Reflections on the Visual and Performing Arts

kristinThe Lord doesn’t create people to be artists, at least not vocationally. That is what I believed when I enrolled in Wheaton College. Wheaton was my shining beacon of hope for a ‘practical’ course of study— to leave behind the idealistic pursuits of my first eighteen years. As it has come to be, the Lord had other plans to me, and led me to study theater at the place I came to escape it.

I became an Interdisciplinary Studies (IDS) major near the end of my freshman year, and the program has redefined my approach to learning. IDS has taught me not only how to go deeply into a field, but has also taught me a sensitivity whereby all things are now relevant. I find myself hungry and humbly expectant before every chapel, general education class, and day of work, in a way I never before knew. IDS has taught me that there are no strict bounds to knowledge, but rather, although I am an artist, it is both conceited and false to believe my discipline stands isolated from the world. Therefore, when I approach any studies, be it a lecture on the psychology of eating disorders or a physics project on wave refraction, it has the potential to affect my art in a way I could not have anticipated. The training of IDS, has been to accept that knowledge is not created in segmented columns, but rather flows from a central source, whose various rays therefore inevitably reflect and feed one another.

My time at Wheaton has exposed me to the possibility of theatre as a legitimate calling for the orthodox Christian. Before every show that Arena Theater produces, we gather on our stage for a time of corporate prayer for our work and the audience with whom we are about to share that work. After the show, and before we go out to thank any of our audience members, we gather back together in a circle in our dressing room and sing the Doxology, thanking God for the work in which he has just allowed us to be co-creators. The integration of Christian faith with the life of the actor though, extends far beyond mere pre- and post-performance rituals. My mindset as an IDS student means that the various disciplines of my life know no bounds, only relevancy; and my training in theatre means that I instinctively approach ministry and the church through the lens of an actor. Worship and liturgy, like good acting, are a bouquet of repeatable actions, intended to allow those doing them to transition from their outside lives to a separate space and time, and all done with the intent of telling a story.

I have come to believe in my time at Wheaton that the central pursuit of the Christian is that of the actor, and as I go out from this place, this framework will be one I continue to fall back on as a vehicle of balance and self-examination. An actor, when rehearsing any scene, asks herself three questions. First— what is my objective; or, what do I want? Second— what is my obstacle? Third— based on my objective and my obstacle, what tactic will I use to achieve my goals? Bad actors play adjectives: happy, sad, angry, and so forth. Good actors play verbs. They manipulate, revel, entice, or guilt; and the best actors are those who choose verbs which are well-suited to their objectives and their obstacles. This is because we are dynamic creatures, not static ones— we are not adjectives; we are verbs. The task of the Christian is the same. We have an objective; we have various obstacles at different scenes in our life; and we have tactics that we use to pursue those objectives, though we more often refer to them as “habits” or “practices.” I have found that my peers who struggle with their faith at Wheaton have most often made one of the two actor mistakes. They have either attempted to be an adjective—holy, intelligent or successful—instead of a verb; or they have failed to identify their objective and their obstacle. If you do not know what you are oriented towards, you can not hope to identify what is in your way; and if you have not identified what is in your way, you have no chance at striving to combat it. Such a strong Christian community as Wheaton has the danger of insulating its members in an environment which communicates that if life with God is their present objective, they have no present obstacles. With no obstacle, the actor has no way to chose her tactic, and falls back into the paralyzing and debilitating habit of playing an adjective instead. The lens of the actor addresses the cognitive nature of both problems, but also offers an embodied solution based on daily actions and postures. The study of theater has given me a framework through which to view the scene I wake up into every morning. God creates the actor. The fall creates objectives. Christ came to reorient and recreate our aims. The Holy Spirit allows us to see our objectives, and our volition is to take in this scene and respond appropriately and actively.

This vision of holistic, embodied, and action-based education has taken hold of my Wheaton experience and has colored the way I view my academics, my relationships, my faith, and my art. All knowledge is the outpouring of a good God; one who is as present in the theater as anywhere in his creation. As I move from this place toward further study or the workforce, I am grateful to be taking these lessons with me.