As some of you may know, I have a masters in theatre history and criticism and had a previous (albeit brief) career in theatre as a dramaturg. (Quick definition of a dramaturg: the nerdy side of theatre—the bridge between academic and practical theatre doing research for productions, writing program notes for audiences, sitting through the rehearsal process trying to keep objective for the purpose of giving helpful feedback to the director and/or playwright.)
The incomparable Michael Bigelow Dixon was my dramaturgy mentor with whom I worked at Actors Theatre of Louisville. He’s doing research for an article on how theatre training prepares people for other careers and recently asked for my thoughts on the topic from my perspective as a dramaturg turned pastor. Interestingly, after my last session with my spiritual director I had been thinking about how similar a spiritual director is to a dramaturg. Here are my thoughts…
When I was in high school, I confided in a pastor that I thought I might be called to ministry, but I was conflicted because I also wanted to be an actor. I thought these two loves were diametrically opposed, but she assured me they weren’t. I never really understood what she meant until I was on the threshold of exiting the theatre world and moving into ministry.
As anyone who’s taken a theatre history class knows, Western theatre and religion have shared roots. (The theatre historian will tell you that religion flows out of theatre, the religious historian will say that theatre flows out of religion. Either way…) So it shouldn’t be surprising that my training in theatre, specifically dramaturgy, has informed my ministry in multiple capacities.
The first and most obvious connection is the worship service. As Christian theologian Søren Kierkegaard posited, the worship service is a kind of theatrical performance with all participants—preacher, musicians and congregation—as actors and God as audience. My theatre training assists in my ability to create a worship space and plan a worship service and sermon with a theme and flow that tell the story of the worship service much as a play.
Naturally, the literary aspect of dramaturgy translates directly to biblical scholarship and interpretation. Additionally, my theatre background is certainly beneficial to my sermon writing and delivery. Occasionally I do “first person” sermons, taking on characters in the scripture. These are well received by my congregation (many have told me these sermons are their favorites.)
Finally, I’ve found my dramaturgical skills of observation and analysis helpful in most aspects of ministry, particularly pastoral care and counseling. While many seminarians and new pastors are challenged by simply listening to those seeking counseling and tend to talk too much and/or try to solve problems, after years of sitting through rehearsals as a dramaturg—observing and speaking only when necessary—I have never had any difficulty with this facet of ministry.
And of course, working at Actors Theatre of Louisville, churning out newsletter articles and program notes prepared me well for the schedule of weekly worship services and sermons. It’s like a newsletter deadline every week!
These are just the connections of which I am most aware, though I’m sure there are more that I have overlooked.