Is Something Sacred?

Thought I should not let too much time elapse after that last post, lest some of my more faithful readers think I had gone off the deep end (and to the two who checked in – thanks. That’s why I love ya).

It may be empty now, but in a few weeks the house will be rockin'

It may be empty now, but in a few weeks the house will be rockin'

Although the weekend and much of the time since were a major drag, there were some highlights, and all revolved around theatre. I already mentioned seeing my buddy Bries’ play, and the next night we saw Dying City by CT native Christopher Shinn (a much younger and more successful CT playwright than I, of course). The drama trifecta wrapped up on Sunday with  the first table read for The Real Thing. I laughed when the director introduced me as the dramaturg; I’ve outlined my much-less-crucial duties in the Bries post cited above. The reading went well, with the actors bringing out a lot of the humor inherent in the script. Not every funny line on the page of every funny play can be delivered so as to elicit laughs; that’s where the directors’ and actors’ talent come in. But if these guys can get it already, it bodes well for a good production.

Not that – like any community theatre show – this will go off flawlessly. We already had one actor beg off even before the table read, though the replacement was actually my first choice (not that I had any say in the matter) and will do a great job. Then, after Sunday night, another actor bowed out, concerned about personal issues and his ability to give his all to the production. Too bad for us, because I think he was perfect, but at least he spoke up now and not a month in. Better to be upfront from the start, so hats off to him for his honesty.

The somewhat-therapeutic effect of the weekend’s theatre, along with an article I recently read by Roger Scruton (thanks again, Hugh), got me thinking. Yes, yes, a dangerous prospect, I know. The article talked about the recent ascendency of atheists and their religion bashing (e.g., Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins), and the misplaced nature of those attacks. Yes, religions and their leaders do stupid, hateful things, a point I’ve made often here at C?WC? But humans as a species have a need for the sacred (I would call it the spiritual, but sacred works too), which has more to do with coming together as a community to honor a culture’s myths than believing in a vengeful god and giving money to blowhard preachers.

You thought it was just about a dumb apple?

You thought it was just about a dumb apple?

Myths of course, in the broader sense, are not make-believe stories about gods and fairies and the creation of the world. They are stories with universal characters and themes that explain human concerns, and that try to put us in touch with something outside our ego selves, something common to us all. Take the fall of Adam and Eve. Judeo-Christians can take it literally, but Scruton says that in a sacred sense, the story “conveys truth about freedom, about guilt, about man, woman, and their relationship, about our relationship to nature and morality.”

The Greeks, man - some smart dudes, or what?

The Greeks, man - some smart dudes, or what?

So what does this have to do with theatre? Drama, of course, rose out of ancient Greek religious rites. Today, theatre students still learn (or should) that there is an element of the sacred in people coming together to watch actors perform. Scruton, citing other thinkers, describes how the violence of a Greek tragedy is a substitute for the violence carried out in primitive societies when one person is scapegoated – and killed – to atone for the community’s moral transgressions. I would say the violence portrayed does not have to be physical, it can be emotion as well. The purpose is the same: The audience gets a vicarious experience and the Aristotelian catharsis by taking part in a theatrical production (and they do take part – there is no theatre without an audience).

Or else it’s just two hours of mindless, often over-priced entertainment, I don’t know.

Yeah, we had elaborate productions like this in South Glastonbury too...

Yeah, we had elaborate productions like this in South Glastonbury too...

As a “theatre person,” I feel seeing plays does fill part of my need for the sacred/spiritual and especially gives me the communal connection that others get in church. I was thinking today that the church experience and the theatre experience can even directly blend; as Lent is about to begin, I remembered my favorite church-going time as a kid was on Good Friday, when I watched the Passion acted out before me. I didn’t know it was theatre, of course, or that I would one day try to write plays. But I knew that seeing the action unfold, with its conflict and emotion, I was getting something that I never felt at any other time in a Catholic church.  Something that resonated deeply. Something powerful and important and human.

I think I am writing this too late at night. Some time after 9 pm, the tiny part of my brain that handles nuanced thinking begins to shut down (helped along by a La Fin du Monde), and I’m sure a lot of this is  gobbledygook. But no matter. All I can say is, I might bash religion, but I respect the need for the sacred. And I do believe theatre is one vehicle for getting to sacred places. I hope I have a “spiritual” play within me. Maybe getting it out will be one way to soften the blows of daily existence and my battle with the Crisis. To understand what makes us human, and to come to grips with our ultimate end.


~ by mburgan on February 25, 2009.

3 Responses to “Is Something Sacred?”

  1. The sacred is wherever you find it. Church, theatre (for you), nature (for me). I don’t think God has any restrictions on how to find him.

    Also, re: the origins of Greek drama – I thought it began as a way to encourage people to come to town to pay their taxes, not as a religious display. Correct me if I’m wrong…

  2. Right, people can find the sacred in different ways, but I think Scruton’s point – and the folks he cited – is that it’s not about finding a God figure, but understand our existence in a communal way, but if you want to call that God, that’s cool. As far as theatre and taxes: never heard that before. Always read it was associated with rites connected mostly to Dionysus. Maybe connecting it a civic duty came later? Don’t know…

  3. Re origins: this might be a watered-down, popularized account, but it mirrors what I’ve seen elsewhere:

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