Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
February 19, 2001
Actors for the Lord
Christian theatre crowd uses their talents to evangelize
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — Nancy Olthuis uses her body to worship God. She is a liturgical dancer who uses Scripture and sacred music for her craft.
That calling, however, came to Olthuis only recently. The graphic designer at The King's University College used to make her living as a belly dance performer and instructor.
But two years ago God approached her and asked her to "use your gift to praise me."
She did and now Olthuis performs at churches and Christian events. Her mission is to bring others to Christ through music and dance.
"It's interesting how God uses your life and if your heart is open to his leading and once you've given over everything to him he opens up your life in the most amazing ways."
Olthuis, an Anglican, was one of about 200 Christian dancers, theatre and movie actors, playwrights and other Christians working in the arts that gathered at The King's College Feb. 9-11 for the seventh annual CrissCross Conference.
The event is put together by the local chapter of CITA (Christians in Theatre Arts), a North American association of Christian artists.
The purpose of the organization and the conference is to encourage and equip Christians in theatre arts to impact the world and further the kingdom of God, explained conference chair Daniel van Heyst, a drama and visual arts teacher at The King's College.
"We help those who already know that they want to work in theatre and that what they want to do is Christianly meet one another, share resources and find opportunities to collaborate."
The conference is especially helpful to those who want to do drama in their churches but lack theatre training, said Van Heys. "This is a community of encouragement for people who are trying to do this."
The conference offered Christian artists an opportunity to meet with their peers, learn more about their craft, rub shoulders with producers and directors, and perhaps even land a role in a play, musical or movie. Several production companies held auditions at the conference.
A choice of 17 workshops was offered, from Dance and Music in African Christian Drama to the Business of Playwriting. There were also several performances, including one by the Calgary-based dance group Corpus Bara, which performed the Seven Days of Creation. Corpus Bara is the first professional dance company with a biblical world view.
Olthuis led a workshop called Out on a Limb in which she and workshop participants created a liturgical dance using the music of Steve Bell's The Wellspring and the Holy, Holy, Holy.
Olthuis said dance can be a powerful evangelization tool. "Dance, in particular, is such a powerful expression and it has the power to move people, to open people's hearts to different visions and to God working in their hearts," she said.
"It expresses things that words can't express. Because it uses the body, it has a very powerful impact on people and it can be an awesome tool for bringing people to God actually and touching their hearts in ways other things can't."
Like dance, "theatre is a wonderful way to communicate the Gospel truth to people," noted van Heyst, saying Christians have been using plays to teach the Gospel since the Middle Ages.
Because people couldn't read at the time, the Church had to tell them the stories of the Bible. This soon led them to acting those stories on the stage. Theatre can also be a powerful way to bring people's attention to social justice issues and other problems facing society, van Heyst said.
Mark Lewandowski, production manager for Rosebud Theatre, near Drumheller, has been attending the CrissCross conference since it began in 1993.
At this point, Lewandowski gives more than he takes out of the conference but acknowledges that for a lot of people the conference is their only exposure to other Christians in the arts.
"This is a wonderful way for actors to make connections," he said. This year he came to hire actors for a play he is working on. He agrees theatre can be a good evangelization tool but said Christian actors do not necessarily do Christian theatre. Some are actors who happen to be Christians and come to the conference to seek support and connections. Others are focused on ministry-oriented theatre.
Elaine Hileman, a representative of Spread the Word Ministries, a division of Wycliffe Bible Translators of Calgary, also came to the conference to hire actors for ministry-oriented dinner theatre. "If theatre is used in the right way," she agreed, "it can be very effective for evangelism."
Van Howell, an actress with the Off the Fence Theatre company, was giving voice lessons and speech exercises to younger, less experienced actors. The conference, she said, "has been really good at networking, finding out what people are doing and knowing that with CITA there is a bigger umbrella that we can kind of look to for guidance, for materials and for resources."
Her company has done a lot of traditional Christian theatre but has also transformed traditional plays into modern plays that can be easily understood by the 21st century public.
"We have taken plays that have a very strong Gospel message and contextualize them into the 21st century so that it makes sense to people, so they are not looking at people in bathrobes and sandals, trying to imagine who this Jesus is or what the Gospel is," Howell explained.
The company often takes themes like sin or forgiveness and makes a play out of them, she said.
Andrew Cooper, 23, a student at Rosebud School of the Arts, came to CrissCross to learn and make connections. His goal is to use acting to spread God's word.
"I want to be able to speak to people's souls," he said. "I want to be able to be truthful and to show truth. I want to show people the hope that God gives us."
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.