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Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Frequently Asked Questions

In any long run you start hearing a lot of the same questions from the audience. There have been three frequent flyers for Everyman and they are as follows.
Question 1. How much is it?
See previous blog post.

Question 2. How do you learn all those lines?
This is a commonplace for actors, but it's particularly true of storytellers where the word count is in thousands and, in my personal repertoire, tens of thousands. Always one must bite ones tongue and not say, "it's my job".  I have considered printing business cards with a stock answer, but that might be a bit passive aggressive.

Question 3. Have you ever thought of performing in a church?
"Well, yes.  Yes I have.  In fact, I'm performing at one on Sunday.  See, it's on the tour schedule."
Again, I don't say this, it's a passive aggressive response to a reasonable question and the answer is interesting.

I haven't had much luck getting into churches or persuading church goers to see Everyman.  There is a history to such things of course - churches historically don't like drama.  It's a long bias, set up by the early Roman church, and it runs deep, even in a modern ministry.  There is a reason that even the early mystery plays and moralities were banished from the church; they were a distraction from the central purpose of the ministry, tainted by association with the pre-Christian pagan theatre.  This is compounded by the fact that modern Christianity has changed since medieval times and so even a Christian text can be considered suspect because it teaches things that have since fallen by the wayside.  Some people are openly suspicious and occasionally actively hostile to a dramatic performance in a church - the suspicion being that a heathen such as myself would present a mocking form of the play in their sacred space.  (This isn't actually an unreasonable suspicion - I have form.)  Were I a congregant this might not be a barrier, the audience for the shows being reassured that I followed at least one branch of Christian thinking and would play with a straight bat.

But, ask my questioners, there are shows in churches all the time.  Yes, I reply, but even though churches are often used for performance, it is almost always music.  Music is safer and there is a long tradition of music in churches; even if it isn't liturgical, it is in sympathy with the space.

Acoustically churches are not great for drama - a solo voice can carry, but the cut and thrust of dialogue gets lost in the echo.  Also, more importantly, the line of sight is terrible, so you're compromised on what people can actually see.  When I performed at St Mary's Church, Chilton, I was okay because it's fairly small.  (I also got to deliver God's speech from the pulpit, which felt delightfully naughty - I suspect I might have made a good vicar.)
Ideally Everyman shouldn't be seen in a church at all - a small chapel perhaps, but not a church.  I am always looking for a 'sacred' space, i.e. a space with atmosphere - which most village halls sadly do not have.  I first performed my version of Everyman in the Guildhall in Lavenham, which has the weight of history behind it.  When I performed the show at the Quay Theatre I spent hours trying to make the room I was using different, unfamiliar, in some sense atmospheric.  I have attempted similar with all the other spaces I've performed at, with greater or lesser success.

Despite the difficulties of performing in church spaces I have offered the show to them, sometimes just as part of a round robin, sometimes via direct intersession.  The result has been a blank.  No interest.  The only spaces where these plays are welcome are, ironically, secular, or in the case of St Mary's Church, infrequently used (though still consecrated) and that came about by a round about kind of route.  De-consecrated or seldom used churches and chapels are always more accommodating because, though they used to function as such, they are not longer as sacred a space as they used to be.  Only by the action of actor, text and audience (priest, liturgy, congregation) will a 'sacred' atmosphere appear - the similarity between the ritual of the liturgy and the ritual of theatre is a commonplace.

A sense of the sacred is abstract; a space isn't inherently sacred, it can have greater potential to act as a sacred space, but sacredness, as it were, is an active thing.  Like the tree falling in the forest, if no one is there to hear it, it doesn't make a sound - there's only a vibration in the air.  Without people inhabiting it, a space is just a place.  We make it something special.  And that's what I try to do with my show, if only for an hour or so.
It looks like Everyman will pop up again every so often, here and there.  Maybe more churches will get in touch, maybe I'll find more spaces with an air of the sacred - we shall see.

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