The Believer Artist
Many years ago, while I was part of the acting ensemble of the Alley Theater, a party was held after the opening night show. It was in a lovely home and the fellowship of cast and crew gathered happily around the table of good food. Reluctantly leaving the party, I apologized to my host and hostess that I was to teach a Sunday School class the next morning and needed to prepare for it. The host led me to the door and said… “A Sunday School class…you are walking on both sides of the street aren’t you?”As an actress in New York City, I attended the Billy Graham Crusade in Madison Square Gardens. Dr. Graham had invited the theater community and reserved box seats for actors, directors, opera singers, dancers and one casting agent for the Ringling Brothers Circus. From that crusade, several theater activists formed The Christian Actors Fellowship, which grew into a significant organization with its office in the Broadway area.
Who were these people walking on both sides of the street…true to their calling of theater and true to their following of Jesus?
We are Holy Hybrids. Believer Artists settled in the Church as stained glass windows giving the world a view of the Church and the Church a view of the world. The Believer Artist stands today in the mainstream of Christian activity with several organizations stationed in various locals in this country and other parts of the world.
The A.D. Players in Houston is one of those organizations and today celebrates its fortieth season of theater production. Upon our stages we present a variety of plays, musicals, theater classics, and original scripts. It is theater in competition for the entertainment interest and ticket purchasing of our whole community. Our produced authors include, George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Horton Foote, Checkov, William Shakespeare, and contemporary writers newly discovered by us. Frequently, we stage the work of gifted writers who state faith in scripts that speak of God and fid no other theater willing to take the risk of such statement.
Our audiences represent the general signature of our community and like most theaters; we are honored by a following that finds in us that which meets their preferential choices for entertainment. Neither our company membership nor our audiences are defined by their faith statement. We are not a church, we are a theater, but we represent many churches whose membership has found in us a style of entertainment they affirm by attendance and support….
The work carries the same integrity of artistic ethics and exercise as is honored by the general genre of theater and yet there are questions as to just what a Believer Artist is. I still have my friends from my theater community who enter out theater and say, with loving surprise, “this looks just like a theater”. There are still those who consider us as a church and wonder why alter calls after our shows. I will get in the morning mail, letters from two who saw the same performance; one criticizes us for abandoning our faith and the other finds us “too preachy”. However, I find that narrow avenue of our walk an avenue of creative excitement. The Believer Artist finds his balance in the joining of the two words in that artistic joining a remarkable opportunity.
However, theater is not defined by its philosophy but by its production. The Believer Artist must ultimately be his own creative critic. If this hybrid creature holds true to its calling as a Christian, his life must accept the discipline consonant with his faith and must reckon with the fact that his work carries the signature of the One Who created the world. He, this Holy Hybrid, must address the standards of his artistic profession as clearly as the standards of his faith’s confession. Wherever he practices his craft, whether it be on the highest platform of professional theater or on the precious stage of a church’s podium, that craft must be honored with not only excellent work but excellent growth. Neither word in his title accepts less than beyond its best. He does no honor to either field of his signature if he is not willing to pay the price of its credibility.
And there is at least one happy commonality in the Believer Artist’s two-sided street. That is love. Love, the motivation that irritates any artist. Some call it compulsion and would be offended by its use in artistic signature. However, it is love…at times awkward, at times relentless, at times irritating…but at all times present. The core of the Christian’s faith is God who loved and loved excessively. The core of the artist that holds him to his demanding position is love. Seldom have artists been compelled by family friends and fortune to go into the field of their artistry. We did it because we love it…and so the Believer Artist finds his welcome in the opportunity to do what he loves…in the love of it.
Each season our company brings in for a season the eagerness of young interns…most are believers and some are not. They are drawn to us by love and generally find us the answer to a homesick artist’s yearning for a home that will encourage his growth, demand his best and allow his love for the work to enjoy full exercise.
That is the Believer Artist’s stance. The church needs him, the community needs him, and the future needs him and he, feet planted on both sides of the street needs to work out his love just for the love of it. And for the love of Him Who understands the life of a hybrid and shared its holiness with the Believer Artist.