My parents go to church. I go to the theatre.
I tried to explain this comparison to my mom recently, and despite her earnest attempt, she didn’t quite get it. “But— can I ask— for your father and I, a big part of church is communal worship. That’s not something you get, right?” She thinks that because the audience is different each night, the ties within the community are threadbare. Relationships hang on the proximity of your E6 to my D8. However, it is exactly the relationship between audience members that makes theatre church for me. A group of strangers sitting in a hushed place, agreeing to reflect together on the consequences of a story. Generally when an audience is moved, they are all moved. When I shift forward in my seat, I can see that you do too. An audience moves into an energetic plane together. And in that electric space, I feel whole. What is that but communal worship?
“Well, but we learn in church. We read the scriptures to better ourselves. We use the lessons to make a difference.” Momma, I’ve studied my scriptures, too. I’ve read Shakespeare and Churchill and Ruhl and Wilson. I’ve developed an obsessive interest in the mechanics of storytelling and read theory about performance as ritual. I’ve learned that language is music. That the smallest details are the most beautiful. I’ve learned that production is a political act. That theatre can be used to create conversation. Theatre has taught me that distance and perspective are not mutually exclusive with intimacy and emotion. Theatre taught me how to be a feminist. And then it taught me how to be a better one. It gave me role models and the determination to balance standing by my ideals with an incessant openheartedness towards others.
Just as my parents approach their lives through the lens of their faith, I wake up every day and genuflect to the cornerstone of storytelling. On the rare occasion I go to mass with my parents now, I feel out of place. The community is welcoming, but it’s not my community. Each time I go, though, there is one thing I look forward to. Sister Marie, a member of the congregation, always seeks me out. And without fail, each time, she asks me if I’m still doing theatre. I can see that she gets it. When I tell her yes, she looks me in the eye, puts her hand on her heart, and says, “Good. It’s a ministry, you know.”
And for me, it is.
See you in church.