The Creativity of Yes + Fellows Hip Trailer

Today’s post is a guest post on Transpositions: “The Creativity of Yes: The Marian Role of the Viewer”

And The Fellows Hip‘s first trailer is out!

We’re trying to attract distributors, so please “Like” and comment if you’re willing. Here are some other ways you can help us find distribution:

1. View our YouTube videos, and give a thumb’s up to your favorites. (These videos need to be in the thousands of views!)

2. Leave a Comment and Subscribe to our YouTube Channel.

3. Join our Facebook Fan Page.

4. Follow us on Twitter!!/OpeningActProd

5. Join in on the conversation with our blog.

6. Join and let others know about our email list. (Submit your ZIP code – or city for those outside the U.S. – to let distributors know where screenings should take place!)

7. Pre-order the DVD (and receive exclusive special features). Pre-orders not only help us finish the film faster, they also show distributors stronger than anything else that there is an audience for the film.

8. Do you know someone who could help in getting the word out to the masses? I’d love to talk to that person.

Stay tuned for more information on a podcast interview that the other lead cast members and I are doing next week! In the meantime, you can read this recent article on the film. ETA: The podcast is now up! Interview begins at 34:00: LOTRO Reporter Episode 88 – The Fellows Hip Redux. (And here’s a second interview, recorded prior to the cast’s, with the awesome Fellows Hip producers – begins at 30:42: LOTRO Reporter Episode 87 – Interview w/ Opening Act Productions.)

In other news, this week I received a full work-study grant to attend this year’s C.S. Lewis Summer Institute at Oxbridge, run by the C.S. Lewis Foundation, where I will be presenting a 20-minute version of my thesis, “C.S. Lewis on the Moral Responsibility of the Christian Artist”, as part of the Academic Roundtable. Thank you to the Foundation, and let me know if you’ll be attending! I presented a longer version to the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society this past Tuesday, which was received well, and the attendees created some interesting discussion of their own afterwards.

I’m still looking for members of religious orders in the professional theatre, Christians who run secular professional theatres, and professional theatres which excel at community-building for my Theatre R&D tour this summer. Stops so far include New York City, Toronto, Boston, D.C., Chapel Hill, Austin, Los Angeles, Vancouver, and Chicago, with a few stops in smaller areas such as Alberta and Kansas. I hope to have a draft itinerary up in my next blog post (probably after my final Oxford exams, which run June 6-17). Let me know who I should visit!

Theatre R&D – The Research Tour

I’ve been reading Chris Guillebeau’s blog The Art of Non-Conformity recently (added to blogroll), and this post struck me. In it, Chris relates a piece of advice that marketing guru Seth Godin gave him: “I think you need more of an agenda.”

Chris started thinking about his blog’s agenda, and I’ve been thinking about mine. I’ve also been thinking about where I go once I leave Oxford, which will probably be the case at the end of July. (I finish my final exams in June, and am sticking around for the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s triennial conference, the C.S. Lewis Summer Institute at Oxbridge, Jul. 26 – Aug. 3. I’ll be presenting on “C.S. Lewis on the Moral Responsibility of the Christian Artist” as part of the Academic Roundtable. Go here for more information or to register.)

I don’t yet know where I’ll be this coming autumn. It could be St Andrews, Duke, Kings College London, or Oxford. Or, if I’m not accepted into any of those programs in the first round, it could be almost anywhere else.

Wherever I am, I feel the time is right to start taking steps towards the religious theatre community I wrote about a year ago. Now, I’ve decided to approach the religious life and theatre aspects separately, partly because I’m still allowing my recent conversion to Catholicism to settle into a deeper regular practice before I start making any moves toward vocation, but also because I think they will have to operate as two separate entities, even if they end up being linked later. In any case, I’ve spent a year-and-a-half in a theatrical fallow period, since I’ve been focusing on my studies and writing at Oxford, and I’m rarin’ to go again.

Another blog post that has stuck in my head recently is from Scott Walters, on “The Need for Theatre R&D”. Scott’s vision of a theatre company living communally, and rooted in its community, has inspired much of my thought on the kind of company I would like to start. This new post, emphasizing the importance of theatre makers sharing the results of their experiments with the wider field, verbalized another goal of mine, the artist-scholar model, in which company members not only exercise their craft, but also contribute to the intellectual discourse of their field. (That’s why my ideal space has a comfortable – and comfortably large – library!)

To that end, I’m going to be undertaking a research tour of the U.S. and Canada this August-September. There are two kinds of theatre makers (both individual artists and companies) whom I would like to meet:

1)      Christians working in secular theatre. I am especially interested in companies run by Christians, or with a Christian background/mission, that produce work aimed at general audiences, as opposed to church drama ministries, companies that serve primarily church audiences, or groups that function primarily as mission teams. These types of work are valuable, but they’re not what I feel called to do. I’m looking for companies that produce shows alongside the rest of the theatres in their area, but are informed by Christian faith. (Basically the theatrical equivalent of the Inklings.) I’m especially interested in members of religious orders who are using theatre.

