Many years ago, I trod the boards. I did theater, on stage and backstage, and not only that, I did musical theater. I can still muster up a box step and a decent pair of jazz hands if necessary. Those things aren’t usually needed for a worship service, but it’s good to be prepared.
On vacation this summer we had the opportunity to catch a bit of summer stock, a production of “Singin’ in the Rain” performed by the Playmill Theatre of West Yellowstone, Montana. To be truthful, I wasn’t expecting much. It’s summer theater, and it’s in a remote corner of a lesser-populated state. But I walked out of that theater delighted by so much, and reminded a bit of a life I once had. Kudos, Playmill!
These kids – I think they were all young – had gumption and talent. Before the show, the actors ushered the audience to their seats. During intermission, those same actors (in character) sold fudge and ice cream and lemonade and popcorn to the audience. I bought some fudge, and when the actor (who played the studio’s p.r. man) didn’t have the right bills, I told him to keep the change. “Really?” he asked. Could he maybe get me some water or something? Sure, I said. When he then tried to offer me change again, I told him not worry about it. “Wow, thanks!” he said, not a trace of sarcasm or irony to be heard. It was all of $5.00.
That cast could sing and dance with the best of them. I doubt any of them will make it to Broadway, but I hope they have other aspirations. They were gracious hosts and actors, and I could not ask for anything more.
Almost thirty years ago I was production stage manager for a summer theater in Princeton, New Jersey. Among the cast and crew were some of the people most dear to me in all the world. It was a lot of work, and there were the usual tensions, plus it was one of those summers when the 17-year cicadas were out. It remains the funnest summer of my life.
My time in the theater trained me for ministry. Sure, some people are trained in the mission field and some in the towers of academia, but doing shows gave me skills and insights I use every week in planning and leading worship, in working with a staff team, in providing hospitality and creating community. The lights aren’t as strong, the dance rarely includes tap shoes, and the sermon is a bit long for a soliloquy, but it’s theater at its best. Like all theater, it is good when it is most real and authentic.
Of course no one in the real world sings and taps during a rainstorm, or if they do, I’ve yet to see it. But every time I step into the pulpit, I feel that excitement, the joy of saying something true and good and uplifiting.
Applause not necessary.
With thanks to the theatre folk along the way: Tom and G’ann, Baranna, Virginia, Curt, Kirsten, Biz, Tom E, Amy, Louis, Kay, Carol, Annie, Ken, Emily, Linda, Amy, Miriam, Diana, Carol, Glen, Hans, Alan, Peter, David, Robert, Debbie, and so many others who I’m sure I’ve forgotten. Break legs!