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

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

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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.

Some Thoughts on Art from John the Baptist

When all the people asked John, ‘What must we do?’ he answered, ‘If anyone has two tunics he must share with the man who has none, and the one with something to eat must do the same.’ There were tax collectors too who came for baptism, and these said to him, ‘Master, what must we do?’ He said to them, ‘Exact no more than your rate.’ Some soldiers asked him in their turn, ‘What about us? What must we do?’ He said to them, ‘No intimidation! No extortion! Be content with your pay!’ – Luke 3:10-14

I was praying over today’s Gospel, and focused on the part written above. I was using Ignatian contemplation, in which you enter into the scene, and become part of it, possibly having conversations with the other characters in the scene.

After listening to John the Baptist tell the people that those who have extra clothing and food must share with those who have none, I listened to both the tax collectors and the soldiers in turn ask John what specifically they must do.

It struck me that both of these groups could be considered collaborators with the Roman occupation. The tax collectors certainly were – they took taxes from their fellow Jews for Rome, and the only way they made a living was by taking more than they were told to take. They worked on commission, as it were – ‘Rome must have its tax, but take an extra 10% for your troubles’. In telling the tax collectors to take no more than their rate – that is, to take no more than Rome’s tax – he is effectively asking them to work for zero salary, and become penniless.

However, he has just told the Jewish crowd as a whole that they are to provide for those without means. So therefore, in a way, he is saying to the non-tax-collectors in the crowd, ‘I am asking the tax collectors to become penniless, so that they may walk justly with their God as your brothers in the nation of Israel. Therefore, you must take care of them. If Rome requires that you give her men to take her taxes, then you must take care of these men so that they do not fall into unrighteousness. It is your fault if these men feel pressured to cheat in order to survive, and are tempted to cut themselves off from the community. You must make an effort to keep them still your brothers’.

He’s easier on the soldiers. He allows them to keep their jobs – and I’m assuming here that these are soldiers who work for Rome, not temple guards – but it’s also about money. He tells them not to rob or accuse others unjustly (so they can either blackmail them or take their property once they are unjustly convicted), and to be content with the pay they receive for a job that does do a service for the community, in terms of keeping the peace in the nation. They are allowed to be soldiers, but they must be satisfied with the small reward they receive for this service.

So if one thinks about the Roman context of this conversation, it is all about the community’s duty to help their brothers and sisters stay righteous, to stay in relationship with God and the community. To ease the pressures to fall into sin, and help each other on the road to salvation.

Keeping this Roman context in mind, I turned to the original question I had wanted to ask the Baptist at the beginning of the exercise: ‘What about us artists? What must we do?’

Here was the answer I got back: ‘You may make anything for which you are commissioned, except idols. [Idols here representing anything that violates God’s Law.] Let your honouring of God be showing in the excellence of your work. As for that which you make without any commission, of your own volition – let it be your praise. Let your art be a praise to God, your sacrifice of praise. Let it be your prayer of praise.

‘And for every piece of gold that is melted down to be beaten into a beautiful image to praise God – whether for a vessel or sculpture for the Temple, or for any other thing – that piece of gold must feed more people as a sculpture, by raising their minds, hearts, and spirits to God, than it would have fed if it were spent to buy food for people’s bodies. Only if it feeds more people as a sculpture than as bread is that piece of gold justified to be used for art.’

I offer these brief reflections for whatever value they may have. I’m not a historian, and these thoughts may have no grounding in actual history, but I hope they may still have some value in spiritual understanding, of how we should live as the community of Christians, and especially as Christian artists.