The Play's the Thing
The following reflection first appeared in August 2009 as part of First Sundays with Phyllis Tickle, a series of monthly blogs written by Tickle and posted on explorefaith from 2008 to 2010.
One of the privileges of age…and I am discovering that the list of them is considerable…one of the privileges of age is the license to do pretty much anything one wants to do professionally and is able to do physically. It is a license that, by the grace of God, I exercised some eighteen months or two years ago without ever really having any firm understanding of just how much I would enjoy the whole thing. (It feels, and still does, a lot like it was when one was naughty at age four and got away with the whole thing, in fact.)
What I did, I did to the consternation of my much-respected agent and to the absolute consternation of my much-beloved husband. I don’t know exactly what the nature of Joe’s consternation was, but I do know what Sam’s was all about. When I announced that I was not going to sign another book contract or write another book for two years, he could immediately see himself stuck with me twenty-four/seven on The Farm In Lucy…and not just with me, but with a restless, fussy me. (I don’t do well when I am not working on a manuscript or project, so there was indeed some merit to his concerns.)
What I told both those good men was that they should not worry. I was just taking a break to do two other things that I really had a hankering to do. The first was that I had been given, and had accepted, an invitation to serve as General Editor on a series of eight books about the ancient practices or disciplines of Christianity. Called, imaginatively enough, The Ancient Practices Series, that suite of books is almost complete. Three have yet to be released, but the editing and doing of them is finished and the bulk of my responsibility over with. I had never done such a thing before, and I reveled in the work. But my other digression has turned out to be even sweeter.
Liturgical drama has been my avocation for years, both as a happy reader and listener and, from time to time, as a writer within the genre. Unfortunately, I shall never be a great playwright, but I am most certainly a joyful and impassioned one when it comes to liturgical drama. Writing liturgical drama means working with a sacred space that has not the first accoutrement of normal stage-craft, with directors and choreographers who know a million times more than I ever will about what can and cannot be articulated in un-miked space, with actors who may or may not agree with the theological implications of the script, with etc., etc., etc…. Simply put, the whole process is so beyond-the-rules and fluid and energetic that it restores my soul as does nothing else in the world of words.
So besides taking on my first-ever General Editor-ship, my other bit of rebellious behavior was to accept a commission from the Community of Jesus in Orleans, Massachusetts, to write a liturgical drama specific to their basilica, The Church of the Transfiguration. Still under construction, Transfiguration was sufficiently complete ten years ago to allow for it to be dedicated and then occupied for worship on 6 June 2000. Next year, in June, the Community and hundreds of its oblates, friends, and visitors will celebrate that tenth anniversary and, as is historically the custom, a play signatory of that place will be at the center of their celebration.
The play is almost done, to the extent, that is, that a play is ever done before it’s been performed several dozen times; and, God willing, it will be played for the first time over the week-end of June 6th next year. Thereafter, it will play as part of the celebration of the Observance of the Transfiguration of Our Lord in August of each year. But because the script is almost done, so too is that burst of joy—like picking lightening bugs from the summer sky—that comes when one sits alone for hours with a blank mind in a holy space and lets it tell itself to one.
Now, so many months later, all I am really doing is dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s, as the saying goes. When we get nearer to production, I’ll be back on site to work through rehearsals and change impossible lines and re-construct scenes and fume and fuss and totally enjoy that part of the whole process. For now, however, it’s all i’s and t’s and the pleasant sensation of having a magical play in my head that has been described on paper, but that no one who is not inside my head has yet seen…a lot like being pregnant, in fact, come to think of it.
However that may be, all this is much on my mind today, because I go tomorrow to Orleans, Massachusetts, to the Community and to that structure that I now love more than any of its other lovers ever shall; for it has rendered up its secrets to me with an intimacy that only happens when one is writing the life of a living thing. This will be my last visit before we all have to admit that the script is done…that it is what it is going to be with only minor adjustments hereafter…that the whole enterprise is now in the hands of the director, the choreographers, the composers, the actors and, hopefully, the Almighty over all of us. I have loved it, and I will leave the Community two weeks from now with a sad as well as a satisfied heart. I’m going back to writing books next year, but I’ll be the better for it, I hope, now that I have stopped a while and loved another way of making words.
Copyright © 2009 Phyllis Tickle.