Theater as a Resource for Ministry

More and more, I have been turning to theater to resource my ministry.

Before being cancelled by COVID-19, I had planned on students acting out a scene from “The Revolutionists” in our college’s Baccalaureate Service as a way to set up my sermon entitled, “No Time for Fiction or Fear”, playing off the last line of the scene, “Maybe real revolution doesn’t have time for either fiction or fear?” I have a feeling this play and this sermon will still be appropriate next May.

At the prison where I volunteer, we have used the play “Twelve Angry Men” to open up discussions on communication skills, emotional intelligence and the state of our criminal justice system.

In the book I am writing for Fortress Press on the risks privileged people should take, I will be citing Augusto Boal’s “Theatre of the Oppressed” as a resource churches can use to practice activism.

So when I heard that my friend and writing coach, Allison K. Williams, had published a play for high schoolers entitled, “The Next Horseman: A comedy play script for video chat”, I had to buy a copy. I’ve always admired Allison’s knack for humor writing, and The Next Horseman did not disappoint. The concept for the story is hilarious in itself. The four horsemen of the apocalypse are ready to fire Pestilence. His evaluation shows he’s not taken out enough people and the other horsemen are ready to move on. Lots of other frightening candidates line up, eager to interview for the job—Extortion, Internet Trolling, Human Trafficking, Bigotry, Inequality, Mosquitos, Mansplaining and Climate Change.

Reading through this play, it’s obvious young people would love it. There’s lots of gross humor that they would have fun acting out. Famine is always snacking on something disgusting and even licks food straight off her desk. Pestilence sneezes into his open hand, examines the output, then wipes his hand on his own shoulder. Ewww!!! Reading through the play during youth group or Sunday School would be a hit and would be a great kick off to a study of Revelation.

There were a few moments in the play where the dark humor crossed a line into too dark for me. I’d edit out or soften the lines about Human Trafficking if I were using this play with youth. So be sure to read through the whole play before acting it out.

On the other hand, I see the play successfully introducing other dark topics that would open up further, positive conversation. For instance, this dialogue between Death (the leader of the horsemen) and Inequality (interviewing for the job):

Inequality is called in for the interview.
Inequality: Yes? I’m going to need a company laptop, a wardrobe allowance, and my own assistant.
Death: I’m afraid we don’t usually—
Inequality: And a salary 50% higher than anyone else in the same job.
Death: But you have identical qualifications.
Inequality: Well, if everyone else had the same thing, it wouldn’t be inequality anymore.
Famine (sets whipped-cream pie on desk): Sounds reasonable. Nothing better than the whole pie! (Begins eating pie face-first)
Pestilence: That’s all you’ve got? Inequality is so obvious! All you do is make unfair things sound reasonable. Any idiot can defeat Inequality if they put some effort into it. It’s just reverse envy.
Inequality: Like reverse racism?
Pestilence: That’s not a thing!
Inequality: Whoa, calm down there, nobody’s going to listen if you’re yelling.

Unpack just this one scene with youth and you’ve got hours of conversation about salary inequities, greed, racism, reverse racism, and tone-policing. Because it reads fast, is fun and can even be done via Zoom, I’d even use this play with my college students. A great resource!

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