2)      Theatres which have especially close bonds with their local community. In keeping with the principles of Scott’s vision, as well as the guiding principle of hospitality that informs my vision of a Benedictine theatre company, I’m looking for theatres which are rooted in their local communities, instead of focused solely on the needs and desires of the artists. Which professional/semi-professional theatres do you know that epitomize neighbourliness and community?

My goal is to study the practices of these groups, in order to glean and share information, examples, and inspiration that will serve our wider community (as well as guiding the development of my own company).

Tell me where to drive this summer!

C.S. Lewis College & the Arts

I have just returned from a week-and-a-half’s vacation with my family in India. We went from Delhi to Jaipur to Corbett National Park to Nainital in the foothills of the Himalayas. (Let me just say that the sunsets up there are absolutely gorgeous, and I could happily live as a hermit for a summer in sight of those snowy peaks.) I returned to Oxford with family in tow on Sunday to the sight of snow covering the ground. It looks like we’ll be having a white Christmas here at the Kilns!

(Picture snapped yesterday morning)

I also arrived home to some news so good I’ve been sharing it with folks left and right:

Announcing the founding of C.S. LEWIS COLLEGE!

You heard that right, folks. After years of work, one of the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s two major physical projects – the other being the running of the Kilns and its programs – finally has a home, and a proposed start date. And I – and the other friends of the Foundation with whom I’ve spoken – couldn’t be happier.

On the website linked to above, you’ll find information on the Dec. 16th announcement, including videos from the press conference with the participating organizations, and an information video on the plan for the College. There are also press documents and FAQs, as well as links to the venture’s partners.

You want the details?

-C.S. Lewis College will be a Christian Great Books College with a School of Visual and Performing Arts. Denominationally, it will be “merely Christian,” open to all who hold the most basic tenets of the Christian Faith, including Protestants, Catholics, Orthodox, and others.

-The privately-owned Oklahoma-based arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby has made a generous $5 million commitment to buy and maintain the Northfield, Massachusetts campus of the Northfield Mt. Hermon School, a private co-ed boarding school which has consolidated its activities to another campus, for the purposes of establishing C.S. Lewis College. (Three cheers for Hobby Lobby and Northfield Mt. Hermon!)

-The College plans to enroll 400 students and maintain 40 faculty and 45 staff members when it opens. Subject to the accreditation process, the College plans to commence instruction in Fall 2012.

(Picture from new C.S. Lewis College campus. Photography by Sharon LaBella-Lindale. More pictures available here.)

C.S. Lewis College is exactly the kind of college I was looking for as a high school senior interested in both professional-level theatre training and a solid foundation in the liberal arts within a Christian academy. I didn’t find such an environment at the time (though I have since been informed of smaller Christian colleges that I have been told have excellent theatre programs, such as Benedictine College in Kansas), so I was split between my two top choices. One was Wheaton College, which my father, grandfather, and several other family members had attended and loved, and which impressed me with its commitment to a solidly intellectual Christian environment and the warmth and fellowship of its students and faculty. The other was New York University, which had an academic culture that was the polar opposite of Wheaton’s (just how much so I was to find out later), but which had one of the top undergraduate professional theatre training programs in the country. Wheaton did not even have a theatre major. So, on the advice of my father, I chose NYU. My father knew that I wanted top-level training, and I think he also knew that he did not have to worry about me losing my faith in NYU’s strongly secular environment.

I’ve often wondered if I made the right choice. I was greatly challenged by my teachers, made good friends, and gained a higher level of confidence in my abilities (and of course added a certain cachet to my resume), but the cultural atmosphere oppressed me greatly. The kind of theatre promoted at NYU – postmodern, experimental, and focused on Art for Art’s Sake instead of  Truth, Goodness, and Beauty – was not the kind of theatre I wanted to do. On the other hand, I would not have received the same level of training at Wheaton, even though my artistic ideas would have been given much more support.

I don’t want other young Christians following a vocation to a life as a professional artist to experience the same dilemma, and have to choose either a Christian academic environment or top-level professional training. Therefore, I hope that C.S. Lewis College will be able to provide both. I’m sure that it will provide a Christian academic environment that initiates the student in the life of the mind and the growth of the spirit, to the greater glory of God and for Christ and His Kingdom (to quote mottoes of the Society of Jesus and of Wheaton College, found carved in stone at their respective academic institutions). My hope is that the College will also be able to recruit top-level professors and instructors in the arts, that will not only be able to help their students grow artistically in Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, but also gain the cutting-edge skills required to succeed in the top rung of the professional artistic world. It will be the job of these professors and these students, as it is my job and the job of all Christian artists, to blaze a path for traditional artistic values in today’s artistic culture of death. And we can only do that through unassailable excellence in our own work.

