Feature in Issue 18-1 | Spring 2006

As I write this, we await the response from the ‘Christian right’ as Jerry Springer The Opera takes off on a nationwide tour. On the Christian Voice website, Stephen Green claims that ‘Lord Jesus is portrayed in Springer as an infantile sexual deviant!’ Well, Stephen, this is a dream scene within a piece of theatre, itself a piece of fiction, not real life, in which the fantasy alter-ego of a fictional character (who is based on a real-life character, but is not that real person – are you still with me?) acts out a meeting with God, His mother and His son. Green also claims that the show is highly blasphemous and extremely offensive to Almighty God and to Christian believers. Leaving aside this extraordinary claim to know what God thinks, my response, speaking as a Roman Catholic, is to say ‘not in my name’. I’m not offended. And having spent a great deal of time in Italy, I would also like to point out that anything ‘blasphemous’ found in Jerry Springer is nothing compared to the farmers’ banter outside any Italian country church on a Sunday morning (‘Porca Madonna’ being one of milder curses bandied about).

It seems odd that we are in a culture growing more and more tolerant of abusive ‘reality’ TV programmes like Big Brother (see Brian Popay’s feature on Leo Bassi, ‘I Want To Be Anarchy’, for the story of a fantastic intervention in the Spanish version of Big Brother), and simultaneously less and less understanding of the difference between fiction and reality. The response to school shootings isn’t ‘Stop kids buying guns’, it’s ‘Ban videos featuring gunplay’.

Oh, and string up Marilyn Manson while you’re at it… Playing video games isn’t the same as shooting real people. A fantasy about Jesus in a nappy on a stage is a ‘play’ – it’s not real. Yes, real life and art can and do merge (and perhaps this is part of the difference between ‘theatre’ and ‘performance’); the boundaries can be played with, and much interesting art, raising thoughtful responses, is created in the space between the two, as evidenced in many of the features in this issue of Total Theatre – from the performance art of Marina Abramovic (‘New York, New York – Dream On’) to live art in public spaces (‘Day Trippers’ and ‘Clock Works’) to the recent China Live events (‘From Pigs to Popsicles’).

But the thing about a trip to a theatre is that yes, we suspend disbelief, but we know that what is happening on stage is not real – it’s a safe space for us as theatre-makers and as audience-members to explore ideas, play out fantasy, and indeed to satirise the institutions of our culture, including its religions. It is vital that theatre-makers continue to have that freedom. And any religion that isn’t strong enough to face up to a bit of taunting and teasing isn’t worth the tablets of stone it’s written on.

This article in the magazine

Issue 18-1
p. 2