Theatre and religion – How do they work together?

Convener(s): Tamsin Clarke

Participants: Sarah, Scarlett, Valentina, Chris, Ned, among others


Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Knowledge of Angels – An adaptation of the novel by Jill Paton Walsh. A play about humanity, tolerance, faith, atheism, existence of God. Performing in October at Shoreditch Church. How do people react to that idea - An atheist play in a place of worship? Interested, intrigued. Does it put you off it is in a church? No, it opens up the discussion. Religious plays and what connotations they bring.

How to represent God on stage? Figuratively. Spatially. The holy trinity. Telling stories of the bible in a non religious way. Discussing the idea of iconography. How in some religions it is banned from physically forming image of deity.  Lady Gaga and costumes she wears. How does this relate? Icon generation


Play- Go/Head – Chris Good.

            The Mysteries - York, Company, Riding Lights 

How music has successfully (?) achieved the illustration of God.

Theatre and religion are both constantly rediscovering…are they? Are they changing?

Cant have one without the other


Republic of Heaven- got to make it ourselves.


Alan De botton – religion for atheists wants to create a temple for atheist. Why? What do they need a temple for?


Theatre very hierarchical. Speaking about a desire for leadership. Does humanity naturally desire a hierarchical system? Authoritative. Very much exists in the theatre. Devised companies working collaboratively. Need a head? Is that head the all being powerful one? It is important for that head, a director, to feed back to the actor and listening to their comments and make them ask themselves the questions. Does God do this? 

Theatre and church have their places/ spaces. People sitting in the dark watching a performance. What they want you to see. Learn from us. Is it more interesting to get into the space and combine the two. Joining the two. Playing with each other.

Theatre has a lot to teach religion- (said from a soon to be vicar.)


Are we defined by what we do or who we are?

“In a political discussion, I am exactly like my right leaning friend because although our arguments are different we are both going about achieving our goals in the same way. It is what we DO that defines who we are and what we truly think.”


HONESTY – am I doing what I should be doing?

Community and Theatre – is it actually Communal??? It is a lot less than the church.

You pay to go to theatre and you pay for a service. You don’t (technically) at the church. Burning Man festival- no selling at all but sharing and trading without money. Sense of community is made which is very interesting.

Author of - Around the world in 80 faiths” described it as: “everything a church should be, but isn’t”

Naked man who walked into the church and the vicar did not even blink- totally normal. Vicar said he often came and that he was just like that. Funny how the weirdos in the community are also integrated and welcomed. Is this the same in the theatre?

Huse of Bernada Alba- a play all about sexual repression- it was really interesting to go and watch it with a bunch of highly sexed sixth form students. The atmosphere created. The way you feel in that space. How it changes every night and in every audience. How does a the church deal with this?

Community and REACTION – people go to church every week and so a community develops over time. Regular attendance. Like small town theatres where the whole village comes and sees every rep play performed. Honest about what they see nad what they like. Hard in London. Both in the church and for theatre. Creating that loyal community who give feedback.

Church often shows didactic plays. A stereo type of church theatre.

Can religion cope?


Every church is represented by many different groups of people. Diverse.

Hubs. Community of people who don’t necessary go to church but work closely with it. Being open. Like Theatre- works with many different people every night. 

FUNCTION of church buildings. Not just a place of worship- originally some churches were built for market places/ pubs etc MULTI PURPOSE…public space.

Important that Theatre doesn’t neglect the SOCIAL aspects

Interesting to be sat in circle and watch people come up to the session, look at the theme and walk away immediately. Religion Def can have negative connotations to some people. Something to steer clear of.


OFFENDING people – can you do shows that outright offend people? How are we supposed to treat religion in the theatre??? What am I saying about doing an atheist play in a church? Who will I offend?

Or is it about opening up the debate and allowing people to learn and listen to the other side/ POV? Beginning the platform.


Religion responds to a need in humanity that nothing else can.  Theatre can learn a lot from religion.

Richard Dawkins

What is my intention for doing this? I am on the fence. Want to raise the question I have in my head and hear the debate it evokes. 

Peter Rollins

Both theatre and religion have ownership over spaces they use. That’s why site specific is interesting for theatre. Youre taking away that ownership and placing it a new/ neutral space where you have to create a new reason/ atmosphere. And particularly for this play- surely God can be worshipped anywhere. And likewise he may not be worshipped in places he supposedly exists.