(As it first appeared in FaithWriter's Magazine Acting Up! column May 2005)
The Audience of One
By David Ian
Actors, tekkies, and crew prepare for a production. The question always goes around: How’s the house tonight? Any friends, relatives, loved ones in the audience?
Word catches around that someone traveled hundreds of miles just to see the show. Whispered voices spread like wildfire that a critic is watching tonight.
Many and varied are the reasons why one performance of a play becomes more special than another, and it usually revolves around who is going to be watching at the time. At this point, people want to perform their best, make sure nothing goes wrong, ensure that everything in the production comes off perfect so certain special people in the audience have an enjoyable experience with the show.
In Christian theatre, or as Christian artists, the orientation is a bit different. What we do is a reflection of our gifts and talents given to us by God, and the performance that we do is an answer to that gifting that has been bestowed upon us by our Creator. While by definition what a performer does on stage is designed for the audience viewing it, a Christian performer operates on another level entirely. God becomes the chief viewer of the Christian at work, He becomes the Audience of One, and the work itself becomes a Living Prayer.
This puts a special responsibility on the Christian artist. In the same way that art can be good or bad, a piece that becomes a Living Prayer can be a good prayer or a bad prayer as well. Not that God sits in judgment as to whether the quality of the performance is worthy of His viewing – make no mistake, this is not the dynamic at work. Instead, weighed in the balance are questions such as:
Did the artist prepare for this Living Prayer with integrity?
Did the artist fully give of himself or herself into the work, or did he or she just do enough to get by?
Did the artist dedicate their work to God or is the work for self-glory?
What are the motivations behind doing the work in the first place?
These, among others, are the criteria by which a performance from a Christian artist may be considered a good prayer or a bad prayer.
Too many times, people believe that if the content of the work is overtly Christian, then that automatically makes the performance a "good prayer", and if the work does not blatantly concern God or Christian matters, then the performance becomes a "bad prayer." But if motivations for doing a "Christian script" are not correct, and preparation for the work is done without integrity, and the attitude is that the work is entirely for self-gratification, why should God be obligated to reward the artist?
Strangely, God may still be able to bless others through the piece and His will be done despite the impediment of the tool being used, but God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform…
As it is that a performance becomes special because an actor’s parents are in the audience, the same is true with a Christian performer and God. The performer feels a gratitude for how the parents may have helped and supported them in their art, and now the parental patrons sit in the audience and get to enjoy a tribute, as it were, by viewing a performance. With God in the audience, the Christian artist gets to pay tribute also to The One who endowed them with the gifts of performing and expression, and consequently every production, every performance, becomes special.
This has great advantages for the Christian artist, even in a "secular" setting. I was once involved with a local theatre’s production of "You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown" – playing Charlie Brown – and the show had enjoyed a rather successful run. On what should have been closing night, however, the director came back stage and announced that our run had been extended another three weeks. A politician running for office was offering to "buy the house" for the extended run and give away tickets as an election promotion. After we had committed to the extension and made good all preparations, the politician backed out of the deal and left us high and dry. So, here we were with a show to do and no one to know it had re-opened.
Every performance of this extended run was tense. The houses were so empty advanced ticket buyers were offered the option of having their money refunded, and the handful of walk-ups were warned in advance and given the opportunity to skip the show. Matinees were the worst; sometimes the cast, which was pretty small to begin with, would outnumber the audience. From a performer’s point of view, it was demoralizing. There is nothing worse for comedy than a sparse crowd self-conscious of its own laughter. You could almost hear the crickets in the awkward silence after musical numbers. It truly was, from almost all perspectives, a performer’s nightmare.
Except for the principle of the Audience of One. For me, God was in the house every night, and especially during those torturous matinees. It didn’t matter if there were five, or fifty, or five thousand seated for the show – God was there and my performance was for Him every time; some other people just happened to be along to watch, that’s all. While other actors struggled to get themselves motivated to prepare for an audience that wasn’t going to corporately give much "love" back, I had The One in the audience that had already given me so much love, and realizing my privilege to perform for Him again and again kept me stoked through the whole run.
Christian theatre or Christian artists, while having the advantages of the Audience of One, are also called to a higher responsibility for the work they do. God doesn’t miss a show, and He knows if you’re slacking, He knows if you’re doing it all for yourself, and He knows if the rehearsal process was lackluster. Christian theatre, then, from script, to rehearsal to performance, has the potential to be the finest theatre in town. Not necessarily because the finest skilled craftsmen are employed, but because everyone should be working with a singular mind and purpose to do their personal utmost for God’s glory. No other theatre can inspire that kind of motivation and discipline.
I look forward to the day when Christian theatre achieves this potential.
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