I've just returned from a wonderful week at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, seeing seven plays in four days! It's always inspiring to me, and this year as usual offered much food for thought. One of the plays was particularly good as an incentive for our social justice work. It was entitled "The African Company Presents Richard III" and depicted a historical event that took place in the early 1800s.
It seems that there was a company of black actors who presented theatre for blacks [and lots of white people who also wanted to attend] in New York City. They were so good that they began to draw audiences away from the official theatre in Central Park. Even though these people were all "free" their lives were oppressed almost as badly as the slaves in the South. But their spirits were inspiring to see. The "powers that be" took measures to shut down the black theatre and I'm sure it will come as no surprise that they succeeded.
Aside from my feelings of outrage that the actors were being treated badly because of the color of their skin, I was deeply moved by their valor and their hopeful spirits. I came away knowing that those two things -- hope and valor -- are key to any justice work we do. And I left the theatre feeling blessed that I was privileged to witness this great story. As I understand it, the African Company never played Shakespeare again, but in the play they made plans to write and produce their own plays. This is the valor I'm talking about! I can only hope that we can live up to the countless examples our forebears have presented for our inspiration!
The rest of the plays were equally wonderful -- each in their own way. I am filled with joy and appreciation for the opportunity to explore both the world of the past and to consider the universal conditions that are made plain in the theatre. They are timeless, reminding me that no matter what our era or our culture there are some things that transcend both and are common to the human condition. I wish I could share each experience with you [although that would result in a very long column] and perhaps you will find some of the insights I have gained creeping into my sermons!