Culture Current

Pacific Theatre: What Christian theatre looks like

Pacific Theatre doesn’t call themselves a Christian theatre company but they do talk about the fact that Christians founded the company — a lot. “I think Christian is a very awkward adjective,” said Ron Reed the founding Artistic Director. “But, it is a great noun and I am proud to be a Christian.”

Now in their twenty-seventh year, Pacific Theatre is a well-respected fixture in the Vancouver theatre community. For their 2010-2011 season, Pacific Theatre garnered 22 Jessie Richardson Nominations and won a handful of awards, including one for the Curation and Execution of an Outstanding Season of Theatre.

Reed remembers how much Pacific Theatre endured early on as the company struggled to maintain its Christian roots while trying to find funding and put on shows with substance. “For a decade the arts community was very nervous about us. They thought we were doing propaganda and that it must be bad,” said Reed.

In that first decade Reed said that they were ostracized by the theatre community, had very small audiences, and were not reviewed by the local media. “People assumed that if Christians made theatre they were making theatre to preach to people or evangelize,” Reed said, “but that wasn’t what our theatre was ever about. It was just a desire to explore life.”

“It seems to me that if you label the plays as ‘Christian’, they need to be dogmatically correct or something. But plays aren’t like that. Plays are stories. They are not there to prove things; they are not there to persuade people. They are not sermons. Sermons are great but they don’t make very good plays.”

Critical success has proved that Pacific Theatre is filling a valuable place in the theatre world. “People in the theatre community — critics, fellow artists — by and large, commend us for our mandate because it is unique.”

At only 120 seats Reed admits that Pacific Theatre looks like a small operation. “But,” he said, “There is a massive community of artists that exist and are doing their craft because of Pacific Theatre.”

While the productions undertaken by Pacific Theatre are not proselytizing, they specifically explore Christian themes. “If something is important to Jesus it is going to show up on our stage probably,” said Reed. “[The plays we do] raise questions and they may provide a few different answers, but the answers will probably contradict each other.”

David Jennings, a corporate finance lawyer, former board member of Pacific Theatre, and life-long supporter of the arts said, “There is no Andrew Lloyd Webber here . . . at Pacific Theatre there are very few people who come to be entertained.” He thinks the space is too intimate and the questions that the plays pose are too personal for an audience to just sit back idly. Jennings thinks that the challenging content is what has helped to define Pacific Theatre and made it accessible to people of any faith system. “When plays are willing to go to the dark places and tell the truth they are much more likely to go into someone’s soul.”

This vision for theatre as an exploration of difficult truths reflects Reed’s own Christian and artistic conversion. Growing up in a churchgoing home, Reed says he didn’t connect with his faith until high school. At that time he was enamored with radical politics of the early 70s. One day, while reading the Sermon on the Mount, he realized that Jesus was preaching the most radical and least middle-class message he had ever heard. “I had one of those moments where the lights just went on,” said Reed.

“Lots of artists become Christians and wrestle with whether they have to give up their art because it is too important, but I didn’t really have the ability to do that because it was a part of my spiritual awakening,” he said.

After 27 years Reed can hardly imagine doing anything else. “This is my calling, this is what God put me on the planet to do,” said Reed. He has no intention of shaking Pacific Theatre’s association with faith, “We held on to things during a decade when everyone ignored us…why would we compromise now?”