Liturgy, Theatre, and the role of the director

I recently attended a performance of the Tragical History of Dr. Faustus, by Christopher Marlowe. Though Marlowe, unlike his contemporary, Will Shakespeare, has never been blessed with the accusation of being a recusant (unless of course you are one of the proponents of the theory that Marlowe was Shakespeare), Kit Marlowe’s ‘mighty line’ of blank verse stands on its own in terms of great poetry.

Upon opening the program, the theatre-goer was presented with two full pages, or four columns, of text explaining the director’s vision of the play. As if to make the play meaningful to the modern world, the director set the familiar tale of the proud scholar selling his soul to the devil in the world of Second Life. Now this piece is not to criticise the performance nor the direction – the sets were quite amazing and the play was fully immersed in the director’s vision, including a wonderful scene where the rest of the seven deadly sins are birthed from under the skirts of Pride. But the director felt the overwhelming necessity to reinvent the play and its presentation, suffocating the beauty and timelessness of the text. It wasn’t about making the play a pleasant, beautiful experience to watch, it was about hitting the viewer over the head with the director’s view of the drama.

Now the director is a fairly recent invention of the theatre, and while watching this play,  I couldn’t help but think about the connection of the role of the director in theatre, to modern ‘directors’ of liturgy. The director could be the liturgy committee, a liturgy consultant, or a master of ceremonies. Many of those (not all!) who insist on the notion of inculturation do so at a complete lack of respect for the ‘text’ and for the ‘audience.’

Let’s consider the communion antiphon “Taste and See.” I’ve heard a pseudo-jazzy version of this which is simply jarring whilst one is approaching the Lord in the Eucharist. Jazz is not bad in and of itself, the text for Taste and See is from Psalm 34, but the text is overwhelmed by music, which is wholly unsuited for that moment in the mass. A similar concept can explain the great distaste of many for re-sponsorial psalms. Gregorian chant, while certainly not the only suitable music for mass, elevates the text, and does not suffocate it.

In a ‘directed liturgy,’ innstead of the word of God, it’s about the music; instead of the timelessness of the celebration of the Eucharist, it’s about how liturgy has been presented. In short, it’s how the ‘director’ wants you to see his or her vision, instead of being about God. 

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3 Comments on “Liturgy, Theatre, and the role of the director”

  1. HelenaAugusta Says:

    I just read this on music, transcendence, bongos and the role of the director:

    http://sognodargento.blogspot.com/2008/04/popes-music.html

  2. Argent Says:

    The congregation can’t sing that Taste and See by Moore. They think they can…but did you notice how all those tied notes (whole notes to half notes, good grief!) always confuses people? They don’t know how long to hold. So the singing is always off. Then there are the triplets coming out of tied half notes, the eighth notes tied to half notes….the music is a mess, and visually, it’s a maze. The poor person in the pew looks at it and wonders, “What are all those arcs? It’s really a solo piece…what makes it all comical is that everyone sings it as though they were soloists.


  3. […] Marlowe’s play, as well as its source text, are pretty anti-Catholic pieces. In the performance I saw (in a strange twist of reality and the blogosphere (via Fr. Z and others) showcased the […]


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