Performing the Sacred is the first book-length exploration of the intersection of theatre and theology, illuminating the importance of preserving live performance in a virtual world. This compelling dialogue unfolds between a theologian and a theatre artist who revisit theatre’s rich history and paint a picture of its promising future while building bridges between theatre and Christianity.
Theologically, theatre reflects Christianity’s central doctrines—incarnation, community, and presence—enhancing the human experience and shedding new light on theology. The authors show how theatre engages viewers on multiple levels, including political, social, religious, personal, intellectual, emotional, and kinesthetic. In theatre, the presence of live human beings speaks of the incarnate nature of God’s redemption in Christ and the imago Dei. The communal nature of theatre models the Trinity, while the immediacy and transcendence of theatre performance draw out the presence of God in nature and grace.
Performing the Sacred encourages Christians to celebrate, embrace, and experiment with dramatic stories found in Scripture. This title will be key for teaching theatre in the academy and influencing drama practitioners, worship leaders, and culture makers.
Performance theory, history, criticism, theology, and worship are all brought together in a refreshing new look at the old art of live theatre in Performing the Sacred. It is not only an entertaining read by itself but also a unique and much-needed text for university theatre arts courses.
—Gillette Elvgren, professor, Department of Cinema-Television, Regent University
Reading Performing the Sacred is akin to the thrill of the theatre’s house lights dimming, the stage lights intensifying, and a great play beginning. The panoramic sweep of more than twenty centuries of theatre and theology—beginning with the ancient Greeks, detailing the mystery plays of the medieval period, and examining present-day drama—is a tour de force. Through it all, the authors articulate and affirm the indispensable role the audience plays in the production of good drama. Christian playgoers, after reading this book, will come to understand and appreciate even more deeply the theological dynamics of incarnation, Trinity, and presence at the heart of theatre. Performing the Sacred deserves a standing ovation!
—Peter Gilmour, emeritus professor, Institute of Pastoral Studies, Loyola University Chicago
We have been waiting years and years for theatre artists and Christian theologians to get back into serious dialogue, and there is hardly anyone better prepared to lead us than Todd Johnson and Dale Savidge. This book is a hugely significant conversation starter. Decades from now we will be saying that the conversation began with this book.
—Jeff Barker, professor of theatre and speech, Northwestern College
A compelling conversation between a theologian and a theater professional, Performing the Sacred provides a helpful overview of the history of theatre and summarizes much of the writing about theatre and the church, but it is groundbreaking when it begins to explore the relationship between the embodiment of story in theatrical rehearsal and performance and the embodiment of our theology in worship and practice.
Todd E. Johnson is the William K. and Delores S. Brehm Associate Professor of Worship, Theology, and the Arts at Fuller Theological Seminary. He is an ordained minister in the Evangelical Covenant Church and the editor of The Conviction of Things Not Seen.
Dale Savidge is the executive director and founding member of Christians in Theatre Arts (CITA). He is chair of the theatre arts department at North Greenville University and has traveled the world as a theatre artist.