Faculty View | Theatre is Incarnation
by Camille Hallstrom, professor of theatre
It is difficulty to imagine in today’s media-saturated, postmodern, narrative-focused culture, that one can consider himself or herself adequately educated without having developed an understanding of how dramatic art works and impacts its audiences and practitioners. It is our prayer that Covenant students are prepared to become “missionaries” to the dramatic professions. That is, we seek to help them become skilled in dramatic craft and also mature in discipleship, so they might one day enter the professional stage and film worlds to produce fine art to the glory of God, but also to reach out to a lost “people group” (dramatic professionals) who will not very likely be reached by outsiders. The dramatic arts are arguably the most influential mode of cultural communication today. We would be foolish to neglect proclaiming the Kingdom of God in this vital marketplace.
The title above, “Theatre Is Incarnation,” refers to several things. First, there is something fundamentally similar between an actor’s incarnation of the words of a dramatic text and the Divine Word himself having put on flesh. If in the world of philosophic discourse it can be said that “ideas have legs,” in the dramatic world they have legs, hands, eyes, mouths, loves, hatreds, joys, sorrows, good deeds and evil. As Covenant Seminary grad and retired dramatic scholar Max Harris proposed in his erudite study Theater and Incarnation, “the idea of the Incarnation is through and through theatrical, and . . . the theatre, at its most joyous, occupies common ground with the Incarnation in its advocacy of what Karl Barth has called ‘the good gift of [our] humanity.’”
Second, while the end of dramatic production (i.e., the performance) is incarnational in nature, we must make certain that the means (or process) of production is incarnational as well. That is, dramatic art, as a collaborative art form, shared as a collective experience with live audiences, is involved at every turn with human relationships. Jesus said men will know we are his disciples if we love (John 13:35). Paul says, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27); we are “to be imitators of God” (Ephesians 5:1), for “God has chosen to make known among the nations the glorious riches of this mystery: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). How we interact with our brothers and neighbors—be they fellow company members, audience members, or members of the dramatic professions—is a very large portion of our witness and calling in the world. In our production practices at Covenant—i.e., how we behave with each other onstage and backstage, our consideration of the impact our production decisions will have on those who see them, and even how we handle business dealings with theatre professionals “out there”—we must always keep the call to love one another foremost in our theory, planning and prayers. We must “incarnate Christ” for those we encounter.
“I see my calling as twofold,” theatre grad Laura Bannister ’07 says, “to love and to do good art. . . . I love the power that live storytelling has on a group of people—the audience. . . . It is a privilege to be a physical part of telling stories that move and change people. . . . Theatre allows me to interact with other artists, Christian and non-Christian. These people need love, and I hope that I can show them that love.”