Thursday, August 20, 2009

Catholic drama and 'grassroots entertainment'

San Diego playwright Cathal Gallagher recently spoke about his plays and his efforts to advance Catholic drama.

While movies cost millions to make, plays are the “grassroots of entertainment,” Gallagher told Catholic News Agency. He rightly noted that such works can have a “profound impact” on college and high school students.

His play "Viva Cristo Rey!" about the Jesuit priest and martyr Blessed Miguel Pro was performed at the Denver archdiocesan seminary earlier this year under the direction seminarian Scott Bailey.

(Last year I saw and deeply enjoyed Bailey's production of "A Man for All Seasons." We in Denver may hope he can become both a successful playwright and a priest, like a certain famous pontiff.)

Recently Gallagher has produced his play "Malcolm and Teresa," about British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge and Mother Teresa. According to CNA, his next production is “Margaret of Castello,” about the young Italian woman who "led a life of sanctity in 13th century Florence despite being born blind, lame and a hunchback, and also being abandoned by her parents."

Gallagher's belief in the promise of community theater may be sound. Small theaters have fewer financial and social barriers to entry than the film business. A good dramatist will form more personal connections with the actors, the audience, and artists, a sure precondition for the development of local culture.

And of course, there's no reason a successful play can't become a good movie later on, when it's found worthy.

There's a kind of Christian culture-maker who has a "Hollywood-or-Bust!" attitude. Many of them would have benefited from testing their talents before a live audience first. I worry their shoddy film productions more easily attain prominence just because industry publicity machines emphasize the film's Christian Message (tm).

Small-time stage plays often lack that rare luxury and have to succeed on merit.

However, not being a frequent patron of community theater, the field is unknown to me. I welcome comments from the knowledgeable.

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