Immersive at a Distance

Thanks to Becky for a recent LA Times article covering a play set in a Lutheran congregation and actually playing in Lutheran churches.  I found another generally positive review in the LA Weekly as well.  At first blush it sounds a bit like a Garrison Keillor redux, but in reality it is apparently far more intimate.  The audience isn’t listening to a third-person narrative about what is happening, they become part of what is happening in a theatrical representation of  Lutheran worship services.  The play is being staged in Lutheran congregations around Los Angeles and Hollywood, further blurring the lines between reality and theater.

The premise is a young man who is filling in for his father as his father deals with a health crisis that extends.  It is a series of seven sermons addressing various issues particular to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) including economic hardships as well as the divisive debate about homosexuality in the church.  The play is produced by a Los Angeles-based theater group dedicated to providing exposure for local and emerging playwrights.  It doesn’t appear to be a specifically religious group, but a group committed to a diversity in their productions.

The theater-goers become the congregation, and actually begin with singing a hymn before the first sermon begins.  I think this is a fascinating concept, at least I think I do.  I suppose it depends a great deal on who the audience is.  If the audience is primarily members of these Lutheran congregations, this might be a very interesting form of therapy, a means of addressing and opening up conversations on topics quite relevant and important in the lives of those individuals and congregations.  If the audience is primarily non-church-going folks, then it is more of a curiosity to me.  They come to be immersed in an environment that is not their own, seeking a form of catharsis unrelated to their actual lives.  Intriguing.

Of course, another alternative would be to actually go to church, to actually be engaged and active in a congregation.  The issues addressed might be different depending on the denomination, but the sense of belonging and struggle and the reality of blessing and reconciliation in the midst of sinfulness and brokenness is far realer, far more concrete and immersive than any two-hour play.

I’m no artist by any stretch of the imagination, but it seems to me as if theater can provide the function of giving viewers/participants the illusion of experience.  We become part of another era or another situation for a period of time, experiencing in a condensed fashion what others have or must experience moment by moment.  Resolutions are reached quicker.  Emotional arcs are traversed more economically and without the messiness of time and the frustration of waiting.  We can feast on highlights and epiphanies rather than slog through valleys of irritation and sloughs of self-righteousness.

If you want to know what it’s like to be a Christian struggling to reconcile faith with current issues, go to Church.  Be a part of that community.  Learn it firsthand.  There is no need to settle for a substitute – no matter how sensitively crafted or executed.  Here’s one situation where you don’t have to remain an observer, but can truly be a real participant!

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