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?

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

Consecrated Life and the Artistic Vocation

Last academic year, I was a member of a vocations discernment program here in the U.K. (Compass, which I highly recommend.) Three of us Catholic young adults interested in religious life met with two group leaders from apostolic religious congregations (a Missionaries of the Sacred Heart priest and Faithful Companions of Jesus sister) one weekend a month for nine months, to learn more about religious life. This year-long discernment solidified my sense of call to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

In addition, I have also continued to discern how my sense of calling to an artistic and academic vocation fits into my sense of calling to the consecrated life. You may have noticed that the theme of a community that blends religious life with the practice of theatre has been a common thread on this blog:

Towards a Christian Theatre Tribe

Offending the Audience

Theatre Company Brain Dump

More on a Christian Theatre

What Should a Professional Christian Theatre Look Like?

On a Benedictine Theatre Company

Thoughts on a Religious Theatre Community

New Ways of Making Theatre

And on my PhD program’s blog Transpositions:

Towards a Eucharistic Theatre

Thoughts on Consecrated Life for Artists

Image
Pelican altarpiece by Fr Marko Rupnik SJ, Chapel of the Holy Spirit, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, CT, USA

I am ready to explore the next phase of how these two vocations – the vocation to the consecrated life and the vocation to art-making – go together. Stay tuned.

Towards a Eucharistic Theatre

My proposed dissertation title is ‘Towards a Eucharistic Theatre: Communion and the Moral Responsibility of the Theatre Artist’. I explain the phrase ‘Eucharistic theatre’ in my recent post at Transpositions.

(Posted from the family ranch in Gove, KS – I went on my first cattle round-up today!)

Working Summer

I thought I’d do an update post before I continued my series on a Benedictine theatre company.

I’m in what’s called the Long Vac in Oxford parlance – the long vacation during the summer, during which students are expected to do the bulk of the primary reading required for their course. I’m also using the time primarily to write my BA thesis on “C.S. Lewis on the Moral Responsibility of the Christian Artist.” I spent three weeks at Wheaton College finishing up my reading (I’ve now read all the published Lewis material, except for book reviews and other minor pieces that haven’t yet been collected into a book – though I did skim through the book reviews the Wade Center at Wheaton had on file, and took a glance at the Lewis Papers).

I then went to northern Virginia and shot two principal roles for an educational video, aimed at teaching bartenders and servers how to deal with unruly customers. (I played a restaurant customer who made inappropriate comments to his waitress, and also a bar patron who’d had a wee too much to drink – seriously playing against type!) It was nice to make some money this summer, instead of just spending it traveling.

I also did ADR (Automatic Dialogue Replacement) for The Fellows Hip. It was my first time doing ADR, and though we did about three scenes worth of dialogue, it took less than an hour, averaging about 4-5 takes per line. I saw a rough cut of the film beforehand, and I’m really looking forward to seeing the finished product.

By the way, you can now pre-order the DVD! It’s only $10 $15 ($14 $19 total with S&H in the U.S.) – AND this DVD comes with extra bonus features for folks that pre-order!

I then drove down to Virginia to attend a friend’s wedding, and then directly afterward drove up for another friend’s wedding in New York City the next day. I then stayed in NYC for a few days to see friends (and my favorite teacher at NYU), and next drove to Vermont to stay for a week at my uncle’s horse farm.

After a week of unloading hay carts, mucking out stalls, and doing various other tasks on the farm, I drove home to Virginia, stopping on the way to visit the Northfield, Mass. campus of the C.S. Lewis College (where I met Jean Mattson, wife of C.S. Lewis Foundation President Stan Mattson, sadly no relation to me) and to stay overnight with one of my NYU friends who is about to begin her last year of med school in New Jersey.

I arrived home last Friday, and attended a party for the 50th wedding anniversary of two of my Sunday school teachers on Saturday. Sunday was early Mass and then 11 a.m. service with my mother at the Presbyterian church where I grew up in the Faith. Today, I had lunch with another one of my Sunday school teachers, a gentle, wise, and holy man whom, along with his wife, my family greatly loves and respects. Afterwards, I went to see Inception, which is a pretty good movie. At the moment, I’m typing this while sitting in the living room with my parents, with the Jack Ryan flick Patriot Games playing on the T.V. (Jack Ryan, by the way, is one of those wonderful examples of how heroic figures can be interesting, much more so than anti-heroes, which seems to be an unbelievable statement to many actors  and other story-telling artists. I love when, in Clear and Present Danger, the corrupt CIA Deputy Director Robert Ritter tells Ryan he’s “such a boy scout” – as if that’s an insult – and needs to see the world and its moral choices in shades of grey, not black and white. Ryan retorts, “Not black and white – right and wrong.” Sadly, the voice of Ritter is all too often seen as the more true statement, and even the healthier [!] one. Actually, if we were all “boy scouts” like Jack Ryan, the world would be a much better place.)

This week I’ll be finishing up organizing my notes for my thesis, which I will start writing next week. I will also be visiting Duke August 16-20, which I’m very excited about. I’ll not only be seeing some friends, but also meeting with a couple current ThD students and a Divinity School professor. (Duke’s ThD and St Andrews’ PhD in Theology and the Arts are my top two choices for graduate school.)

