"To Love People and To Be a Storyteller"
Why does Laura Bannister ’07, a smart and quirky farm girl from Virginia, love theatre?
“I love the power that live storytelling has on a group of people—the audience,” she says. “It is a privilege to be a physical part of telling stories that move and change people.”
While studying theatre at Covenant, Laura Bannister ’07 acted in seven plays, produced four plays, and directed two plays. Now she works at Taproot, a professional theatre company run by Christians in Seattle.
“Covenant is the place where I grew up, where I went from girl to woman,” reflects Laura. “It’s the place where I learned my craft, where I went from uncertainty to passion and direction. It’s a place of intellectual challenge, where I struggled with my faith, where I learned to trust people, where I learned to rely on other Christians. It is a home.”
During her time at Covenant, Laura served as the president of the Drama Club, spent a summer in Oxford studying 19th century playwright Henrik Ibsen, and landed a summer internship in Seattle, Washington, at Taproot. During her internship, Laura worked in Taproot’s administrative offices and assisted with teaching classes for children in the acting studio.
Following graduation, Laura was hired by Taproot’s Road Company, which tours schools across the Pacific Northwest, performing shows about social issues, such as bullying, harassment, racism, and drug abuse. After each performance, actors field questions and facilitate discussions. Laura also regularly auditions for stage roles in the Seattle area, and currently is performing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
“It is truly an honor and a pleasure to work at Taproot. I completely support the values and ideas behind Taproot—which is, like Covenant, an uncommon establishment,” says Laura. “As a professional theatre company run by Christians, Taproot’s founders, board members, and main core of staff are all Christians, while other temporary staff (including main stage actors) are not Christians.”
During her time at Covenant, Laura took several theatre classes at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, from which she gleaned a fuller understanding of the challenge of working in an environment that has been largely characterized by the absence of Christians. The challenge of relating to the many non-Christians in her field is something that excites Laura.
“Theatre allows me to interact with other artists, Christian and non-Christian,” she says. “These people need love, and I hope that I can show them that love. I think the most important area of growth I experienced when at Covenant was learning the importance of community and friendship. At Covenant, I found a group of people who would encourage me in my faith—in small groups, friends from classes and the dorm, my friends at church. I’ve showed up in various professors’ offices with anything from spiritual questions to dating advice.”
Theatre professor Camille Hallstrom was Laura’s first example of what it means to be a Christian in theatre. “She challenged me to think, to examine, to always go back to the Bible for guidance,” Laura says. “She inspired me to love theatre, to work hard and never cut corners, to get past myself in order to be there for other people. She’s a lot of fun, and she makes time for her students. If I ever need guidance, I know I can call her or e-mail her and she will respond.”
At Covenant, Laura directed Eric Overmyer’s On the Verge and Graham Greene’s The Potting Shed.
“I fell in love with On the Verge,” Laura says. “Its beautifully poetic language, its quirky characters, its delightful political innuendoes, its bizarre yet hopeful plot—it seemed to be the perfect play for me to direct! Directing that play is one of my fondest memories of Covenant. The Potting Shed is a very compelling story. It is a story of abandoned hope, and faith rediscovered. It is a play about Christian themes, but is not preachy or clear cut. The first time I read it, I knew that I wanted to direct it. These two descriptions are very much about how I do theatre as a Christian: It is necessary to do both good plays about faith, and plays that are simply worth doing.”
Although the theatre program at Covenant is young and small, it is growing, with the addition of an assistant professor in 2008-2009. And it already offers excellent preparation for the field of theatre, as Laura can testify, from comparing her experience with that of others in her field.
“I was able to direct two full-length plays, when most other students only get to direct small scenes for limited audiences,” says Laura. “The small size and distinctly Christian intellectual atmosphere gave me a unique perspective, and it was a very supportive and close-knit department. I loved being a part of it, but we have a long way to go as the program expands.”
As Professor Hallstrom notes, Covenant’s theatre program is about an investment in kingdom priorities. Christians need to seek and uphold Christ’s preeminence in the realm of theatre and film, and learn how to speak the language of art and aesthetics as we seek to form a new apologetic for our postmodern world.
“There’s no question that this is one of the most influential, if not these days the most influential, medium in culture,” she says. “Christians would be stupid to not get involved in this industry to redeem it—just to redeem the field itself, which is dying, but also because of the impact it will have on audiences here and worldwide, and to help the poor beleaguered people working in the industry. There is just so much kingdom work to be done!”
According to Hallstrom, theatre attracts many broken people, and as such presents a tremendous opportunity for a mission field—one that allows believers to work alongside unbelievers, demonstrating not only the love of Christ in their relationships, but also the excellence and creativity that Christians are spurred to seek as a result of their relationship to the Creator. Laura, she says, has a desire to do both.
“Laura has a very good mind for thinking through the integration of faith and discipline, and also a very properly and delightfully quirky mind, which could also be translated creative mind,” says Hallstrom. “She has a good personality and an adequate brokenness for working with the folks she’s likely to encounter in the world out there. If you learn to cope with your brokenness with the help of Christ and other believers, it really is part of the desirable skill set for going out and working in theatre and film, because so many people are going to be like that. You want to be able to speak hope into their situation, not just from some lofty, ‘Well, I’ve heard that it’s like this for you people who suffer,’ but, ‘I’ve been there, and this is what I’ve found is true.’ She’s got that attitude and experience, and that’s important.”
“I came to Covenant with very little experience in theatre and left ready to become a professional,” Laura says. “I'm now on my own, making mistakes, trying to branch out into a new environment. But I know that the foundation of learning I received from my professors is a part of who I am now and who I will be.”