An interesting characteristic about going to a conference about ensemble theatre is that none of the sessions really function as lectures. These are people who are used to having everyone in the room make a contribution. This mentality also crosses over into the Network of Ensemble Theaters' organization. Yesterday there was a conference-wide gathering in which the National Coordinator (and sole employee) of NET sat across from an empty chair. Everyone was encouraged to run up the the chair when it was empty and speak for 30 seconds anything they wanted to the National Coordinator about NET. Each person was timed, and each person's thoughts were written down. In any organization where access to the person in charge is necessary for change, such an event seems like a useful tool to ensure that every voice has an opportunity to be heard. When I went up, I encouraged NET to consider religious organizations as potential partners in theatre as source of finical and community support. Clearly NET is not opposed to working with religious organizations (the conference is being held at a Jesuit university and a major member is Traveling Jewish Theatre) but in all the discussions about possible partners and sources of collaboration and support, I had never heard anyone mention religious organizations.
Afterwards I encountered several different reactions. One person said she had done ministerial study and was now doing theatre, and was interested in the potential mixing of the two. A whole table of ten people with whom I ate dinner all said that they either currently or at some point housed their theatre offices in churches. And one man whom I sat next to during a show comment that he was surprised by my comment because religion and theatre "are worlds apart."
But I don't see religion and theatre, especially community-based theatre, as very far apart at all. Many companies at the summit are engaged in doing theatre that is based on interviewing members of marginalized communities and making their voices heard. Many go into divided communities, interview various sides, and bring them together in the theatre to watch and understand what they normally try to ignore. Many push forward social-justice in our nation. This kind of theatre, and I believe many religious communities, are trying to make the world a better place through human understanding, support of the oppressed, and being a voice for the voiceless. Religious organizations have a wide knowledge of the under-served, strong community connections, space, and resources; theatres have the skill and the passion to present human stories as art that can transform the heart. Much would be gained if they would work together.