So, in the spirit of love for the Foundation and the College, and whole-hearted support of their mission, I humbly offer my thoughts on the formation of a School of Visual and Performing Arts at a Christian Great Books college, and what I myself would be looking for if I were once again a potential student:

1) A major in Theatre or Performing Arts (with a possible B.F.A. option). I would want to make sure I was receiving enough practical training to be competitive in the major professional markets of New York, L.A., Chicago, and the primary regional theatres around the country. I recognize, however, that a Great Books college usually requires the same curriculum of all its students, or at least a very similar one. (Thomas More College in New Hampshire, for example, allows for tailoring of its largely uniform curriculum through the Junior and Senior Tutorials, Junior Project, and Senior Thesis, in which the student focuses on a particular area of study of his own choice.) A Great Books curriculum might similarly allow arts students in their later years to tailor their instruction by taking specialized training courses (like Performing Shakespeare, Musical Theatre, Commedia dell’ Arte), either through classes or independent or small-group study, or undertake an artistic thesis (like writing or directing a full-length play). Alternatively, if there were a B.F.A. option, arts students could study the same core Great Books curriculum as all other students their first two years, and replace one or two areas of the Great Books curriculum with training courses their last two years. (Great Books curricula are generally divided into areas such as Literature, Sciences, Philosophy, Theology, History, etc. The Masters program at St. John’s College allows graduate students to choose four out of five areas in which to study.) I doubt this is the direction in which the Foundation is going with C.S. Lewis College, but it might be a good option for another institution. My biggest concern as a prospective student interested in acting professionally would be that I would spend all my time reading and discussing books and writing papers, but very little time actually learning and practicing the skills needed to pursue my craft. If I saw on a website a separate School for the Visual and Performing Arts, I would assume that as an arts student I would be carefully trained in my craft, as well as studying the Great Books.

2) Discussion of the Great Books of the arts (especially Christian), with participation by all students, but especially arts students. I would be looking for the Great Books of the arts, and not just literature, to be covered by the Great Books curriculum. For example, Aristotle’s Poetics would be a basic read for all students, as well as the experience of Shakespeare as drama, and not just as written literature. Students would be exposed to the Great (non-written) Texts of the arts, such as the paintings of Fra Angelico, the music of Palestrina, the medieval Mystery Plays (in performance), the architecture of the great Gothic cathedrals. The Way of Beauty program at Thomas More College does this well. It includes instruction in the singing of the psalmody in the Divine Office, for example, and it’s a core part of their curriculum. Arts students may spend more time on the Great Books of the arts, but all students should be exposed to them.

3) Development of an artistic worldview and discussion of the role of the Christian artist. I feel this focus is very much in line with the Foundation’s mission. In order to counter the prevailing artistic worldview of modern and postmodern art, in which all value is subjective and the purpose of art is the self-expression of the artist, we must provide students with an alternate way to view art, and their role in the world as artists. This means discussion of the role of the artist, especially the Christian artist, and an emphasis on the traditional artistic values of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. This means asking the arts students to think about what they want to stand for, and what they want to communicate through their art. A possible project might be the creating of a personal manifesto for each arts student. I know some college theatre programs that require their students to take a senior-year “business of acting” course, at the end of which they create a personalized career plan in consultation with the teacher. They leave the class knowing in which areas of the business they want to focus their efforts (Shakespeare, stand-up comedy, musical theatre, film) and how to best market themselves in that area. Arts students at a Christian Great Books college could take a course on the vocation of the artist, which might include regular spiritual reflections on their vocation (perhaps with the guidance of a spiritual director chosen by each student), and which would culminate in the writing of a manifesto describing the artistic mission to which each feels called. Reflecting on the meaning of art and the responsibility of the artist would go far toward helping arts students graduate with a strong sense of vocation and artistic purpose, and with increased spiritual growth as Christian artists and as human beings. You know, I wonder if writing such a “vocation statement,” as part of a senior-year retreat or period of spiritual direction, might be beneficial for all students.

