What do these things have in common? Not much, if you ask many people.
I started acting when I was 4. I auditioned for an after-school theatre performance of “Snow White”. I was denied the lead role because I refused to scream for my audition. Because it was in the library. You’re not supposed to scream in the library. So they gave me the role of “Bashful”. I vaguely remember a flannel shirt, loose jeans, and some sort of boots. My blonde ringlets were shoved under a hat and I spent most of the show blushing.
As I moved towards middle and high school as a “theatre geek”, I quickly realized that faith and theater would rarely share the same stage. My theater friends were not fans of the right-winged, closed-minded, homophobic “Christian agenda” and my Christian friends thought my theater friends were liberal, loose, and weird. I couldn’t figure out how my two worlds were ever going to meet, so I just did my best to live in both.
When I went to college, I continued this paradoxical social life by pledging a sorority and claiming Theatre as my major. I slept and “studied” on The Couches (the place on the second floor of the Fine Arts Building where the theatre kids hung out) and toggled cast parties with frat mixers.
When I graduated from college and moved to Berkeley, CA to work for a world renowned theatre, it didn’t take long for me to realize that my faith and my passion could not live under the same roof. I caught a lot of flack, and I mean A LOT, for “being dumb enough to go to church”, but I loved theatre and I loved Jesus so I didn’t see why I had to choose.
Fast forward some ten years to this past Saturday, when I attended the Orlando Fringe Theatre Festival for the first time. I have been wanting to go just to get back into a theatre setting, even if that means being in the audience. I don’t care what side of the stage I am on, I just love the theatre. Imagine my complete joy when I was able to not only see a couple of plays in one day, but one of them was produced and performed by the church I attend and work with! Summit Church produced Prodigal: The Musical as part of their children’s ministry, and this year it was accepted into the Fringe Festival for a full run of performances.
As I walked up to Loch Haven Park near Downtown Orlando, I didn’t really know what to expect. I mean, I have seen church productions (yikes) and I have been to fringe festivals (sometimes yikes), so how would these two hold hands and cooperate together?
Well, the answer is VERY, VERY well. As I walked through the outdoor beer tents, bars, food trucks, and free performances, I studied posters for the other shows: Butt Kapinksi, Darwin vs. Rednecks, a few burlesque shows, Dragness of God, From Como to Homo, Field Guide to the Gays 2, and God is a Scottish Drag Queen are just a few of the shows featured.
Let’s just say Prodigal: The Musical based on Jesus’ famous parable of the prodigal sons didn’t exactly fit in with the rest of the posters.
As I sat down for Prodigal, I was crazy excited, super nervous, and really anxious. What were people thinking? Where there any “real theatre” people in the audience? Did anyone outside of our church even care? Was I embarrassed?
The show was AMAZING. We have INSANELY talented people at Summit. (I mean, I knew this, but I have only seen and heard them in a worship setting.) The show was so well performed and produced, acted and adapted. It didn’t drown in “Jesus Juice” as I call it, but it definitely didn’t stray from the truth. It was unashamedly theatrical and worshipful. I was crying by the end, and in total awe that my faith and my passion for theatre could collide and collide so beautifully.
As I walked out from Prodigal, I had about 45 minutes before my next show selection started, so I headed to the food trucks and purchased a beer and a grilled goat cheese pizza. As I sat down to eat and flipped through my program, I realized the bartenders in the beer garden were very shirtless and very flamboyant. Music was playing, Victorian burlesque dancers were dancing, and men who looked like women and women who looked more like men were enjoying the same music, pizza, beer, and shows that I was enjoying.
As I headed for my next show, a completely improvised musical performed by a troupe from Canada, I was still reeling from the experience. It turns out Jesus and theatre can not only co-exist, but also make for one heckuva production which was not just enjoyed by zealous church members. Summit Church won Best New Producer award for the entire festival. When does that happen EVER?
I love my church. I love the theatre. I love that I am part of a church that is willing to step outside of its comfort zone and enter the world of theatre. I love that there are theatre lovers who are willing to step out of THEIR comfort zone and embrace a little show about Jesus. I love the people who love theatre. And I believe Jesus does, too. Especially the ones who are pouring shots and not wearing shirts.