Francis Gardom writes about his recent dramatic interlude
It was never my ambition to become a professional actor. But the similarities between Church and Stage have become more and more obvious throughout my ministry.
Not just as a priest. Every disciple ‘in his time, plays many parts’ (As You Like It) as they pursue their Christian vocation. Laity, like clergy, are called upon to fulfil many different roles: Leader, Learner, Guide, Teacher, Comforter, Disciplinarian, Mother, Director, Father, Pastor, to name but a few.
Opportunities for all
Having seen an advertisement in Time Out I was prompted to look at the Poor School website. It said:
The Four Day Course began in 2007 and we have seen over 1000 people. Some wanted to be actors, others wanted to spend a week in a different world. We have seen solicitors, pilots, train drivers, senior policemen, entrepreneurs, ex-footballers, models, TV presenters, housewives, stuntmen, businessmen. The age range is teenage to sixties and the average is 34. No-one, consequently, cares about age. Most have little or no experience. The course suits everyone and anyone willing to do a small amount of work and turn up on time looking awake. It is especially suitable for those who wish to be considered for the full time training and serves as a thorough audition for those who wish it to be.
The course consists of a series of classes in the basics of an acting training; Voice, Movement, and Singing. You are given a short contemporary scene on your first day, and these are shown to colleagues and staff on the final afternoon. There are classes on Shakespeare, Stage Fighting, Jazz and Dialect. There is no audition for these courses. Entrance is by enrolment. We cater for all level of fitness, including the disabled.
So I applied. Paul Caister, their Director, accepted me, despite my being over twice the average age of applicants, and I immensely enjoyed an exhausting four days at the School.
One or two of those on our course wanted to become professionals; but most, like me, were motivated by interest and curiosity. We were taught to breathe, to speak, to sing, to move, to dance, and (sic!) to fight. My fellow trainees were mostly in their 20s, and their kindness and tolerance towards me were exemplary, particularly the session which involved an Elizabethan dance which would have challenged even an Olympic sprinter.
But perhaps most useful of all was the way in which the course enhanced one’s confidence. Our two groups were each given a one-act play. My group performed Harold Pinter’s The Lover – a somewhat odd and confusing piece of writing. There are only two characters so we were divided up into pairs, each of which performed a short tranche. At the end we performed the full version in front of the other group, whose performance (of another play) was even more creditable than ours.
Besides enjoying the course, I derived another immediate personal benefit. On Sunday after Mass, several people remarked that my speaking and singing had both improved as a result.
Thinking back on my experience convinced me that learning to ‘play many parts’ is as important for Pilgrims as it is for Players. The ancient Greeks had a word ‘eutrapelia’ meaning literally ‘good turning’, which they applied to dance steps – the ability to change direction swiftly and gracefully: just the sort of thing I was unable to do as we were being taught how to dance an Elizabethan jig!
But, figuratively speaking, all actors must learn eutrapelia. Whatever part they are given to play, they must acquire the ability to turn into that character – regardless of whether they feel like it or not. Whatever his personal disposition at the time, the Player must be ready to turn himself instantly into someone else.
A faithful minister of Christ needs that skill too. He will have to turn unhesitatingly from playing father to one person, to playing teacher, apostle, mediator, guide, judge, or counsellor to others who need his advice or help. After Sunday Mass it is quite usual for several people to come up and talk to their parish priest, which needs him to be ready to play a number of such roles in quick succession.
Benefits for laypeople
And, of course, this eutrapelia is not only required by the priest; it is just as necessary for the wise layperson – even more so, since people who are in trouble or difficulty are notoriously reluctant to ‘open their grief’ to anyone in a dog-collar (‘our Vicar would be so shocked if I were to tell him’) – but are quite often ready to engage the sympathetic and listening ear of a layperson.
My experience led me to conclude that a one-day course at the Poor School for churchgoers would have much to recommend it. In fact I put this to Paul Caister and he immediately agreed that the School would be glad to arrange such a Day, thereby enabling other churchpeople to enjoy and profit from the experience which I was so fortunate to discover. ND
I would be glad to hear from any readers
of New DirectioNs who thinks that individually,
or as a group from their church,
they would like to take this idea a stage further.
My email address is