This article is an exploration of theater and spirituality. First, the personal experience and then the theater from the historical perspective and that of the audience.
I am a theater artisan or craftsman. In this role one is often paying dues from one project assignment (show) to the next and must rely upon his or her own character strengths, ethics, and integrity to navigate the unstable financial environment, unclear directions and ego-driven participants of the show.
The development of these strengths for me began with being raised a Catholic which gave me a basic Christian code of ethics. In my teen years I watched my peers develop physically and psychologically, making choices and adopting the viewpoints of their peers without proper evaluation. In adulthood I still see many adults compromising their integrity.
After many years and different project assignments (shows) I have discovered that every project (show) holds a personal lesson or message for me as I discover the beauty, the ironies and the patterns in life. And thus, I have found that the creative process, live theater and the performing arts have become the religion that I practice.
Mounting a project or show in theater becomes a pressure cooker of human dynamics. Often the bigger story is behind the scenes and is equally as challenging and dynamic as the finished product that appears on stage.
Each project (show) requires intense collaboration with others, all according to each one’s understanding. One must be able to objectify one’s experience, stand back and see what motivates the other collaborators and see how they are creating synergy. Once one commits to a project (show), there is no way out and the contained adventure begins.
I have been fortunate to have been able to hang onto the early ethics as sometimes after a project (show), the only thing left that is of value to one personally is simply knowing that one has acted with integrity, wisdom and grace, no matter what the perceptions of others. Aside from financial success, real proof of success in theater is the artistic success.
In the arts one strives for perfection. Now in my 50s, I have come to the conclusion that letting go of perfection is the fullest expression of the divine and yields a more holistic result. Letting go of the outcome requires an extreme act of faith. You don’t know where it will lead you. It is always uncharted territory. The creative process is about letting go, preparing oneself with all the skill, research, inspiration and support before setting out on the journey.
Once completed, there is a feeling of joy and exaltation that is almost overwhelming. It can give one a clear picture of how the forces of good or the divine personality are manifested and rally around one.
My most recent project (show) was “The Full Monty” at Capital Playhouse in Olympia. While “The Full Monty” appears on the surface to be sexually titillating and shallow, it is a modern musical with its roots in Greek tragedy. It reveals the state of our social policies and their impact on the relationships of men and women.
Plays, musicals, live entertainment always contain the frailties and joys of human existence. The bad, the good, the neurotic … these stories appear to be separate and different from one another, but in fact are always founded on the basic struggle of human existence, both the physical and internal.
The performing arts contain much of what humans have to offer in creative expression. The striving for the expression of the perfect self or the God in us all is universal. In theater through participation as the creative facilitator or as the observer (audience) we are entering that universal consciousness together. According to each person’s understanding our perfect heart is spoken to. And even if that pathway to the human spirit lasts for only a couple of hours (the length of a show) how great is that!Michael Costain is a wig designer by trade and the volunteer costume shop lead of the Capital Playhouse in Olympia. Perspective is coordinated by Interfaith Works in cooperation with The Olympian. The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily endorsed by Interfaith Works or The Olympian.