What is the place of faith in theatre?

Convener(s): Stella Duffy

Participants: Sam Jones, Mark Price, Morvern Macbeth, Ruth Ben-Tovim, Alan Fielden, Geraldine Pilgrim, Justin Audibert, Zoe Wakerman, Louise Kemeny, Tom Wright, Vie Sivalingham, Oladipo Agboluaje, Elaine Kidd, Alyn Gwyndaf, Gavin O’Carroll, Iwan Brioc, Jade Gonda

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Is faith embarrassing on stage?

What is going on in ALL these churches near us? Sam went to investigate – discovered a sense of community in churches, esp, C of E,  but in the “embarrassing” (more evangelical) churches saw/perceived that people were getting a high level of experience.

Evangelical churches seemed to show kind of massive Told by an Idiot workshop feeling, proper shared experience.

For ex-teacher of RS was clear that many kids only experience of faith is in RS at school.

Faith has become taboo again in theatre. (Beshti/Perdition experience) is there a useful way to engage with proesters? eg Mick Gordon at Gate offering to hand out leaflet on Friday evening for Perdition protesters when they weren’t there.

Very little theatre explores the motivation that faith has in people’s lives.

Going to Lourdes to see mass of people with belief in faith. Candle-lit procession of 100,000. (but on return people told about it backed off/not interested/scared of idea that a non-believer could enjoy/appreciate the experience). Was clear sense of good stage-management of the people involved. Not all of them of the same faith.

To have faith need some degree of devotion and taking it seriously. Does theatre need the opposite? Theatre often seems to have self-mocking element. Could it benefit from less?

Is suspension of disbelief the same as belief?

Faith and religion not the same thing. Elements of every religion have ‘better than you’ attitude. (doesn’t theatre/theatre practitioners??!!)

Something very close between theatre and faith. Theatre creates similar experience, or can (without religion?)

Community – now is a huge need for/desire for community, the bit in religious services that thrills us are the community sections (SINGING!)

How can we express our experience of faith gently? Celebrate rather than proselytize? When people are very prosetylising there is an element of forcefulness (is this because of the novelty of new? Like a new love?) is it possible to be non-judgmental when you really believe? Can you have faith and not belong to an organized religion?

For many of us there has been a hiding/shutting off of spirituality – it’s a big leap to begin to talk to colleagues about sense of spirit.

In the current individualistic society, new writing has become smaller and yet there is a hunger for those things (cf Mel Gibson’s recent films/Galileo/big theatre dealing with faith/spirit)

Is a problem of who speaks for a group. Eg how do we find the ‘right’ elders to approach on a subject. (the community leaders who were approached re Beshti – were they the ‘right’ ones?)

Some of us would love to see a piece of theatre that attempted (or succeeded) in converting. Is it a rational possibility?

Where are the plays about hell? About purgatory? They’d be juicy …

Why is spiritual (not often) engaged with on stage? (because there’s been lots of attempts that have been bad?) maybe it doesn’t need words? Maybe it needs to be non-rational to work? Good theatre is not necessarily rational anyway. 

In any form of religious practice the audience (congregation) is already complicit.

Report on Oraculos – maze/labyrinth that was a single-person experience with a community feeling. Sensory though, not at all verbal.

Communities – come together as community but each individual has own intellectual response. Like OS – all here together, but individual, small groups within main, individuals within groups.

Do we/can we bring own faith/spirituality into rehearsal/performance? (discussion of Liz Rankin movement work for RSC that def has spirit element – but is imposed on all performers, so is forced community. Which seems to work.) perhaps because non-verbal spiritual experience is easier for us to cope with?


BIG hot spot. Fear/shame/embarrassment etc etc

The group hands, closed eyes – took a moment.

The responses were : great, awful, embarrassing, emotional, weird, good, relaxing, enjoyed it, present, belonging, proud we’d done it, that we had made a different group activity to the main.

We were touching – holding hands – the audience rarely touch in theatre. Is that a key?