4) A strong ensemble theatre company with a Christian mandate, but not limited to Christian productions. This would be one of the trickiest accomplishments to pull off, but it’s something I intend to try someday. (More on this theme later after I finish reading my current book, God Off-Broadway: The Blackfriars Theatre of New York by Matthew Powell, O.P., a history of the only professional theatre in the U.S. to have been run by a religious order.) Especially if there is minimal flexibility in the curriculum, I would like to see all performing arts students involved in regular practical production work with a theatre company that holds itself to professional standards. It may be entirely student-run, or it may be led or overseen by faculty, but the majority of the work would be done by the students, providing them with opportunities not only to perform, but also to direct, produce, design, write, stage manage, crew, etc. It would also reflect the artistic ethos of the college. I believe the most effective ethos would be one that both glorifies God and lovingly and manfully engages the non-Christian. The Lord of the Rings, in my opinion, is the ultimate example of the kind of art that we need more of. It’s accessible to and rings true for the non-believer, but despite not being explicitly Christian is at the same time deeply Christian. The Christian vision of the world is at the heart of The Lord of the Rings, but it is presented in a way that does not alienate the non-Christian. Instead, it helps him to understand what Christianity means through his heart, instead of through his head. It can baptize the imagination. There is room for art that is explicitly Christian and is directed to other Christians. We need that art just as much. But the world also needs art created by Christians that is directed to the general public, otherwise we’re just talking to ourselves. I would also not want the members of a student ensemble to feel unable to take artistic risks for fear of offending someone. There’s a very fine line between making powerful and possibly uncomfortable artistic statements out of a love of truth and with compassion for one’s neighbor, and making such statements out of a desire to be bold or to shock, or worse, out of a conscious desire to offend. Scott Walters, in his important blog post “Offending the Audience” (which I’ve come back to repeatedly), quotes Wendell Berry, who distinguishes between an artist who has the “intention to offend” and one who has the “willingness to risk offending.” I would want all theatre students to know that the intention to offend is incompatible with the practice of Christian charity. But artistis must sometimes have the willingness to risk offending, if what they are saying must be said. If they can say it without offending, though, so much the better. I just wouldn’t want a student theatre company to be de-clawed and limited to doing Neil Simon or dramatizations of Bible stories, for fear of stronger, meatier, and more intellectual and possibly controversial work. This is always a risk in the wider Christian theatre, where we’d rather be safe than risk going over the line. I don’t want to cross that line, any more than any other Christian does, but we may have to get pretty close to it sometimes. But as long as the students have charity toward their audiences and their fellow artists, I think they’ll be able to handle any potential controversy with grace and compassion, and will be able to pull back if they have indeed gone too far. In any case, practice doing solid, thought-provoking work, while feeling out what it means in practice to be a Christian artist, would be an invaluable experience for any arts student.

5) General college-wide support for the arts, and an understanding of the artistic vocation as a means to glorify God. This would include an administration and professors who see the arts as a good thing, and a perfectly valid way to glorify God with integrity. It would also mean a campus ministry that appreciates the sacred arts and their liturgical use, as well as campus ministers and professors who can provide arts students with encouragement as they prepare to enter an often-hostile professional world. It would also mean a career services program that is familiar with the career paths of artists, and can provide help to students who are seeking to enter the professional world directly after graduation (and not just help with finding a day job, but help finding work in their artistic field). Fundamentally, the college would have a respect and love for the arts, and not a skepticism of their value or moral cleanliness. It would be perfectly acceptable to have a college code of conduct reminding students to be responsible in their entertainment choices (as Wheaton does) – in fact, I would probably expect it. But I would be uncomfortable about applying if I noticed a pattern of denunciations of the theatre, or of movies, or of rock music, or of dancing, without specifying the forms of each that are problematic for the Christian. I’m perfectly happy to avoid nihilistic theatre pieces, idiotically crass films, profane rock music, or practically pornographic dance venues, as detrimental to my moral and spiritual health. But, since I know good and fruitful forms of each of these areas of art, I would be disturbed if a college condemned any of them as bad in themselves. I don’t see this as a problem for C.S. Lewis College, since I know the Foundation to be committed to a renewal of Christian thought in the arts as part of their mission. But I thought I’d mention it in general, as I have come across Christians who are skeptical of whole forms of art, based on past abuses. (The relationship between the Church and the theatre in the past has been particularly rocky, not without reason.)

So, there are some thoughts that came to mind as I reflected on the exciting possibilities of having a Christian Great Books college with a School for Visual and Performing Arts. I hope that you’re as excited about the potential of C.S. Lewis College as I am. (And hey, if you are, the C.S. Lewis Foundation is at 93.4% of their fundraising goal for 2009. How about clicking here to help them out with that last 6.6% in the last week of the year? Get that extra deduction for your taxes.)

What are your thoughts about the possibilities for a Christian Great Books college with a School for Visual and Performing Arts? What would you like to see in such a program? I have nothing to do with the creation of the curriculum or the founding of the College – I’m just a cheerleader and a provider of small financial contributions when possible – but I am very excited, and interested in seeing the development of a new curriculum from a college’s inception. As someone who wants to teach at the college level in the area of theology and the arts (especially exploring the areas of #3 and #4 above), I’m interested in your thoughts on the teaching of theatre in a Christian environment. What would you like to see? I’ll make sure the Foundation is aware of the existence of this post and of your comments and support.

May you have a very merry Christmas, and a blessed New Year.

New C.S. Lewis Manuscript Found at Oxford

There’s been some very big CSL news shooting around the blogosphere this week. Apparently awhile back, Texas State University professor Steven Beebe was doing some research in Oxford’s Bodleian Library, and found a CSL notebook marked “Scraps,” which contained early bits of Narnia stories, among other materials. He recently discovered that one of the “scraps” is part of a planned collaboration between Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien on “Language and Human Nature,” which even had a publication date set, but was never published. (No Tolkien contribution to the planned project has been found.) Read about it here!

“New C.S. Lewis Manuscript?” – Bruce L. Edwards’ C.S. Lewis & Inklings Resource Blog

“Tolkien Studies 6 has arrived – and an exciting discovery!” & “The Lewis/Tolkien Collaboration that might have been (but never was)” – Jason Fisher’s Lingwë: Musings of a Fish. The second post has comments by renowned Tolkien scholars David Bratman, Wayne Hammond, and Christina Scull.

