The Ballad of Emmet Till

Last night I saw one of the plays in my much-appreciated subscription series to Chicago’s Goodman Theatre. The play, The Ballad of Emmett Till, is based on a tragic event that took place in Mississippi in the summer of l955. A young Chicago boy, 14-year-old Emmett Till, was visiting relatives down south. For the crime of allegedly making an improper advance to a young white female store clerk, Emmett was tortured and beaten to death. His body was thrown into the Tallahatchie River. The only way his mother could recognize his remains was by a ring engraved with the initials of Emmett’s father. This horrific event echoes through our history, reminding us of the terrible injustice that raged through our land just before the enormous struggle for civil rights erupted in the l960’s.

I was looking forward to experiencing this night in the theatre. And I am sorry to say that my friends and I were deeply disappointed. We wondered how such an incredibly powerful story could end up feeling so flat and fail to engage the audience. The acting and directing, and most certainly the stunning design, were not the problem. I believe the “miss” was all in the writing - which felt predictable, overdone, and lacked vitality.

Later I thought about how Christian artists and teachers possess the most incredible story to tell in the universe. And yet sometimes in the telling, we miss as well. Our words and music and images rarely capture the wonder of the gospel, the glory of creation, the miracle of grace, the sovereign power of our Holy God. So much rests in the writing – in the craft of the words we choose, the images we portray, the music we compose, the dances we choreograph. I for one long to break out of the same old way of telling such a marvelous story. My experience in theatre last night inspired me not because of greatness, but because I felt so empty at the end. I don’t want people coming to church to leave feeling flat, disengaged, uninspired. Certainly the Holy Spirit and his anointing power plays an enormous part. But so do we, the humans who prepare and design and write and communicate. May we increasingly do our part with innovation, vitality, and fresh words for timeless truths.


leoregan said...

I totally agree I recently went to see tom stoppards Rocknroll at Melbourne Theatre company and was so disappointed I didn't get through the first half and most of my friends felt the same and it was all in the writing, it just felt dated ,stale and a feeling off being talked down too.
No matter how good the acting set lighting and sound if you words dont work everything drops away

Vondell Richmond said...

I am THANKFUL to now be a part of WCA's worship arts blog. As an MFA trained artist/believer, I've been on a MISSION to see to it that Kingdom Arts are done in excellence and in SPIRIT & TRUTH...before I get to sounding all deep-let me share that "less is more" is what they taught me as an actor, and with that say--I read Bill Hybels--HEART OF AN ARTIST a few years back and must say I am very EXCITED to connect with The WCA Ministry and network with like minds. (oops)...How RUDE of me. In all my excitment, my Soutern manners got away from me--(goes back) TAKE 2: Let me start over. My name is Vondell and I'm an active/faithful member of Abundant Life Family Worship Church ( under the leadership of Bishop George & Pastor Mary Searight, where I served on our VISION DRAMA ministry for the past 9.5 years. I'd like to open up a dialogue within your network as my goal is to broaden my contacts and begin to do ALL that I know God's put in my heart to do using the arts/media. I'll stop for now, and allow time for reflection and blog back--but know I agree with your blog Nancy about your overall disappointment and experience as I've have similar ones. I invite you to learn more about who, what, where I am by logging on to my and let's have a cyber mocha and chat from there. Ttyl. Grace and Peace Vondell