Friday, January 8, 2010

Beckett, Brecht, and Genesis

Next week, my short play, Party in the Desert, gets its first staging at Austin's fringe theatre extravaganza, Frontera Fest. I wrote it in response to a semester study of Bertolt Brecht and Samuel Beckett.

With the assignment to "write a script displaying your understanding of the styles of B. & B.", I somehow immediately thought of Hagar's story. Rereading the accounts in Genesis, i was struck by this often dismissed character. She's quite interesting. She meets an angel in the wilderness of the Negev. Twice. And gives a name to the Elohim--the only woman recorded in Scripture as doing so.

Why did her story resonate in the context of these two playwrights' styles? Well, if you've read Happy Days, you know why a woman alone in a desert hearkened to Beckett. And if you've read, oh, say, Threepenny Opera, or Good Person of Szechwan, you might see potential for some idol-smashing in the persons of Abraham and Sarah.

Like most revered Biblical characters, Abe and Sarah aren't all good. And sometimes seem quite less than good. Suggesting such doesn't (i don't think) water down the significance of their faith--and perhaps it heightens the stakes for all of us: if an unkind person can receive blessed moments of grace, perhaps that means there could be some generosity from God towards me.

But enough about Abe & Sarah. We hear about them all the time. My curiosity at present lies more with Hagar--or that was the curiosity that sent me to flesh out a bit of her story in this script. The poor girl is sent to have sex with her mistress's husband in hopes of providing a child. When her womb succeeds and she gets proud about it, her elder mistress, rather than considering it to be expected from someone much younger, she beats her such that the girl would rather take her chances in the desert than back at home with Ma'am.

It was the prospect of having them all in one room: Abe, Hagar, Ishmael, and the pregnant Sarah that struck me as a situation Brecht would love. Who is the sympathetic character here? And what do we feel when we see our revered ones behaving poorly?

Of course, it demanded a song.

Ultimately, i'm wondering if this adventure might become a full length play...We'll see if it feels complete or if the audience wants more (or less!).

Either way, i think there's much more to explore in mixing elements of the Brechtian and Beckettian styles with the rich drama of the Bible...we'll see what's next...

Friday, May 23, 2008

Theatre in the context of the local church

This is a letter i wrote at the request of my then "arts pastor," in response to an inquiry about theatre at Hope Chapel in Austin. David (Taylor) liked it enough to post it on his own blog shortly after.

July 9, 2005

Dear David,

David Taylor forwarded your inquiry about Hope to me. I'm currently in NYC, studying theatre at NYU, only recently arrived from Austin. I spent the last four years working closely with David on producing a wide range of theatrical events at Hope, and envisioning what we might establish for the Kingdom through the Wonderful World of Theatre.

Even as i write that, i cringe at the smallness of it. I'm still discovering my own vision for theatre, and i discover that it is so much more grand and mysterious than my small creativity can conceive...

I suppose David sent your email to me, in part, because my vocational aim is at least parallel to yours. And i do have hope i'll return to to see it bear fruit. But to respond to your question about Hope and whether it would be a place for you, i will attempt to answer by making a stab at articulating my experience there the last 4 years.

I arrived exactly 4 years ago this week, with a brief history with Hope Chapel and David from undergrad years in Austin. My entire purpose in moving back to Austin was to engage with HopeArts, and particularly through theatre. My own experience had prepared me to work specifically with performing Scripture and developing new works based on characters from Scripture.

This is what David and i collaborated on, then, through 3 mid-length productions (60-90 minutes): a dramatization of the Gospel of Matthew, a tragi-comedy about Adam and Eve, and a somewhat experimental play that tossed 4 generations of the patriarchs into an evening dinner together. (Intermingled with that: several short dramatizations of scripture on Sunday mornings, a summer Sunday school drama elective for kids, a weekend scripture-telling workshop for adults, and numerous sketches created for the performance laboratory we call "8 Minutes Max.")

I would say that our work—informed by my and David's interests and strengths—could be characterized as character-driven, history-driven, poetic, whimsical, and willing to risk the charge of blasphemy for the sake of exploring how Christ enters into our most raw and faithless moments as humans.

We didn't work much with street drama or other forms that are expressly "evangelistic," and in fact tended to steer away from anything that our friends and family who do not follow Christ would respond to as preachy or churchy. Our particular vision was to explore how we might tell a story involving Biblical characters (or at least a Christian world-view) that would in fact ring authentic and compelling to someone who has consciously rejected "organized religion" or "dogma"...or other stereotypes that relativistic atheists (or new-agey spiritualists) have substituted for faith in Christ.

I will tell you, David, that one aspect of HopeArts that i highly commend to you is that it is a place where artists are loved and respected and trusted—but not indulged. It is a place rich in grace and healing, and is carried by a council of leaders who are willing to wrestle and struggle together to grow in Christ.

It is a difficult place if you aren't willing to dialogue with faithful followers of Jesus who have different opinions on the form of worship and the content of art than you have. It is difficult even if you *are* willing to enter that dialogue!

However, i believe that it is that very dialogue—one in which we are learning to be honest and transparent, loving and genuine, to hold to our best convictions yet allow them to be challenged—it is in that rich soil that God is going to and will bring to fruition, well, a new Age in the church.

In short, we are aiming, as our website does not hide, to subvert our culture and to reform the Church, which is to say, to expect Christ's reform to come and surprise us through our willing and expectant activity.

If you are willing to sacrifice, experiment, and offer your art, seek the Lord, be healed and ever more healed, experience Christ, and worship the King, then Hope Chapel may well be the place for you.

If you do visit, i would encourage you to visit with a listening spirit. Seek out the venues for art & artists we have established: the Festival (coming up this week!), 8MM, the rotating art exhibits, times of prayer, and let yourself first receive. To use an analogy from biology, see if the "substrate" in you finds the "enzymes" there that lock in and connect and catalyze your creativity. I trust that Christ has a place for your work and vision to bear fruit. If that place is Hope, then indeed we implore you to come! If it is elsewhere, we implore you to put down roots there! As a fellow explorer of the instrument of theatre, i am excited to see what it is that He bears in you.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


i've been saying a lot lately that "i want to be talking about theatre more." and since i'm currently going through The Artist's Way, i am provoked to find small steps to make that happen. Like starting a new blog.

So here's my introductory entry.

I could write a few things about myself, but i have another blog for that.

I wanted to start with a link to something i wrote a few years ago that used to be posted on David Taylor's first blog, which now seems to live in 404 Error land.

But i'll return soon with a few excerpts from my final essay for graduate school: The Influence of Brecht and Beckett on a Christian Theatre.

Welcome to the conversation.