that went around
by David Ralf.
I am an internationally produced playwright. My work has been performed across the UK, in New Zealand, Canada,and in the USA. This is true despite the fact that I have never been paid for my writing, or indeed, had a play produced in a theatre by anyone other than myself.
The explanation? Churches. I learned about theatre from watching and participating in biblical dramas in church halls, long before I habitually attended professional performances with plush cushioned seats and interval drinks. From them I still harbour a love of presentational and didactic drama. And, although I consciously rejected the faith many years ago, I still write sketches for my parents’ church, mostly for the Christmas carol service.
Why? Nothing holds me to it. I could certainly argue I don’t have the time or the inspiration, and guiltlessly deny my parents’ requests. But I don’t. And I write them for two reasons. Firstly, as Robert McKee argues, writers each have a little demon inside them that eats pages. I feel pleasure if I write and finish something, and especially if I know it will be performed. Second, I was satiated with these stories growing up, and I derive considerable pleasure from retelling them, even if the message is not one in which I still literally believe.
That said, I do stick in little jokes for my own amusement. I referred to the wise men as ‘fairy godfathers’ one year (that got cut), and this year I had an angel reflect drily, after being sent to wrestle Jacob ‘until daybreak’, that if he had free will, he might have thought about disobeying. Most of these things go unnoticed - if you’re watching a christmas drama in a church hall bedecked with tinsel, you tend to take the words as gospel. The faithful aren’t likely to interrogate them for facetious blasphemies, even if the speaker is wearing a white sheet and holding a flaming sword made out of cardboard. It was true of my first full-length play, set in New Testament times-
Another part of the yearly ritual is to make the dramas freely available online, and because of that my little blasphemies have travelled the globe. The most recent, penned but a few weeks ago, has had two performances in the UK and has appeared in a Salvation Army pamphlet (for the Kentucky/Tennessee division, don’cha know) of resources for celebrating the Christmas period in whatever style the Salvation Army habitually choose. A lovely woman kindly requested the use of the play, and she even sent me a copy of the odd document for my perusal.
Last week, however, I received one of those emails that checks ones confidence:
To Whom It May Concern:
We, of S—————- Baptist Church, S——————, Indiana, are performing the Christmas drama “God With Them” in our morning service on December 23, 2012 at 11 a.m est, if the Lord will. This play is being performed for the Glory of God and we appreciate you making it available for us.
God Bless You, Merry Christmas,
S—————- Baptist Church Youth Department
I don’t know if it was the textual tic ‘if the Lord will’, the serial-killer over-capitalisation, or the fact that this was to be performed by or to young people that might lack my sense of irony, but somehow it wasn’t funny anymore.
I have been aiding and abetting a religion for which I feel nothing. Oops.
David Ralf is a freelance playwright and collaborator with Rough-Hewn.
This blog is also available on David’s IdeasTap profile.
‘Joseph’ image © JupiterImages.