Afterward, I’ll be coming back here for another week and prepping for my last year at Oxford, and then heading back to the U.K. the first week of September. My first stop will be the Theology, Aesthetics, and Culture conference at St Andrews, focusing on the works of David Brown. Next, I’ll be attending the Beatification ceremony of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman, led by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI in Birmingham on Sept. 19!  (Learn more about the papal visit, the first visit to the U.K. by a pope in his capacity as a head of state since Henry VIII, here.) Finally, my goal is to finish my thesis and hand in an edited draft to my supervisor for his comments by the end of September.

So, that’s what’s going on for me this summer. Let me know if you’d like to meet up at any point!

Benedictine Theatre Company: Prologue

Well, I’ve done it: I’m now a Roman Catholic. At the 5:45 p.m. Mass on May 16th at the Oxford University Catholic Chaplaincy, I was received into the Church by Bishop William Kenney. It was a remarkable experience to be able to participate fully in the Eucharist for the first time, to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. (I also now have four rosaries – all the confirmands received one as a gift from the Chaplaincy, and I received two others from friends, added to the one I had been given by a Dominican friar friend earlier.)

I thought I’d celebrate this event by starting the series on a Benedictine theatre company that I promised here. This series will look at the Rule of St Benedict, and how its principles could be applied to the constitutions of a theatre company. I’m going to go chapter by chapter. Let’s try this as a thought experiment; I acknowledge that not every chapter will apply equally well to our goal. I’m going to use the edition of the Rule available on the Order of St Benedict’s website, which you can find here.

Prologue

L I S T E N  carefully, my child,
to your master’s precepts,
and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20).
Receive willingly and carry out effectively
your loving father’s advice,
that by the labor of obedience
you may return to Him
from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.

To you, therefore, my words are now addressed,
whoever you may be,
who are renouncing your own will
to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King,
and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.

And first of all,
whatever good work you begin to do,
beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect it,
that He who has now deigned to count us among His children
may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds.
For we must always so serve Him
with the good things He has given us,
that He will never as an angry Father disinherit His children,
nor ever as a dread Lord, provoked by our evil actions,
deliver us to everlasting punishment
as wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory.

***

I’d like to focus on this last paragraph, especially the phrases, ‘whatever good work you begin to do, beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect it,’ and ‘we must always so serve Him with the good things He has given us.’ A Benedictine theatre company must always have as its goal the service of God. This mission should inform not only its choice of productions, but also its behaviour towards its artists (both permanent and for-hire), audience, and the wider communities of which the theatre is a part (e.g. civic, artistic, etc.).

I’m here at the Wade Center at Wheaton College, doing research for my thesis on “C.S. Lewis on the Moral Responsibility of the Christian Artist.” I’ve been meeting up with several Christianity and the arts folks while here, and tomorrow I’m having lunch with a guy named Dan Roche, who started a theatre company called Bird & Baby. The Bird & Baby Theatre Company (named after the pub at which the Inklings met every Tuesday morning for beer and talk) “commits to producing at least one play in each theatre season written by or inspired by one of the Inkling authors” (from the company website). They also focus on producing shows that are family-friendly.

I’m hoping to discuss with Dan tomorrow a question I’ve been thinking about as I work on this thesis: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being an explicitly, or simply implicitly, Christian theatre company?

If you’re explicitly Christian, you’re flying your flag. If your work is excellent, you’re helping to fight the connection between “Christian theatre” and “mediocre” that is unfortunately commonplace. On the other hand, mainstream audiences may avoid you, either because they think your work will be poor, or aggressively evangelical, or just not for them. And Christian audiences may insist that your shows avoid profanity, mention of immoral situations or choices (even if they’re portrayed as incorrect), and violence, or assume you’re a church drama ministry and should act accordingly.

If you’re only implicitly, and not explicitly Christian, you’re much more likely to give mainstream audiences time to get to know you on your own terms. And, you can also demonstrate that stories don’t have to be obviously Christian in order to be deeply Christian (e.g. Lord of the Rings). You also have greater freedom to tell the stories that move you, without having to limit yourself to being squeaky-clean and appropriate for children. On the other hand, if you want to engage with Christian audiences as a Christian, as well as engaging with mainstream audiences, you may find it more difficult, as they may ask what exactly is Christian about your company, or accuse you of hiding your faith to kowtow to the theatrical establishment. It may not be obvious that you’re making Christian theatre.

There’s also the evangelical aspect. I think that art that is explicitly Christian and art that is only implicitly Christian can both lead people to Christ, which I obviously think is a good thing. Good art made by Christians, but which is accessible to the non-Christian, can serve as a proto-evangelion, a preparation for the Gospel, and a baptism of the imagination. Later, a person may seek to know more about Christ through explicitly Christian art.

