Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A "Work in Progress"

There's an old script, by Paul McCusker, called "Work in Progress."  Since I've been in Kenya, two church drama groups have performed it to appreciative audiences.  This semester, Daystar's chapel theme was "becoming mature in Christ."  I was asked to do a drama chapel, so I pulled out the script, recruited by usual actors, and added new ones, and we put it on.  The script is rather like an AA meeting for Christians -each session they share about themselves, their struggles (or lack of them) and try to see how they can share Christ with others.  In between, we see them in their daily lives, with their own brand of Christianity interacting with the circumstances of their lives.  It's quite hilarious and a good chance for Christians to laugh at themselves (is that a painful laugh?).

Performed at a local church this past Sunday and saw a great example of audience interaction, rather like African American preaching, where the audience constantly comments on, or affirms the pastor in what he's saying.  Monologues on whether other Christians struggled with living in two different worlds were interrupted:   Actor:  "Am I the only one who feels this way?"   Audience:   "Oh no.  You're not alone."  When a Christian cliche-spouting woman's husband enters carrying a suitcase:   Audience:  "Where are you going?"  Actress:  (small moment to collect herself) "Challo, what's this?  You're leaving me?"  Actor: "I don't love you anymore"  Audience:  "(Gasp) Oh no you didn't!"

At the end, they all stand up and say, "I'm [name], and I'm a Christian."  The pastor loved taking that and offering an altar call to those who wanted to be Christians or return to the Lord - and there were several.  Wonderful to see drama being used in ministry that way!

A work in progress: A full-length play about Christian identity, evangelism, and refrigerator magnets (A Lillenas drama resource)

New Drama Commissioned for Tangaza College, Kenya

Over the past few months, I have had the privilege of being a consultant on a drama commissioned by Tangaza College for their 25th anniversary celebrations.  Tangaza is a Catholic university in Nairobi, Kenya.  Father Pietro is a priest who has a strong interest in theatre and incorporates and encourages it as much as possible.  In fact, in 2009, he helped coordinate the first Festival of Christian Arts in Kenya, showcasing artists from all the disciplines.

A scene from "The Last Convict"
Anyway, the play was called "The Last Convict" and was a metaphor for spreading the Good News of Christ.  It used the metaphor of a convict facing a death sentence, with an electrician called Lightman representing Jesus - a popular image was the bucket of waste under the cot that Lightman offered to empty.  The whole thing had the feel and structure of a medieval morality play, albeit set in modern Kenya.  It was written by Joseph Murungu, a respected theatre teacher and playwright in Kenya, and performed by Phoenix Players, the only repertory company in the country.

The play was well done, but what was even more interesting was the question and answer session afterward with the Tangaza students.  To many of them, stage plays were a new experience, and certainly this type of metaphorical play was a lot to wrap their minds around.  I enjoyed listening to their questions – how did the actors respond to the message of the play, critiquing the flow of the script or interpretation of it, wanting to know about the process of creation involved.

It was a good example of how theatre can spark dialogue about faith matters, theology and art.
Dancers celebrate the convict's redemption

Friday, March 4, 2011

Peacebuilding through drama in Kenya

The Images Drama Project did a 2-day workshop in the Rift Valley (Kenya) with leaders from two opposing tribes.  The bulk of the work was done through playback theatre and participatory theatre techniques, with teaching in between based on research done on conflict issues in their communities, Biblical teaching on reconciliation, group sharing and discussion.
While two days was not enough time, it was a very successful process, particularly when it came to people sharing their stories to those of other tribes and persuasions.  We did a morning session of Image theatre and it was wonderful to see them forget about tribal barriers as they discussed problems in their villages and worked on creating successive images to show.   

Feedback – they saw the strength of dialogue among the tribes, the need to do similar workshops with the youth, seeing solutions they came up with being tried out in forum theatre, which then opened up even more discussion of issues and solutions.  With pastors in the group, they also discussed the power of prayer in bringing about reconciliation.