Today I sit down – virtually speaking – with my friend Dan Maurer – a writer of books and graphic novels and, now, curator of plays!
So Dan – you have this creative outfit, Arches -n- Bells. How would you describe it?
We got bells! We got arches! Well, really now . . . Arches ‘n Bells is a skit, play, dialogue, monologue, reader’s theater, and litany provider for churches and faith communities. Our writers focus on producing high-quality resources from a progressive, grace-centered angle. All the stuff is downloadable for you to print and use. Oh . . . and we’re about fun too. Anybody going to the site should be able to see that. What’s more is that these works are intergenerational—they work with kids, teens, adults, and various subsections of a faith community’s demographics.
Diving into your plays, A-n-B is a bit…different than most church theatrical outfits out there. How would you describe this difference?
Well, for one we’re committed to writing high-quality works. I pay our writers handsomely because I know they’re pros in their field. The other difference I think goes into our commitment to writing plays that won’t just be engaging, fun, or thought-provoking, but also centering around themes like LGBT justice, racism, and also our commitment to use inclusive language. So far, FunChurchPlays[dot]com is the only show in town with these aspects. Did I mention we’re fun and a bit irreverent?
Some of your skits and plays are pretty straightforward riffs on Scripture – like your Samaritan Woman piece, drawn from John 4. But others, like ‘I Am You,’ are fairly stunningly original pieces. How would you express the need for both kinds of drama in the life of the church?
Great question, Mike. I think if people get the impression that we’re only about dealing with justice-based or theologically-progressive themes then they haven’t seen all we have to offer. Look, scripture is diverse in how it delivers the message. What I encourage our playwrights to ultimately convey, though, is that grace wins out in the end.
I think it’s pretty easy to write little moralistic tales that somehow make us feel good about humanity’s capacity to create a loving society. It’s much harder to realize that we’ve tried this on our own—again and again—and we don’t do a very good job at loving our neighbor, much less our enemy. Arches ‘n Bells resources are simply like no other, because we want to cover the gamut of scripture and dig deeply into both the more conventional, and also the alternative themes . . . like I Am You, where playwright and award-winning author Jonathan Bing wrote Jesus as a woman.
Let’s take a step back from that previous question: Why drama in the life of the church, period? Can’t we just be content with hymns and sermons and such?
Ha! You’re really rollin’ out the good questions! Why drama? Simple. Because human beings are story-creatures. We understand the complex and sometimes difficult themes from scripture best when we can see, hear, and feel it as a story. I’ve written about this topic frequently on the site’s blog, but I also understand as a writer (like you!) that stories engage people from every generation and every walk of life better than any other medium. What’s great is I encourage the folks who use our work to use it in any format they like. If you want your players to memorize, fine, but it’s not necessary. You’d be amazed at how effective drama is at relating the story, even when people just hold their scripts and read it off!
So, yup. We’re story creatures. No other species on the planet functions this way. I suppose anthropologists could aptly name us homo narrates: the creature that cannot help but tell stories. Just so I’m clear: hymns and sermons have their places. I’m suggesting that drama, litanies, and actively “playing the faith” should as well.
What do you hope communities of faith will come away with if they begin to work with progressive, grace-imbued drama in this way? How does this inform the players, and those who witness such plays?
Because I’ve experienced the power of drama firsthand, I know communities will not only enjoy the diversion drama naturally offers, but also I hope that “playing the faith” will essentially train people to act out their faith in real life. Arches ‘n Bells continues to build its repertoire (it takes time to write this stuff!) and I know that not every play will strike a chord with everyone. But regularly using drama helps both the players and those watching that all this Bible stuff really is relevant to speak to the human condition . . . and how God fits into the whole scheme of things. Plus, have I mentioned it’s fun yet? It’s okay to have fun in church!!
Thank you for you time today, Dan! Stay tuned next week for a sample play from Arches-n-Bells. In the meantime, you can go to FunChurchPlays.com to check these out for yourself.
It’s been a pleasure, Mike! Rock on. – Dan