Sunday, 24 June 2018

Going Live: Television Studio Drama and the Divine Drama of Liturgy


Yesterday Jude and I went out to Eagle’s Nest Ranch (ENR) to see Sparrow, written, produced and directed by Debi Stodolka, and ENR’s first foray into live drama and dinner theatre. A hard-working, talented cast acted out a story of redemption which was inspired by the book of the Prophet Hosea in the Bible. There was even a “wandering minstrel.” Sparrow got me thinking about drama and Christianity—which, some say, is the Divine Drama—and reminded me of something I wrote a couple of months ago on the subject arising out of my previous vocation as a director of television drama but hadn’t got around to posting. 

We're de-cluttering. In doing so, I came across my shooting script and floor plans for the ACCESS Network's 1984 television studio production of Sharon Pollock's stage play, The Komogata Maru Incident.

Televison studio lens protractor and Komagata Maru shooting script
A floor plan showing cast and camera positions in the studio
I produced and directed it in ACCESS's Edmonton studio. We shared a building with The Brick furniture warehouse in those days which meant that takes often had to be aborted because of The Brick's PA system announcements booming through the too-thin walls—but I digress. 

A thirty-four years younger me (left)
directing Hopkinson (Graham McPherson) and TS (Blair Haynes).
I must be one of the very few people in Canada (or anywhere now) who was trained to direct BBC style multi-camera television studio drama. I was so trained by the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation in the early days of my television career. 1970ish. Unlike drama shot film style, television studio drama is shot like a stage play using multiple studio cameras and sets all in one studio. All the classic British dramas like Z-Cars (which was also live!), Upstairs and Downstairs, The Forsyte Saga, and The Pallisers were shot this way


I still think such drama is a valid medium. It is a kind of cross between stage and film and has its own life and effectiveness. Studio drama can require a level of "suspension of disbelief" closer to that required while enjoying live theatre. Performances and the sense of narrative has a fluid, immediate quality which is often missing in film. You don’t see it much any more. These days most television drama is shot film style. 

Candlelight Easter Vigil Liturgy
St Barnabas Anglican Church, Medicine Hat
Good liturgy is like live television drama. There’s a script. There are costumes. A set. There is an audience—the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is music. There are “performers”—the congregation. And a director—the presider. There are interruptions and  distractions, too, like the ones I experienced while trying to make television studio drama next to the Brick warehouse in Edmonton all those years ago. People in the cast are late, or don’t come at all. There’s noise. There’s rivalry and conflict. People lose focus. They don’t learn their lines properly. We stop and start. Lines are missed. Actors don’t like the way their hair is done. People miss their marks. 
Sample script for worship

Being a parish priest is rather like producing and directing a live  television studio drama. There can be lots of people, there are deadlines, budgets, you always seem to be running out of light, you are always trying to bring some order out of chaos. It can be profound and silly and great fun and it can drive you mad all at once. 

I like the Orthodox idea that their highly scripted and choreographed Divine Liturgy transcends time to become something akin to the ancient, prescribed, also thoroughly scripted worship that happened in Moses’ Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple. There was nothing seeker friendly in it. The worshipper didn’t get to ad lib his or her lines or choose his or her preferred contemporary or traditional style. The worshipper was not the audience. God was. God’s preferences were what mattered. Such worship was not all about the participants. It is about and for the Author. In Moses’ and Solomon’s day, God said, “This is how you are to worship Me and this is where and when and in Whose Name.” Period.

Good liturgical worship is like a carefully and faithfully scripted, live television period drama except for the cameras (although the new big-box churches do use them to project the platform action on the big screen). As we suspend our disbelief, allow ourselves to be written in to the script, learn our lines and play our God-given parts, the story of the good news of Jesus Christ, Saviour and Lord, goes live. 


Gene+