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Theatre and Theology: Conclusions and Revelations


"I'm among those that believes that the kernel of every great political revolution is an ideological one."


I should probably wrap this feature up -- the Fringe is looming, and I need to shift my focus to specific shows. Not saying I won't occasionally return to it to throw on a few notes or thoughts or whatever (apocrypha, if you will), but the writer in me demands something at least resembling resolution, so.


I wonder what my reputation is like among the artists right now -- I've been on the other side of the equation long enough to know that I have one. Every now and again, I overhear things -- I've heard everything from "Matt Foster on a really good day" to "oh, that religious guy."


That last one really cracks me up (okay, the first one cracks me up too) because it couldn't be further from the truth -- while I consider my spirituality to be the center of my life and work, I'm openly hostile to the idea of organized religion, have in fact rejected several of the core dogma of Christianity (not least the divinity of Christ), and opposed the majority of the Catholic Church's works through the centuries. I mean, for Pete's sake, my last show contained a scene of a Catholic priest repeatedly stabbing the baby Jesus with a butcher knife and played it for laughs. I assure you, I have few friends in the religious world.


So why the preoccupation with religious theatre? A number of reasons. Maybe I'm concerned it's one of the reasons why we've drifted into irrelevance. Maybe I feel that much of the theatre world has an almost adolescent terror of discussing anything spiritual.


But for me, theological questions aren't the most important questions, they're the only important questions. Do you believe God exists? What happens when you die? Do you have a soul? Do you believe in good and evil? These questions are the important ones, because they're the initial questions, and how you respond to them determines pretty much everything else about your worldview -- politics, relationships, career, family, friends.

I don't think that there's a right or a wrong answer, because I think that the answers to these questions are, by definition, unknowable. (Although I do think that some answers are more, ah, functional than others.) But surely everyone's got to at least make a hypothesis, give it the old college try, commit to something -- because otherwise, what do you do with yourself?


Furthermore -- if change is something that we really want to effect -- then this is the area where it's going to take place. I'm among those that believes that the kernel of every great political revolution is an ideological one. That was certainly the case with the revolutions of the sixties, with the founding of this nation, all the way back to when we decided to grow our food instead of gathering it. You're not going to change anybody's mind by standing on a stage and ranting about politics. (Although, I'll confess, it's a lot of fun to do.) Our methods must work on levels that are subtler, deeper, if we want leave our mark on this nation.


I've talked a bit about the history of religious theatre. There's been a lot of it, some good, some bad, and a thousand models to choose from. But my personal favorite is the oldest, that cranky Greek comedian Aristophanes.


My favorite play by him is "The Birds." It involves a pair of bumbling buffoons who are so disgusted with human society that they decide to go and live in the sky, among the birds. One of them, however -- a wily sot by the name of Pisthetaerus -- realizes that by intercepting the sacrifices humanity makes to the gods, he can essentially hold Olympus hostage.


There's a lot that happens, a lot of good jokes. But the twist is this:


He wins.


He starves the gods out of the heavens, overthrows them, and crowns himself lord of the universe. It's the giddiest blasphemy of all -- the fall of the gods, the rise of man, and a clown dancing between stars.


That's the promise of restoring spirituality to our theatre again. That's the promise of finding our soul. If only we can find the courage, the fortitude, to rise up out of our own self-absorption and resume our position of glory... again help mankind light the way through an ever-darkening world.