Sunday, December 9, 2012

When Community Fails...(or, one reason Christmas is so darn special)

Community. What comes to mind when you read that word? Necessary? Enriching? Elusive? Disappointing? In my experience, community has met each of those descriptors, and in this post I endeavor to explore why it is so elusive and what is to be done about that.

I want to focus my energy on the community which is built within the theatre, as that is perhaps some of the deepest yet most cyclical community I have experienced. For those of you reading this who are involved in the theatre, you understand what I mean almost immediately. For those of you not so involved, let me fill you in a bit.

In the process of putting together a show, a community is a natural by-product, and often this community is one that is very rich. Here you have several people coming together for a set period of time to pursue a common goal, passionately offering up their time, talent, and relational resources to give life to something which they all deem worthy of its stage time (limited stage time though that may be). From rehearsals to production meetings, those involved in a show can suddenly find themselves spending a lot of time with one another over consecutive periods in which a sense of family begins to emerge. Though roles vary, each participant is unified by the work. This sense of community and unification can become heightened when it is time to share the group's work with an audience, thereby inviting them, in a sense, into the community which the group has created.

But what happens when the work has ended, when the goal has been achieved? It seems that the community is slowly stripped away, first by the lessened time actors and production staff are spending with one another due to the lack of rehearsals or frequent production meetings once the show has gone up. At some point in the run, though the actors are still present to share the show each night (or day), the director no longer shows up each time, nor do all of the production team members. Finally, the last performance is at hand, actors and crew members are unified once again in the strike (destroying/putting away the set, costumes, and other materials that manifested the world of the show in the performance space), and suddenly, those actors are without the production and the community it provided.

At this point, you may protest, "Well, if it were real community, these people wouldn't need the show to continue in order for their relationships to keep growing,"
to which I might say, "Ah, good point."

Yet so often the community built over the course of a production feels authentic enough (yes, it varies in intensity and quality depending on the production, the people involved, and other factors). It feels authentic, the cause seems worthy, the passion and effort are there. So why does the community dissolve once the show has ended?

I have seen this happen in church settings as well, where everyone was unified over the course of weekly small group gatherings, praying for one another, studying the Bible, etc.---and when the group ended, some of those relationships were still in tact, but depth of community--the steady coming together of all of the unique parts--was no longer there.

Do we always need a cause, a format, an excuse to develop community together? Perhaps that's the problem; we feel we need an activity to justify the the sacrifice a community requires to exist. But what if the community is a valid enough reason in itself for such sacrifice? What if, in a theatre setting, church setting, or otherwise, the goal was just as much the community as the work which inspired it? What if, as a theatre endeavored to produce a show, it also endeavored to somehow sustain the sense of community that its play-making would inevitably create?

As I write, I realize that this topic is too broad to be contained in just one post. But I would like to offer up something that is lingering in the back of my mind as I write, a name and a concept that is perhaps a key in all of this (and quite fitting, given the Christmas season at hand).

In an ancient prophecy concerning the coming of the Messiah, as recorded in the Old Testament, Jesus is named as "Immanuel," which means "God with us." In a sense, one of the core things we are promised in the coming of God on earth Not just God over there, God on earth doing his own thing...but God--get this--with us. Hmm...

As the old carol goes, "O come, o come, Immanuel." If God is eternal, and eternal means unending, and we get an eternal God with us, then that must mean...eternal community. Starting when? It has already begun. Jesus, preparing his disciples for his imminent death, resurrection, and temporary departure, told them,

"... I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[c] in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you." -John 14:16-20

I don't claim to understand how all of this works, but one thing seems clear. Jesus and his Father make their presence available through their Spirit, and as we join with them, we are offered constant community. I haven't worked all of this out practically yet, but I would like to see more of this in my own life and in the life of the theatre.

Immanuel...God with community. I'll drink a chai to that.