Oxford. One of the mottoes of the Dominican Order is Contemplare et Contemplata aliis Tradere – ‘to contemplate and to share with others the fruits of contemplation’. In that spirit, here are two of the fruits of my Ignatian contemplation, which I share with you as I listen to Maurice Duruflé’s ‘Ubi Caritas‘, one of the most beautiful choral pieces I have ever heard.

***

‘For John of the Cross’

Lord, let me love You
with the flame of ten thousand fires.

Let me love You
with a flame that dries and crackles,

burns and blackens the crust of my soul,
hides deep down in the heart of things,

to warm and beat,
flickering forth with tongues of fire

to burst through the shell of my cindered soul,
and leap to dance as love again.

Lord, make me all flame.

***

‘For Lady Julian’

Lord, teach me to love my weaknesses
as Lady Julian loved hers,
seeing that the soiled, torn stain of our sins
blackening the white cloth of our humanity
was such a little nothing
because that cloth was worn by Christ,
who picked us up out of the Pit
and sat us next to Him at table,
with His Father and His Spirit,
all of us dazzling white,
with the wounds we ripped into our flesh
shining scars praising God’s glory,
His merciful meaning: ‘Love’.