The Arts Engine acts out faith

TORONTO, ON—In churches, theatres and meeting halls across Canada, an expectant hush falls over the audience as the lights dim and actors from The Arts Engine project take the stage.

Funny and thought-provoking, heartbreaking and inspiring, Arts Engine productions have included 2,000 Candles, The Big Picture, The Cotton Patch Gospel, Fish Eyes, Breathe and The KJV: The Bible Show.

It's about sharing "original stories and ideas by people in the Christian community who live by their creativity and imaginations," says director Tom Carson.

Often these are "stories from the margins," he adds, like The Arts Engine's newest production, The Ghosts of Mariposa. "We bring stories from the marginalized and from those who are ignored in mainstream culture. In many cases, God's grace, power and mercy are shown through the humblest of people."

It's no mean feat to be able to tell the history of the King James Bible or the entire narrative of Scripture in just two hours, while keeping an audience glued to their seats. It's even harder to do so in a way that both challenges the life-long Christian and inspires those who have never set foot inside a church.

The key, says Carson, is to communicate the journey of faith through stories and human experiences—whether it be the biblical tale of two fishermen meeting Jesus for the first time, or a broken-hearted man seeking God in Canada today.

"These are the voices and the mouthpieces of the Christian experience," he says. "Often…the Church spends so much energy … on communicating Christian ideas and theology, but not so much on Christian narrative. If we do not hear these voices, we lose the communication of authentic Christian experience."

While the actors create a sacred storytelling space and the audience enters into that story, the very practical issue of letting people know about upcoming productions often relies on partners in the media.

"The media is very crucial for us," Carson says. "We know that when articles have appeared in ChristianWeek, more people have heard about the work we are doing, and have come to see it firsthand.

"Without that kind of support in the Christian community, we are left to our own efforts. Media like ChristianWeek, and the work of the writers there, is so important—and so much more valuable than just social networking. It's an informed, crafted communication that has honed its message—it's directed, crafted, and interesting."

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