I’m more comfortable creating art that is only implicitly Christian, partly because I did not grow up in an evangelical milieu and am uncomfortable with direct evangelization, unless the person I’m in dialogue with asks to know more about my faith. (This may be a fault, or an attribute of temperament, or both.) I do not want to denigrate the gifts and mission of those who can do direct evangelization effectively and compassionately. Preach it! But that’s not the type of theatre I want to do. Nor am I interested in doing church drama ministry (which, again, there is a place for, especially when it’s well done).

On the other hand, I’m aware that non-Christians who enjoy art created by Christians in which the Christianity is implicit may feel betrayed when they learn about the religious meaning that lies below the surface. (I’ve certainly heard this from people who enjoyed both the Chronicles of Narnia and Lord of the Rings.) The sense of betrayal seems to stem from an original belief that the author had just created a good story, now replaced by the belief that the author was secretly trying to sneak in religious belief, in an attempted brainwashing in which the story was just a pretext for nefarious dealings. Now, that’s not how Lewis and Tolkien wrote their stories, though I wouldn’t say that attempted brainwashing hasn’t been tried by others. But for both of those authors, the story came first, and any evangelical effect on their readers’ imaginations was a happy, even if not directly intended, by-product. (Although I do think the evangelical effect of his fiction was more on Lewis’ mind than on Tolkien’s.) Like them, I just want to tell stories that bring some good to the world. After that, it’s up to God, and I know He’ll use them as He will.

This is a question I’m still struggling with. What do you think?

Why I’m Becoming Catholic – The Reception

This coming Sunday, I will be received into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church.

I’ve written about this journey before, but I haven’t yet wrapped it up. Of course, I won’t ever be able to wrap it up, because our journey with God thankfully never ends until we reach our final destination of full union with Him. However, it seems like now is as good a time as any to officially wrap up this particular blog series, especially since in my last post I had not yet even begun the official Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) class.

RCIA class started at my University Catholic Chaplaincy in November. We’ve been meeting Thursday evenings during term time, so after this week’s last meeting, we’ll have met about 16 times. There are 9 of us – 3 being received after baptism in a non-Catholic Christian faith community (like myself – I was baptized on the day of my confirmation in the PC(USA)), 3 being confirmed after being baptized Catholic but never confirmed as teenagers, and 3 being baptized as new followers of Christ.

I’ve been catechized by Jesuits, so if you find me ignorant of any vital aspect of Catholic life or practice, you know who to blame. Or so my Jesuit RCIA director says. I, for one, could not be more grateful to the Jesuits. It was through my short time at a Jesuit college that I realized I needed to learn more about Catholicism if I wanted to be an educated Christian. The Jesuits also run our University Chaplaincy, and have given me a spiritual home in this new country. The Chaplaincy will also be my physical home next year, as I have been accepted into one of their student rooms for my second and final year at Oxford. The daily Masses, community meals, and regular spiritual direction have given me a community of brothers and sisters in faith and a grounding in prayer. Plus, St Ignatius is a knight after my own heart. The chapel is also named after St Thomas More, the saint whose name I’ll be taking as my confirmation name, and the main assembly hall is the Newman Room, named after the convert who will be beatified by Pope Benedict XVI when he visits the U.K. in September. It’s all very auspicious.

I’m also very grateful to the Dominicans. There’s one Dominican friar in particular, a member of our Chaplaincy team who’s on a one-year pastoral placement before his ordination as a priest in the fall, to whom I’m especially grateful. He’s just been ordained a deacon, and will be serving at the Mass at which I’ll be received next week, which makes me happy. He’s been a good friend and mentor who, like my father, appears to be able to read my mind, and say the exact words I need to hear. It’s uncanny. I’ve gotten to know a few other of the friars as well, and they’re all good men it’s a pleasure to be around.

We also have Benedictines in Oxford who have given of their time to advise and encourage me, and there’s a doctoral student at my College who has the heart of a Franciscan whom I enjoy speaking with about matters theological and spiritual. (There is also a Franciscan friar whose blog I read regularly, and who recently answered my request for guidance on spiritual direction with a whole post on the subject. Read it, then subscribe to his blog. I’ve read the entire archives.)

Religious life is the jewel of the Catholic Church; it throws off the light of Christ in a splendour of different colours. Each order’s gifts bring out the others’, and I hope I can one day find the one whose charism and mission I can live out, if God wills. But for the next couple years, my job is just to strive to be a good Catholic. I’ll re-enter the vocational discernment process once the honeymoon period is over.

But I am enjoying this honeymoon, this period of exploring and mining the riches of the Catholic Faith. I can’t think of a better place to be in. Oxford is one of the most Catholic towns in England. Just down the street from my College is a spot where Catholic martyrs were hanged. The University was founded by Catholics to teach theology, and here I am, a student of theology about to enter a new life as a Catholic. It doesn’t get any better than this.

I’ll end this series with one of my favourite prayers, by St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits:

Teach us, Good Lord,
To serve Thee as Thou deservest;
To give and not to count the cost;
To fight and not to heed the wounds;
To labor and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do Thy will.
Through Jesus Christ Our Lord, Amen.

Please pray for all of us who are entering the Church at the Oxford University Catholic Chaplaincy, that we may experience the peace and joy of Christ, live to do His will, and rest in His love at the end.

God bless you all, and thank you for your support during this journey.