“Steven Beebe Discovers Fragment of C.S. Lewis Manuscript”The C.S. Lewis Foundation Blog

And the press release from Texas State University.

Dr. Beebe’s article on the fragment will be published next year in the Wade Center’s journal Seven.

Christian Artist Seminar

There’s a post on the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s blog about the Christian Artist Seminar, an ecumenical Europe-based organization of Christian artists of all disciplines, with the mission “to practice love, compassion, freedom, solidarity and justice to the ends of shaping the culture in a creative way and influencing society by various forms of proclamation.” They’re having their annual conference in the Netherlands in the first week of August. Go here for more information:

CSL Foundation post with press release

Christian Artist Seminar website

C.S. Lewis Blog Round-Up

This week I thought I’d do a round-up of a few C.S. Lewis-related blogs I’m aware of:

C.S. Lewis Foundation Blog – Keep up-to-date on happenings at the Kilns and the C.S. Lewis Foundation. Learn about Foundation events, and read posts by visiting Scholars-in-Residence (soon including yours truly) at the Kilns. Subscribe

Further Up & Further In: A C.S. Lewis & Inklings Resource Blog – This blog is maintained by Dr. Bruce L. Edwards, a well-known Lewis scholar and author and editor of several books, including a major new four-volume reference set called C.S. Lewis: Life, Works & Legacy. This blog is one of the major resource sites I’ve found on upcoming Lewis-related events and publications, Lewis resource links, and information on Narnia and the other Inklings. Subscribe

HarperOne’s C.S. Lewis Blog – The official blog of publisher HarperOne’s C.S. Lewis website invites leading Lewis scholars to contribute posts every few weeks. Contributing scholars include such names as Michael Ward, Diana Pavlac Glyer, the afore-mentioned Bruce L. Edwards, Jerry Root, and many other promiment scholars. Subscribe

Dangerous Idea – Blog by Christian philosopher Victor Reppert, author of C.S. Lewis’s Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason. I admit, I just found this blog while doing research for this post, but I immediately subscribed. The blog discusses not only Lewis, but also important arguments in philosophy and religion. Subscribe

Internet Monk – All right, this isn’t really a Lewis blog, but it is a Christian blog by a “New Covenant, Reformation-loving Christian in search of a Jesus shaped spirituality.” I really enjoyed his post on the sexual C.S. Lewis. Some choice quotes include: “Yes, Jack Lewis had sex. In marriage. And before. Maybe more than once. He wrote Christian books, and (gasp) he wrote Christian CHILDREN’S books.” And, “The media must assume that serious Christians are seriously unhealthy people, and what better cause can one find for rolling out those freshman psych classes and all that Fruedian repression in the name of religion?” And finally, “Stand by for future posts, as we learn that the author of the popular Christian children’s books also drank, smoked, liked a bawdy joke and had theology that would drive the Truly Reformed into a hissy fit.” Subscribe

And finally, as a bonus, Into the Wardrobe, perhaps the most thorough C.S. Lewis resource site on the Web.

What Lewis-related (or Christian-related) blogs do you like to read? I’ll update this post to include any Lewis blogs mentioned in the comments.

Some brief news about my life:

Three more weeks of doing touring children’s theatre, and then the season is done. I’m doing the Virginia Renaissance Faire on the weekends, squiring for the Joust, and that’s done at the same time. My awesome sister and her friend are going to come visit me for a couple of days, and then I’m going on vacation for about a week to New York City, to say farewell to my friends from college before I cross the pond.

I found a Greek tutor! He’s an adjunct professor at Loyola College and St. Mary’s Seminary, both of which are within a few minutes’ drive of my apartment. He’s planning to meet with me twice a week and really work me hard, for which I’m grateful.

Last but not least, I found a really cool church to attend in Oxford. More on that later.

Ascension has passed, and now we await the coming of the Spirit!

More on a Christian Theatre

My posts “Offending the Audience”, “Towards a Christian Theatre Tribe”, and “Theatre Company Brain Dump” have gotten a relatively large amount of attention. There are comments on this blog and on my Facebook page that have been waiting for responses for a month. (Life has been very busy, filled with several 15-17 hour work-days, and I won’t have a day off until mid-June, which is why this is the first week I didn’t have a post up on Monday.) I thought I’d address a few of the themes from the comments, in a simplified Q&A-type format.

You said that one of your goals as an artist is to inspire hope. Do you think that all art should be positive and uplifting?

