THE ASSEMBLY THEATER PROJECT is a collective of multi-disciplinary performance artists committed to realizing a visceral and intelligent theater for a new generation. Assembly members unite our varied interests in service of wide-reaching, unabashedly theatrical and rigorously researched ensemble performances that address the complexities of our ever-changing world. The company embraces collaboration as the core of the creative process, allowing all the elements of text, action and design to develop side-by-side within the rehearsal environment. The Assembly is dedicated to rooting its artists, audiences, and peers in a profound sense of community. (Read more)
Collaboration as the core of the creative process–doesn’t this sound like what we’re leaning toward in worship and church life in general? And we find an array of responses from eager to antagonistically resistant. Heck, we may FEEL that range of response in our own selves!
I’m reading “This Odd and Wondrous Calling,” by Lillian Daniel and Martin Copenhaver, and right at the beginning of the book, Copenhaver writes about shaking hands after church, how it breaks down the illusion that there is a difference between the preacher and the congregation, unlike that between actor and audience (and therefore making the point that celebrity mega-church preachers don’t shake hands for a reason other than logistics). He says, “Actors collaborate with members of the audience to create, for a time at least, a kind of illusion that they are the characters they play. Anything that exposes that illusion is usually unwelcome.” But in this new, dare I say emerging, form of theatre created by The Assembly (and other young companies no doubt), the lines are blurred. I’ve been watching #1 Son on stage since he was 7-and-a-half. That’s almost 18 years now. I’ve seen him as a child actor on a professional stage where the rules were traditional, as described by Copenhaver, but I’ve also seen him perform at The Red Room, where the audience held the branches that created the forest in “The Three Sisters.”
And I wonder if we in the church world, not just people as young as my son but even people of my more advanced years, aren’t looking for that? Aren’t we looking to be rooted in a profound sense of community? Don’t we respond when we are immersed?
Okay, not all of us. There are people who want to receive, nothing more. There are people who show up out of habit rather than spiritual practice. But they are fewer, no matter what size your church might be. It’s the non-participatory churches that will go the way of the Dodo. Our creative acts are not limited to worship, of course, there are other ways of being community that are profound, sometimes more profound. But they all need to be the work of the people, not just the pastor, for a community to thrive.
And that’s what’s really emerging, I think. You don’t have to be post-evangelical to experience it. A liberal theological education will not exclude you from it. The world is too big and too small, and we crave the community that helps us feel rooted in something that matters. This is not about cultural relevance, not for me, but about a push from God’s Spirit to draw God’s beloved children into closer and deeper understanding of the love that Jesus lived, the love that God has for all people.