1986. My theatre company is two years old. I’m meeting up with Terry Olson, the guy who’s encouraged the whole thing from before the beginning, when I was firing off ten-page missives from theatre school about this company I wanted to start. Terry actually replied. And eventually found some money to kick in to our first full-scale production, my first real play, “Fish Tales.”
So we’re wandering around Expo – he’s in town to check out a Sak Theatre troupe – and he asks me, “How’s your work going?” I start enthusing and moaning about Pacific Theatre, but he interrupts me. “No, how’s your work going?” I’m taken aback: Pacific Theatre is my work. I scramble to think of what he might possibly mean, restart in a new gear, but again he cuts in: “Not the company. Your work. Your playwriting.”
Now, I only ever wrote Fish Tales so we’d have something to perform. I was an actor, not a writer – and anyway, it was the company that would make a difference in the world. Terry didn’t see it that way. “Yeah, everybody starts a theatre company. They come, they go. The work that really lasts? That could have an impact on our culture? New plays.” He laid out a vision of Christians writing scripts so good they’d be performed not just for a few weeks in one city, but over and over again, all over the place. Eventually, so good that companies with no faith mandate at all would simply have to produce them, and they’d be experienced not by hundreds, or even thousands, but by tens and hundreds of thousands.
Real plays, not bottles with messages tucked inside: fiery, unpredictable, heartful, truthful stories peopled with authentic human beings fighting for all the stuff that Really Matters. Plays that mean, rather than preach. Embodiments of one small corner or another of the great Kingdom of Heaven, the way it’s lived out here on earth – even the parts that hurt like hell.
So I kept writing plays. And my theatre became a place not only for actors but for playwrights to work, to learn, to get in front of an audience, to build something. And when eventually I stumbled on CITA, hooked up with this immense network of theatre artists as devoted to their Lord as they were to their art, I gravitated immediately to the playwrights. I’d learned Terry’s lesson: that’s where the action would be.
In something like a decade of involvement with the New Play Competition, Lloyd Arnett and Gill Elvgren (who were doing it before I came along) and lots of others read a lot of plays. Bristling with ideas, full of faith. Some comfort the comfortless, some make everybody else uncomfortable. Some are for inside church walls (a perfectly good place to make theatre, by the way), some for outside.
Here are five of the very best. They all won our competition, and they’ve all stood the test of production, premiering at professional theatres and on university stages (a particularly good place to launch new scripts, by the way) across the continent. Written by playwriting students and theatre profs and members of professional companies, they span a wide range of styles and times and places.
Read these plays. Aloud, if possible, around a table or in a living room or on a stage someplace. Do scenes in your acting and directing classes. Even better, produce them: incarnate them, let them live and move and have their being in a room with an audience.
It’s essential that we keep our playwrights alive, and writing. We live in a culture that won’t be spoken unto except in parables – not fables with a tidy message tacked on the end, but parables like Jesus told, wild, confounding, dizzying forays into a world that’s turned upside down, that we storytellers in turn spin on its head.
And most important, in this art form of ours that’s all about building sand castles, these are the things that last. These scripts. Once the audience goes home and the set gets struck and the cast moves on to other gigs, there remains the word. On the page.
Waiting to be raised again to life, on some other stage.
Pacific Theatre, Vancouver
That's the introduction to CITA's recent anthology of five full-length plays, "Faith On Stage." Included in that volume are;
Faith By Fire: The Spiritual Journey of Jehanne D'Arc
by Sharon Daggett Johnsey
by Gillette Elvgren
by Mark Allen Eaton
The Queen, The Earl, and the Waiting Woman
by Jeanne Murray Walker
by David C. McFadzean