No. I believe that hope exists for the world and for each individual person, so any piece of art that is nihilistic or makes the claim that all is hopeless and life is meaningless I would repudiate as untrue. I also believe that one of the purposes of art is to remind the audience that hope exists. However, there is room for many different types of art, not all of which is pleasant to experience. For example, another legitimate purpose for art is to remind the audience that evil exists. If the art piece stops there, I don’t think it has gone far enough, but it still serves a purpose. If it goes so far as to say that evil not only exists, but is inevitable and undefeatable, I would say it is wrong. If, on the other hand, it not only states that there is evil, but also hints at the possibility of overcoming it, I would say it does well. For example, The Lord of the Rings is filled with much evil and destruction, and part of the point of the chapter “The Scouring of the Shire” is to remind the reader that the effects of evil are real, and can’t be wished away. The Appendix to the book even discusses the death of Aragorn, and there are several reminders that even this hard-won victory of the restoration of the Kingship of Gondor will one day fade away. However, Tolkien being a faithful Roman Catholic, we are assured that one day the marring of Arda will be undone, and Middle Earth will be remade into a new and glorious form, free from all evil and the workings of Melkor. There is hope.

You keep saying art should serve this purpose, and that purpose. Do you think the artist should make art with a particular purpose in mind?

Again, no. He may, but good art generally starts with an image, or a longing to tell a particular story, or some such expression of a creative impulse. However, between the first stirrings of that impulse, and the exposure of the finished product to an audience, I believe the artist should consider whether his work is good, not only in terms of quality, but in terms of serving someone besides himself. Does it celebrate, inspire, strengthen, edify, teach, warn, confront? It doesn’t have to do all of these things, or even one in particular, but it should in some way make the world better for the fact that it exists. And it should be true; that is, the audience member, through experiencing it, should have gained some level of true understanding about himself, the world, or his relation to the world. If he learns that life is meaningless, he has not gained understanding, as he has been taught something untrue. However, this line of thought leaves the realm of art per se, and gets into philosophy and theology. We may agree, as artists, about the best techniques in which to say something, but completely differ as to what is worth saying, and whether what the other says is true.

But isn’t the artist’s responsibility just to the quality of his art?

No. As a human being, and a member of the human community, he has a responsibility to act morally and serve his fellow human beings – in his case, through the creation of art. (I would also add that, as a creature, he also has a responsibility to his Creator, but I won’t go further into that in this post.) As a commenter on one of Scott Walters‘ posts (I think) said, artists are not social workers. They don’t serve in the same way social workers, or teachers, or pastors serve. However, he must serve, in whichever way he is called, and in whichever way his particular style of creation can serve.

However, this question brings up a very important point. For too long, especially in Christian art (to our disgrace), standards for art have seemed to live by the maxim, “As long as your heart’s in the right place, your work doesn’t need to be especially good.” One of the commenters on my blog, Alida Anderson, has an awesome post on her blog Thoughts on Art and Faith, called “When ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough”:

Too often, I think that the attitude within the church is, “Whatever we give God, he’ll do something good with, so I don’t have to give my best.” And yes, while it’s true that God makes beauty out of our brokenness, it doesn’t give us the excuse to be lazy or to give less than our best–not only the best of what we currently are, but the best of what we can be, through training, practice, and honing our skills…

When Christians make art that presents our faith to the world, we come at it with a significant disadvantage, because people have a preconceived idea about what “Christian art” (or movies, or music, or theatre) is like, and that preconceived idea is, more often than not, that the work is cheesy, outdated, preachy, ineffectual, and so on and so forth. There’s a notion of what the work looks like, and when the work feeds into that stereotype because we don’t do the best we possibly can, it is not only dishonoring in our work as worship, but it reinforces a stereotype that doesn’t need any more help being perpetuated.

Yes, God can work through–and despite–us in anything… Still, it can’t be good enough to hope and pray for the best results from work that is less than the best. If God can do amazing things through mediocre work done by imperfect, broken people, imagine what he can do through excellent work done by imperfect, broken people. We’re still the broken part of the equation. That doesn’t change. But the work we do doesn’t have to be half-assed because of it.

Exactly. As an artist – just the same as with a shoemaker, architect, or doctor – you still need to do a good job. The discussion of the role of the artist in serving his community assumes that as a given. Another one of my commenters, Travis Bedard, said, “If all you manage to do with such an endeavor [i.e., a Christian theatre tribe] is raise the bar for Christian theatre above the Sunday morning sketch the world will be improved immeasurably.” I hope that’s what we as Christians in the arts can do, because while there’s room for the “Sunday morning sketch,” it shouldn’t be what most people think of when they think of Christian art, which includes in its tradition the Sistine Chapel, Mozart’s Requiem, and the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris.

Speaking of which, one of the greatest gifts this blog has given me so far is that it has put me in touch with some other like-minded theatre artists. Besides the afore-mentioned Alida Anderson and Travis Bedard, stage manager Lois Dawson has let me know about the Christian mandate of Pacific Theatre in Vancouver. I’m also meeting a couple Christian actresses from Canada tomorrow night. They found me through the blog, and are going to be here in Baltimore for a conference. I’m taking them to dinner and a show (On Golden Pond at Spotlighters Theatre, which is where I volunteer in the box office and teach during the summer Young Actors’ Academy).

