What's Next: "This Beautiful City"
I will be part of the six-person ensemble creating the population of This Beautiful City at the Richmond Triangle Players as part of the Acts of Faith festival. The script was developed by an exploratory New York theatre company called The Civilians, who are best-known for their 2007 piece, Gone Missing. The Civilians create documentary theatre, usually with music, by interviewing people and building a script out of that material. In the case of TBC, the Civilians wanted to create a piece about the rise of Evangelical Christianity and its influence in American political dialogue, particularly the tension between Chriatianity and the rising tide of gay marriage rights. They chose to examine Colorado Springs (the beautiful city of the title), home of Focus on the Family and the enormous, politically connected New Life Church.
The company traveled to Colorado Springs, began the interview process--and then all hell broke loose. New Life's high-profile pastor, Ted Haggard, was outed as having both a gay affair and a methamphetamine addiction, shining the national spotlight on the community. It was a journalistic bonanza for the Civilians, raising the intensity level of the entire project. The result is a two-act documentary with music, with all the text culled from interviews and emails.
So why is this piece so "important," in my mind? Well, I happen to be both a passionately evangelical Christian and an ardent supporter of gay rights. I find no conflict between the two perspectives in my heart, though I can intellectually appreciate how people on one side or the other could find themselves in honest, conscientious opposition. That said, I did as much research into the script as I could before auditioning, and even after being offered a role I respectfully insisted on reading the script before committing in order to make sure there was no egregious conflict between the play's message and my own faith perspective. I'm sure most people reading this are thinking something like, "Oh, a bunch of theatre people from New York making a play about the Ted Haggard scandal? I'm sure that's a really even-handed portrayal of Christianity [/sarcasm]."
You know what? It is. Chew on this for a moment: Ted Haggard himself attended a performance of this play during its brief New York run. With his wife.
Arts and faith communities so often find themselves at odds with one another that for those of us who live in both worlds the tension can often be baffling and painful. I've long lived what I've come to describe as an amphibious existence, living half in the world of faith and half in the world of art, never entirely comfortable or accepted in either community. I have left a church because of their stance on artistic representation, and I have rejected excellent theatrical projects because of their representation of Christ. At the risk of revealing too deep a secret, I always internally phrase my work in the theatre in the context of my Christian worldview. Everything I do as a theatre artist is framed by humanity's brokenness, our inability to make the world work without help, our need for unconditional forgiveness, for a Redeemer. The work I've done on Doctor Faustus, Measure for Measure, Amadeus, and even the silliness of A Comedy of Errors and A Midsummer Night's Dream all have had this as core ideas. It is an INCREDIBLE joy and privilege to work on a script that has these ideas at its center without my having to make much of any internal justification.
This Beautiful City allows art and faith to talk to each other. It asks incredibly difficult, essential questions and demands that YOU, dear audience, answer them for yourselves. And it does this in a context of complete respect and love for the people and perspectives presented. A person of faith and art can not possibly ask for more.
I love ensemble-generated theatre. I love theatre that allows me to present my Christian faith, an exceptionally rare thing. I love theatre that challenges the audience's perspectives, and that challenges mine. I love this play, and I think it's the most important thing I've ever done as a theatre artist. I hope you come see it.
This Beautiful City opens January 12 and runs through February 5.