The Easter pageant. The Christmas pageant. The random youth musical. More and more Christian pageants and dramatic presentations are finding their way into a back church closet full of plywood sets, drab costumes, and fake trees. They are probably not coming out of that closet for a while. Even the big boys of Christian pageantry, like Louisville’s Southeast Christian Church Easter Play, have called it curtains on their annual performance. The only thing still happening are live, drive-thru nativities at Christmas time, which are far from being called acting. Standing in the cold is more like it.
Why curtains on pageants? I like to believe Mel Gibson had something to do with it. When The Passion of the Christ released in 2004, all Christian Easter pageants looked like small-scale, comical, badly directed street theater for amateurs. There is no way a church could ever compete with the intense violence, imagery and story-telling genius of Gibson’s production, even if theologically adrift.
A Roman solider in plastic chest armor (complete with 6-pack abs, mind you) wearing Birkenstock sandals is not going to cut it anymore with an audience who had seen something as graphic as Gibson’s Passion.
Then came The Nativity movie (2006) which actual had lowly, poor, skinny shepherds with missing teeth and scraggly beard and ethnically-diverse wise men wearing proper vestments for middle eastern astrologers. Herod the Great looked like a real king living in a real time overseeing huge construction projects.
The Christmas pageant at your church with Mary, Joseph and baby-doll Jesus in a manger, while cute and sentimental, looked like something from A Charlie Brown Christmas, with no insult toward Charlie Brown Christmas. Linus’ speech still captures my heart and attention.
So my question is : Where will Christian dramatic art go next? Is there a place for drama, theater, and visually-engaging acting in the evangelical church?
Could our direction be sermon-informed, life-situational sketches which exploded in the seeker-sensitive movement? I really do not see those returning soon. Young pastors and younger attenders (especially those from the reformed persuasion) see these as silly and misguided. However, comedy is still well received in this delivery style.
Could our direction be children performing biblical scenes in costume in preparation for a particular message or season within the church? Possibly, but children’s and youth choir are dying faster than visitation programs. Still children are viewed cute and innocent. A harsh, unforgiving audience toward adults acting in a pageant are refreshingly hospitable toward children (because that is their kid and grandkid up there on stage).
Could our direction be church-based actors creating short films, which are then shown as transitional pieces in worship? Highly possible. The Skit Guys are moving more and more toward thought-provoking, message-instilling shorter pieces which are downloaded and shown to illustrate a particular golden nugget of truth. For churches to do this, they must have high quality acting, filming, and editing. There is too much out there online that is well planned and produced to compete with something home grown.
What else is coming? What else is shaping this particular form of Christian art and expression? I really don’t see much else on the horizon. Maybe some of my creatives and Creative Arts Pastors can help me out here. What are you seeing or using that is making a connection in the dramatic arts?