So, I’m looking forward to meeting them, and thinking and talking more about this topic. I’m going to wrap up, because my roommate just got home and it’s Chinese food time, but first I want to let you know that the C.S. Lewis Foundation posted this week about activities coming up later this year, including not two but THREE week-long Seminars-in-Residence at the Kilns this summer, and a Regional Retreat with Diana Pavlac Glyer in Navasota, Texas. (I highly recommend attending a Seminar-in-Residence if you have the opportunity.) Read about them here.

I’m working on responding to the backlog of comments, and will plan to be back on schedule with blog posts next Monday. In the meantime, enjoy the weekend!

Theatre Company Brain Dump

Here’s my plan for the next few years:

2009-2011: Second BA in Theology at Oxford University

2011-2012: M.Litt. in Theology, Imagination & the Arts at the ITIA at the University of St Andrews

2012-2015: D.Phil. in Theology, Imagination & the Arts, ditto

Doctoral dissertation: The Moral Responsibility of the Christian Artist

And then? I’m currently thinking: Create a Christian theatre company.

Here’s my brain dump about my ideal company:

1) Excellent work. In contrast to the view that seems to be prevalent about Christian art, at least in the U.S., having good intentions does not excuse mediocre work.

2) Do only plays that will contribute something to the world – are edifying, or hopeful, or morally exemplary, or challenges us as human beings.

3) Involve the community, whether by doing world premieres of plays by local playwrights, or supporting young artists, or doing talkbacks and discussions. Be sensitive to what the community wants and needs.

4) Eventually would like to do 12 shows a year (like Spotlighters, the theatre where I currently volunteer doing box office, and teach during the summer’s Young Actors’ Academy), but at minimum, 3-4.

5) Actors, directors, designers, technical personnel, and staff are all the same people, and all work together as an ensemble. Each person works according to his strengths, and therefore no one person will take on all roles unless he wants to, but every person will take on more than one role.

6) The company will work with local churches and be of service to them, whether providing space, being involved with worship (as the company members choose), or helping host activities and discussions.

7) Perhaps affiliated with the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s C.S. Lewis College? It would be awesome for the College’s Performing Arts Center to have an Equity theatre affiliated with it, or at least a high-quality professional non-union theatre.

What would you like to see in a Christian theatre company?

“A Zoo of Lusts”

I’ve fallen behind in my reading plans for Oxford, but that’s okay, because none of them are required. I’ve finished re-reading the Gospels, and will move on to re-reading the rest of the New Testament. I haven’t read any new theology books on my list, but next up is Davies’ and Rogerson’s The Old Testament World. I plan to start in on my Greek textbook exercises this week. Chapter 1 is learning the Greek alphabet.

My current reading is not academic, but rather spiritual. On the suggestion of a priest I talked to last week, I’m reading Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain. I fell in love immediately. As a friend of the author writes in the Introduction, Merton is a born writer. I’m at the point now where he is at Columbia College and becoming a Communist. His descriptions of his soul, looking back at himself, remind me of one of Lewis’ statements in his own spiritual autobiography, Surprised by Joy. Lewis writes:

For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose. And there I found what appalled me: a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion.

Merton, too, speaks of examining himself after leaving Cambridge, and finding “the same old story of greed and lust and self-love, of the three concupiscences bred in the rich, rotted undergrowth of what is technically called ‘the world,’ in every age, in every class.” But he didn’t yet recognize these festering abcesses in his soul as such, and blamed his flaws on his upbringing in a relatively well-off socioeconomic class and in a capitalist society. It was only later that he was to recognize them as spiritual failings, and submit himself to God for their remedy.

At church the other week, we were discussing how every time we feel as if we have finally conquered some sinful inclination, God allows us little to no time to revel in the victory before revealing to us another deeper and harder battle yet to be fought within our own souls. If we take the time to examine ourselves truly and fully, asking for the grace to see with God’s sight into the depths of our hearts, what zoo of lusts will we find there? I know I’m terrified to make a full inventory of my particular menagerie. Spiritual autobiographies like those of Lewis and Merton are comforting, I think, because we realize that, alone as we feel in our sins, there are others who have been just as terribly ashamed – and yet how completely were they redeemed when they gave themselves up to God, for Him to do as He would with them!

We will never know what good we gave up each time we sinned, but thankfully, God can make each sin a felix peccatum that is the occasion for grace, and that can be used for both our good and for the good of our neighbor. Merton says that the selfish rebellion into which he descended as a youth ended up being good for him, because God let him see what a mess he made of his life when left to his own devices. It enabled him to see how much he needed God. And Lewis’ atheism helped him immensely as a Christian apologist. Besides giving him credibility with many outside Christianity, it also enabled him to understand how someone could not believe in God, and how to speak to that person. Don’t get me wrong, it would have been better for Merton, Lewis, and us if they and we had never sinned, but since they and we have, the only remedy is to let God use the sin for good. And that means submitting to His will for our lives, and living with the consequences of the sin. And that, I think, is the most difficult part. I know it is for me.

I really didn’t mean to write a sermon when I started, I promise! I meant to write a paragraph or two on Merton’s book. But as you can see, The Seven Storey Mountain inspires spiritual self-examination, which I’ve only touched on at a shallow level. I’m going to sign off so I can get back to reading it.

Btw, I’ve linked to a few books in this post. If you’re interested in purchasing them, especially Surprised by Joy, please consider doing so through the C.S. Lewis Foundation’s online bookstore, run through That way, a percentage of your purchase will go to support the Foundation’s activities.

Also, Diana Pavlac Glyer, whom I mentioned in a previous post, has now written her own post about her two-week sabbatical at the Kilns. Read it here! You can also get her book, The Company They Keep, at the Foundation’s bookstore. It examines the Inklings (especially focusing on Lewis and Tolkien) as “writers in community,” and the different kinds of influence they had on each other as members of a writing group. I read it last year, and highly recommend it, especially if you’re a writer, or are interested in the Inklings’ creative process.

Towards a Christian Theatre Tribe

I’ve been feeling an excitement over the past few days about theatre that I haven’t since the early months of my life at NYU. Mainly it’s come from this site, which talks about forming a different kind of theatre company – a Theatre Tribe. Essentially, a Theatre Tribe is a group of theatre artists who not only produce theatre as a community, but work as a community, live as a community, and engage with their neighbors as a community. As I understand it, a Tribe should:

1. Consist of a variety of artists – actors, directors, designers, playwrights, stage managers, dramaturgs, arts administrators, etc. A theatre company is generally going to consist mostly of actors, but the Tribe should have at least one person who either specializes in or can take on each of these other roles.

2. Be self-supporting. This doesn’t necessarily mean making all of its money through ticket sales. As in this vision statement by Scott Walters, the Theatre Tribe wiki’s author, members of the Tribe could grow and sell produce, or teach classes for the community at the theatre. The goal is to get away from being part-time artists who have to work a day job, and instead letting all one’s energy be focused on the theatre and its community.

3. Have a single financial pool. This means that all the money earned from the theatre, and that the individual artists earn from teaching their own classes, or from outside acting jobs they get, goes into one pot. Once expenses are covered, the remaining income can be divided up equally among the artists. Alternatively, they could each receive according to their needs. For example, if one of the tribe members is in need of a doctor visit, the tribe would cover that extra cost, while everyone else foregoes some Starbucks that month. However they decide to divide up the income, nobody has a completely independent revenue stream.

4. Make educational activities a commitment. And as Scott says, this doesn’t just mean doing a free student performance of one of the theatre’s productions. It means actively engaging with the community in terms of workshops, classes, dramaturgical work, visiting schools, having talkbacks, and participating in a dialogue with the community. Which brings me to the all-important…

5. Be active in the Tribe’s community. This means that Tribe members do not withdraw into their theatre, but rather make themselves and their theatre part of the community. As in Scott’s vision statement, they could allow local community organizations to use space in the theatre for free during dark nights. Tribe members should be involved in their local churches, civic organizations, clubs, charities, and volunteer organizations.  And they shouldn’t do this just to bring more people to their shows, but because theatre and its makers should be rooted in its community’s soil.

I’ve been thinking about what I want to do with my Theology degree. I know I want to do grad school, mainly to use the time to write a book on the moral responsibility of the Christian artist – a call-to-arms on how to live our lives as Christian theatre and non-theatre artists. My original plan was to do a D.Phil. from the Institute of Theology, Imagination, and the Arts at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, but since I don’t feel called to academia, their planned new M.Litt. might be a better degree for my purposes.

Afterwards, I want to put the principles I write about into practice, through a Christian theatre or film company. I think I’m more likely to choose theatre, because that’s what I know better, and I love the theatre community, and the ritualized magic that an exceptional dramatic moment can tap into. (For example, see a good production of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean, like the production that Everyman Theatre did locally last season. The City of Bones sequence will electrify your spirit.)

The idea of a Christian Theatre Tribe – a blend of monasticism and theatre collective – sounds right up my alley. I’m not sure it’s my calling, but I believe it will be a calling for somebody, and whoever it is, I will support them.  If you’re out there, let me know.

NB: As part of the C.S. Lewis Foundation‘s mission of “advancing the renewal of Christian thought and creative expression throughout the world of learning and the culture at large,” they plan to found C.S. Lewis College, a Great Books college with a School of the Visual and Performing Arts. When I was applying to colleges for my first degree, I was unable to find a Christian college that had both strong academics and strong professional actor training. I believe and hope that C.S. Lewis College can be this type of college, and I am determined to help it succeed. Its mission to renew Christian creative expression in the culture at large is in lines with the vision of a Christian Theatre Tribe, and if this idea kindles even a small flame in you, please let both me and the Foundation know. I just received a letter this week informing me that the Foundation has had to let go of half their paid staff. As someone who also works for a non-profit that is feeling a dire financial pinch, I ask that you prayerfully consider making a small tax-deductible donation to the Foundation. I’ve sent mine in already. Both the people and the mission are worthy, and they do good work.